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Experts warn Trump's plan to reopen schools puts everyone in danger

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos echoed Trump’s call for schools to open in the fall.

By Emily Singer - July 08, 2020
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Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks between Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (L) and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue during a press briefing on the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic with members of the Coronavirus Task Force at the White House in Washington on March 27, 2020. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)

Education groups and advocates are slamming Donald Trump and his administration for demanding that schools reopen this fall, saying that “conflicting guidance” and a lack of government funding will put students and educators at risk from the coronavirus if they do.

In a joint statement published on Tuesday, six groups representing the interests of educators and parents, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, noted: “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.”

Public health experts agree, saying that reopening without following public health guidance — including waiting to  proceed until there has been a 14-day drop in the number of coronavirus cases — puts communities across the country at risk.

“There should be a lot of discussion, knowing that there will be outbreaks — what should the triggers be to close them again?” Anita Cicero, an expert on pandemic preparedness and deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Los Angeles Times.

Jennifer Nuzzo, who works for Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative, told the Associated Press that the push to reopen schools against public health advice and for the sake of politics does “a disservice to how incredibly important this issue is. And it really distracts from what I think we need, which is real solutions and a plan in order to make this happen,” Nuzzo said.

On Wednesday morning Trump threatened schools that do not reopen with the loss of federal money, tweeting, “May cut off funding if not open!”

Trump also tweeted that he “disagrees” with guidance on opening schools issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying that the the guidelines are “very tough & expensive” and that he “will be meeting with them!!!”

According to the CDC’s current “guiding principles” for schools, the way to maintain the lowest risk of spreading the coronavirus is to hold “virtual-only classes, activities, and events.” The highest risk comes in conducting “full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events.”

Between those two options are “hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes” — an option for schools that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rejects.

“They must reopen and they must be fully operational,” DeVos said on Wednesday.

Hours after Trump’s tweet calling the CDC guidelines too restrictive, NBC News reported that the administration was going to release its own guidelines for reopening schools.

Ultimately, Wednesday’s coronavirus task force event on school reopenings was filled with contradictions.

As Mike Pence and DeVos argued for full school reopenings, coronavirus task force member Dr. Deborah Birx said that anyone in a “red zone” that is experiencing coronavirus outbreaks should “decrease any kind of indoor gatherings.”

Thirty-six states, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, are currently seeing rising numbers of coronavirus cases.

Education advocates say that Trump and his administration have lost so much credibility due to their poor response to the coronavirus pandemic that any guidance they may issue won’t be taken seriously.

“No one trusts him and no one is paying attention,” Arne Duncan, who served as secretary of education under President Barack Obama, said Wednesday during an appearance on CNN.

Polling bears that out.

A USA Today poll conducted in late May found that 1 in 5 teachers said they wouldn’t return to teaching if schools reopened in the fall, while 6 in 10 parents said they would be keeping their kids home.

This is not the first time that the White House has ignored CDC guidance on the coronavirus for its own purposes.

In May, Trump demanded that governors allow churches in their states to open for services despite warnings from public health experts that indoor gatherings without social distancing increased the risk of coronavirus transmission, and that group singing in particular could spread the virus through aerosol emissions.

Days later, NPR reported that after pressure from conservative Christian groups, the warning against choral singing was removed from the CDC’s guidance. A federal official said it had been issued by mistake.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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