The White House roundtable brought together health and education leaders from across the country who said schools and colleges were ready to open this fall and could do it safely. They argued that the risks of keeping students at home outweigh the risks of coronavirus, arguing that students must have access to meal programs and mental and behavioral health services.
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“We want to reopen schools,” said Trump. “Everyone wants it. Moms want it, dads want it, kids want it. It is time to do it. ”
But this bright prospect has been met with skepticism by some beyond the White House. The president of the country’s largest education union has said Trump is more interested in scoring points for the November election than ensuring student safety.
“Trump has proven incapable of understanding that people are dying – that more than 130,000 Americans have already died,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association. “Educators want nothing more than to be back in classrooms and on university campuses with our students, but we need to do it in a way that keeps students, educators and communities safe.”
During the White House event, Trump reiterated his claim that Democrats want to keep schools closed for political reasons, not for health reasons. He made the same statement on Twitter the day before, saying, “They think it will help them in November. False, people get it! ”
Trump has presented no evidence for this allegation, which has been criticized by health experts who say that politicizing the problem will make it more difficult to reopen schools. Jennifer Nuzzo of the COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative at Johns Hopkins University said she was “deeply troubled” by the claim.
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“When you talk about politics and only people who are trying to score and get elected, I mean, I really think it doesn’t do any good how incredibly important this issue is,” said Nuzzo in a interview. “And that really diverts from what I think we need, which is real solutions and a plan to get there.”
The question of whether schools and colleges should open this fall and how has been the subject of growing debate as the coronavirus continues to spread in parts of the United States. Trump has applauded Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for his state’s recent order to open public schools this fall. And Trump attacked Harvard University for its decision to hold online education for the fall term.
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“I think it’s ridiculous, I think it’s an easy way out and I think they should be ashamed of themselves, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said on Tuesday.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have sent mixed signals on the issue, saying that students should return to class, but also noting that virtual classes have the lowest risk of spreading COVID-19. Speaking at the Trump event on Tuesday, the agency’s director said unequivocally that students are better off at school than at home.
Dr. Robert Redfield noted that COVID-19 cases tend to be mild in young people, adding that the greatest risk is transmission from children to more vulnerable populations. He said the CDC encourages all schools to reopen with personalized plans to minimize the spread of the coronavirus while giving students access to school services.
“It is clear that the greatest risk to our society is to close these schools,” said Redfield. “Nothing would make me more sad than seeing a school district or a school using our advice as a reason not to reopen.”
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CDC guidelines for schools recommend that students and teachers wear masks “as much as possible”, spread out desks, stagger schedules, eat meals in classrooms instead of cafeteria and add physical barriers between the sinks in the bathroom.
Some schools have announced plans to bring students back only a few days a week, an option that education secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday was unacceptable.
“It is clear that the schools of our nations must reopen and function fully this school year. Anything far from that deprives students, let alone taxpayers, of their future, ”said DeVos.
In a call with the governors, DeVos criticized the plans of public schools in Fairfax County, Virginia for families to choose between fully distance education or two days a week at school. “Choosing two days a week in class is not a choice at all,” said DeVos, according to the audio from the Associated Press call.
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DeVos also criticized the attempts of many distance education schools after the pandemic prompted them to move their courses online last spring. She said she was disappointed with the schools that “either didn’t understand how to serve the students or who just dropped out and didn’t try. ”
The same cannot happen again this fall, she said, urging the governors to play a role in reopening the schools.
On Tuesday, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released guidelines suggesting that schools aim to start the school year “physically present in school”. Keeping students at home can lead to social isolation, the organization said, and preventing schools from identifying learning deficits, abuse, depression and other problems.
The mental and emotional health of the students – as well as that of their parents – was repeatedly raised in the argument of the reopening of the schools.
“Children’s mental health and social development must be as much a priority as physical health,” said first lady Melania Trump during the roundtable. “The same goes for parents. Many will be forced to make stressful choices between caring for their children and returning to work. ”
But some call for greater caution. Arne Duncan, who was secretary of education under former President Barack Obama, said the focus should be on returning students safely.
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“We all want the kids to go back to school,” said Duncan on Twitter. “The question is whether we care enough about our children to allow them to go to school safely. Our behavior, our commitment to shared sacrifice – or our selfishness – will determine what will happen this fall for the children. ”
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