Trump administration officials said Tuesday that schools can reopen safely even as coronavirus cases spike, dialing up pressure on local officials to resume in-person learning.
Schools are “high-priority settings” that are important for the well-being of communities and families, a senior administration official told reporters. He said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages schools to make plans to reopen and that the CDC never recommended that they close in the first place.
A senior official said schools can still reopen with protections in place for particularly vulnerable students and employees.
“We do believe there are a variety of strategies that schools can adopt that really minimize the risk,” he said, “and then can open these schools quite safely.”
Officials said this applies to colleges and universities as well as elementary and secondary schools.
The officials did not address plans of many K-12 districts to adopt hybrid models in which students are in school part time and learning from home part time. Those models are an effort to comply with CDC guidance that recommends “enhanced social distancing” in buildings.
For instance, the CDC recommended that desks be placed at least six feet apart, something that would not be possible in many schools if all students were in the building at once.
The administration officials made their remarks before a Tuesday meeting about reopening schools, to be attended by President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, school administrators and teachers. The event follows a pair of Trump tweets Monday pressuring officials to resume normal operations.
“SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” he wrote on Twitter.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos responded with enthusiastic agreement. “Absolutely right, @POTUS! Learning must continue for all students. American education must be fully open and fully operational this fall!” she tweeted.
On Monday, Florida took a similar approach, even as coronavirus cases in the state rise. Florida’s top school official ordered all schools in the state to reopen buildings for in-person instruction this fall. Hybrid models, as many Florida districts have proposed, are allowed, but schools must offer full-time instruction five days a week for families who want it.
Many rural districts are planning to resume in-person learning for all students, with contingency plans for other models if coronavirus cases spike locally, said Sasha Pudelski, advocacy director for AASA, the Superintendents Association. But she said many larger districts and those on the East and West coasts are planning hybrid models.
Administration officials highlighted a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which advised districts to do everything they can to bring students back to classrooms.
“The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,” the group said.
Officials also noted that children are less likely to become severely ill or die of covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, saying the risk is that children can become infected and expose others.
“The most important thing that we do now as we reopen our schools is that we double down in our commitment to protect the vulnerable,” one senior official said.
(c) 2020, The Washington Post · Laura Meckler