President Donald Trump has continued to push for schools to reopen for full-time in-person learning in the fall despite a surge of new COVID-19 infections pushing the country's total case count to over 3 million. Along with opposing health officials' detailed guidelines for reopening schools and accusing Democrats at the local and state levels of keeping schools shuttered for political purposes, the Trump administration also threatened to withhold funding from schools that fail to fully reopen this fall.
"In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS," Trump tweeted Wednesday. "The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!"
But Trump's tweet was not the first time the administration had signaled it was considering penalizing schools that don't fully reopen by withholding federal funds. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos echoed a similar message Tuesday during an interview with Fox News.
"There is no excuse for schools not to reopen again and for kids to be able to learn again full time," DeVos told Fox News host Tucker Carlson. "This is more an issue of adults who are more interested in their own issues than they are about serving their students. It's very clear that kids have got to go back to school."
When asked if the Department of Education might withhold federal funding from schools that don't fully reopen, DeVos told Carlson the idea was "definitely something to be looked at." While DeVos acknowledged in her Fox News interview that the majority of school funding came from the state and local level, she estimated the Trump administration could withhold less than 10% of schools' funding if needed. And although 10% sounds like a measly number, when it comes to school budgets, all funding vital.
"We are looking at this very seriously," DeVos told Fox News. "This is a very serious issue across the country. Kids have got to continue learning, schools have got to open up." DeVos went on to accuse those who've urged a cautious approach to reopening schools of "fearmongering and making excuses," as there was no reason to withhold full-time education from students.
"There has got to concerted effort to address the needs of all kids," she told Carlson. "And adults who are fearmongering and making excuses have simply got to stop doing it, and turn their attention on what is right for students and for their families."
On Wednesday, Trump slammed health and safety guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the reopening of schools, claiming the agency asked schools to do "very impractical things" for reopening. "I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools," the president tweeted. "While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!"
In its initial guidelines for schools, the CDC recommended implementing heightened cleaning procedures, staggering students' schedules, reducing class sizes, and enforcing face mask policies among other things. Additionally, the CDC noted that virtual classes, activities, and events would present the lowest risk of infection for students, teachers, and staff while a return to full-time, full-sized, in-person classes posed the highest risk.
While few have questioned the benefits in-person instruction provides students, a number of educators and education groups have pushed back on the president's message to fully reopen schools without the proper precautions amid a surge in coronavirus infections. Recent spikes in infection rates have brought the number of positive coronavirus cases in the United States to 3,009,611 on Wednesday, according to data from John Hopkins University.
In a joint statement issued Tuesday, the National Education Association, National Parent Teacher Association, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Administrators of Special Education, National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education said the White House and the CDC had so far offered conflicting guidance for reopening schools with little insight into how schools could ensure the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff given their already thin budgets.
"No one wants students to safely return to classrooms more than parents, educators and administrators," the statement read. "We also recognize that we must do it the safest way possible, not the most politically expedient way. ... Without a comprehensive plan that includes federal resources to provide for the safety of our students and educators with funding for Personal Protective Equipment, socially distanced instruction, and addressing racial inequity, we could be putting students, their families, and educators in danger."
The six education organizations went on to criticize the Trump administration for failing to listen to families and public school educators in its push for reopening. "This vacuum of leadership leaves this administration with zero credibility in the minds of educators and parents when it comes to this major decision," the statement read. "To safely re-open our schools, health experts should be relied on to figure out the 'when' and educators and parents should be central to figuring out the 'how.' Public school educators, students and parents must have a voice in critical conversations and decisions on reopening schools. The president should not be brazenly making these decisions."
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