Despite warnings from top health officials, and a steady increase of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Trump is determined to send students back to school on a normal timeline. There have more than 135,000 COVID related deaths reported at this point, with a constant increase in numbers. The reopening Trump is pushing for would send students and teachers back to classrooms as early as next month. There has been talk of a resurgence of the virus in the fall and winter months since the pandemic began. The numbers have risen so steadily due to quick state re-openings that it may no longer qualify as a resurgence, but now simply as an increase.
A sixty-nine page file created by the Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force, marked “For Internal Use Only” was obtained by the New York Times and circulated this week. It was meant to be used by the White House corona virus task force while visiting areas highly impacted by the virus. While most of the file was made up of documents already made public and posted to the CDC’s website, there were some new details that seemingly got the president’s attention. Specifically, it stated that a full reopen of schools put the country on the “highest risk” option.
Seemingly in reaction to the documents, Trump began firing off Tweets in favor of school reopenings: “Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, virtual learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning. Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall.” He then took his tweets a step further, with a bizarre claim that those opposing school openings are doing so for political reasons, and that there may be financial consequences: “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” He insisted that he would put pressure on governors and local governments to reopen.
While federal funding does not account for a large part of school budgets, most of what it does account for is aid low income families and students with special needs – populstions deemed to be at high-risk for the corona virus. Most education funding is provided by the states and local government, who will ultimately make decisions concerning reopening. Luckily, Trump does not have the authority to cut funding to schools.However his threat displays a lack of concern for American citizens.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has been a champion of local and parental school control , has completely adapted her message to echo Trump’s. In April she stated “If our ability to educate is limited to what takes place in any given physical building, we are never going to meet the unique needs of every student.” And just days ago, “I think the go-to needs to be kids in school, in person, in the classroom, because we know for most kids, that’s the best environment for them.” DeVos is putting her spotlight onto low-income schools and those in communities of color. She insists they do not have the funds to operate properly remotely but contradicts her concerns by continuing to support the threat of removing federal funding from them if they don’t them if they don’t reopen.
The issue has become so publicly political that families and teachers at the heart of the debate are feeling frustrated and left behind. Appropriate and responsible planning has been pirated by making political choices while lives hang in the balance. As President of the National Parents Union Keri Rodriguez put it, “We have so politicized the situation we don’t know who we can trust, and it’s become very clear that we can’t trust her (DeVos)..”
- National Parents Union is a collection of 200 advocacy organizations across 50 states representing parents from communities of color. www.nationalparentsunion.org
- American Federation of Teachers is a teachers labor union fighting for more federal funding in order to accommodate safety considerations within classrooms. www.aft.org