President Trump picked a public fight with federal disease experts on Wednesday while lobbying governors to reopen schools for in-person instruction this fall, and Vice President Pence repeated the president’s threat that federal funds are on the line if state and local officials do not bring students of all ages back to classrooms despite COVID-19 worries.
It was the latest in a series of moves by the president since March that stirred confusion and conflict around how to safely resume daily life in a country with more than 3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 132,000 fatalities. It’s a death toll that includes children of all ages.
Trump’s handling of the coronavirus gets low marks from a majority of Americans because his assurances are so often wrong: He has said coronavirus infections would be minimal in the United States, the pathogen will “disappear,” masks should not be required, hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus would be a “game changer,” an effective vaccine will be ready this year and COVID-19 infections are “harmless” in 99 percent of cases.
Trump (pictured above on Wednesday) has steered clear of laying out any national coronavirus policy and by law, the states decide when and how public schools instruct their students and serve families. Those facts confronted Trump on Wednesday when he assailed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Twitter over voluntary guidance it published in May and June to help administrators, teachers, students and parents decide how to begin the school year safely (The Hill).
“I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things,” Trump tweeted. “I will be meeting with them!!!”
Pence injected additional confusion when he said school decisions by state and local officials come before CDC recommendations about a pathogen schools have never before encountered. “None of the CDC’s recommendations are intended to replace state and local rules and guidance,” he said during remarks at the Department of Education. Then the vice president said the CDC would issue “new guidance” next week with “all new tools” for schools (The Hill). “Well, the president said today, we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” he added.
The Hill: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “very seriously” considers withholding funds from schools that do not reopen.
CDC Director Robert Redfield on Wednesday said different approaches by school districts is fine. “The advantage of everybody not doing it in the exact same way is you begin to learn what aspects are more effective than others,” he said. “There’s no definition of ‘open.’ It can be any variety of how the schools decide to do it.”
Around the country, families with children in preschool through college are wrestling with tough questions about COVID-19 and the school year — questions that in many cases are unique to each household, pupil, school, school bus, and community. Teachers and administrators are working to adapt with strategies that may rely on combinations of in-person and virtual learning, part-time instruction and shortened fall semesters. And everyone has become an armchair virologist.