U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Sunday blasted school reopening plans that are based on “a short-term flare-up for a few days.”
In a contentious interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” DeVos repeatedly insisted “kids have got to be back in school” in the fall.
“If there is a short-term flare-up for a few days, that's a different situation than planning for an entire school year in anticipation of something that hasn't happened,” she said. “That's a very different thing. Kids have got to be back in school. They've got to be back in the classroom. And working families have to have their children in school.”
She also derided any reopening plan that includes a combination online/in-class learning, saying that doesn’t add up to “full-time instruction.”
“Four days a week, either four days a week online and, you know, the fifth day not, or two days a week in person, these are not valid options and choices for families. It's not full-time instruction,” she said.
For DeVos, there is no other option than school “full time.”
“School leaders across the country need to be making plans to do just that,” she said. “There is going to be the exception to the rule. But the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall. And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school-by-school or a case-by-case basis.”
She pointed out “there's many counties across the country that have virtually no cases. And so school leaders need to be looking at the granular data right on the ground where they are and looking at if there are problems, then how are you going to deal with them.”
She added that in areas where the coronavirus is raging, there has to be remote learning “full time.”
“Going into the fall, we need to ensure education leaders need to ensure that kids are going to be able to be learning full-time, no matter how that looks, if they're in an area with high incidence of virus, they need to be learning remotely full-time,” she said.
Her comments drew an immediate rebuke from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said the Trump administration's approach to schools reopening was dangerous. "What we heard from the secretary was malfeasance and dereliction of duty," Pelosi said on CNN.
"Going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus. If there are CDC guidelines, they should be requirements. They should be mandates, not requirements," Pelosi said.
Facing a battered economy as he seeks re-election in November, Trump has pressured states to reopen shuttered businesses and schools. On Friday he said the Treasury Department would re-examine schools' tax-exempt status and their federal funding if they did not resume in-person classes.
But since many states relaxed coronavirus restrictions, the virus has found a new toehold. So far in July, 24 states have reported record increases in cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a Reuters tally.
While acknowledging that the Education Department did not have its own safe reopening plans to promote, DeVos repeatedly stressed that each school district and state must devise their own plans based on their local coronavirus infection rates.
Material from Reuters was used in this story.
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