President Trump on Tuesday said his administration is “going to put pressure” on governors to reopen schools in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open,” Trump said at a White House event “Safely Reopening America’s Schools” Tuesday afternoon. “We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons. They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed.”
The White House roundtable events were attended by First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence, various members of Trump administration, health, and education stakeholders from the state level, including higher education and K-12 administrators, teachers, students, and parents as they made the case, both academically and mental health as reasons for in-person instruction this fall.
“Children’s mental health and social development must be as much of a priority as physical health,” First Lady Melania Trump said at the roundtable, noting children with disabilities along with children without access to technology and unsafe homes may be suffering worse consequences than those due to the pandemic.
Schools across the nation shut down suddenly in the middle of March as the outbreak began in an effort to curb the spread. The blanket closures of schools forced students to transition from classroom-based learning models to distance learning and placed millions of parents with the double task to work of juggling work from home while keeping up with their children’s school assignments.
“We want to reopen the schools,” Trump said. “Everybody wants it. The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it. It’s very important for our country. It’s very important for the wellbeing of the student and the parents. So we’re going to be putting a lot of pressure on — Open your schools in the fall.”
The president cited Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced plans to reopen schools in the sunshine state starting in August. Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order Monday, requiring all “brick-and-mortar schools” to open next month “at least five days per week for all students.”
“Governor Santis of Florida is doing a terrific job. He just announced that the schools will be open in the fall, and we hope that most schools are going to be open,” Trump said.
On Monday, Trump called for schools to reopen, tweeting, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged governors to play a role in getting schools to provide five days of classroom instruction a week, saying it “should be absolutely the goal.”
“Students across the country have already fallen behind. We need to make sure that they catch up,” DeVos said. “It’s clear our nation’s schools must fully reopen and fully operate this school year. Anything short of that robs students, not to mention taxpayers, of their futures and their futures, represent our nation’s future. So it’s not a question of ‘if’; it’s just a question of ‘how.’”
The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Sally Goza who also attended the White House event strongly advocated bring students back to the classroom, arguing remote learning resulted in severe learning loss as well as the negative impacts from school closures such as identifying students’ learning deficits, abuse, depression, and other issues.
“Children get much more than an education at school,” Goza said. “Being away from peers, teachers and school services has lasting effects for children. Missing school can have serious consequences for child health and wellbeing, particularly for students with disabilities or with special healthcare needs. Students who are in school learn more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also learn social and emotional skills, get healthy meals and exercise, and mental health support.”
Trump sharply criticized Harvard University for announcing plans to only partially reopen in the fall, conducting many classes online, calling that “an easy way out.”
“I see where Harvard announced that they’re closing for the season or for the year. I think it’s ridiculous,” Trump said. “I think it’s an easy way out, and I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves if you want to know the truth.”
Pence said the federal government will work with state and local officials to “find a safe and responsible way to reopen” and announced additional federal guidance will come next week to ensure that schools can reopen safely, how to prepare for a safe return and tools for parents. Last month, the CDC published recent guidance for schools that includes staggering schedules, spreading out desks, having meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria, adding physical barriers between bathroom sinks and cleaning, and disinfecting surfaces.
During the event, the president of the nation’s largest education union blasted President Trump’s push to reopen schools in the fall, saying they don’t trust the Trump administration handling on reopening safely and calling Trump’s pressure a re-election ploy.
“Trump has proven to be incapable of grasping that people are dying — that more than 130,000 Americans have already died,” Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association said. “Trump has not once proven credible, compassionate or thoughtful when it comes to this pandemic. He ignored our intelligence agencies warning him of the pandemic. He blatantly ignores doctors and nurses on how to tackle the virus. He ignores local leaders about reopening the economy safely.”