House chairman blasts Trump's push to reopen schools as 'dangerous'
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) on Wednesday blasted President Trump's push for schools to fully reopen in the fall despite rising coronavirus cases in the U.S. as a dangerous move that could pose health risks to students and educators.
Vice President Pence said earlier Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will issue additional guidance next week on reopening schools after Trump criticized the agency's current recommendations as "very tough and expensive." Trump also threatened to withhold funding for schools that don't fully reopen for in-person instruction.
Scott warned that issuing looser CDC guidelines for reopening public schools without providing additional funds for adequate facilities and supplies risked more outbreaks of COVID-19.
“Even before the pandemic, our nation’s public schools were chronically underfunded. Reopening schools now, without more investment, presents serious risks to the health and safety of our students and educators," Scott said in a statement.
“What’s worse, the administration is now threatening to ignore health experts and issue their own ‘less restrictive’ guidelines, prioritizing politics over the health and safety of students, parents, and educators. This move is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous," Scott said.
School districts across the country are wrestling with how to reopen for the next academic school year. Teachers' unions are warning that in-person instruction risks leading to COVID-19 outbreaks among school staff and students, while many parents are pushing for resuming full-time schooling in classrooms so they can return to work and offer their children a semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy.
Pence said at a briefing on Wednesday that the CDC guidance shouldn't become a "barrier" for allowing students to resume instruction in classrooms, but noted that none of the agency's recommendations are meant to replace state and local rules.
“Well, the president said today, we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence said. “That’s the reason why next week, the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward.”
But Trump said Tuesday he would put pressure on governors to reopen schools, while Education Secretary Betsy DeVos echoed the president in pushing for a return to in-person schooling.
“Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools should reopen, it’s simply a matter of how,” DeVos said Wednesday. “They must fully open, and they must be fully operational.”
Trump accused schools of being reluctant to fully reopen out of political reasons.
“They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed,” Trump said Tuesday. “No way. We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools.”
Scott pointed to two bills that House Democrats have passed in recent weeks to provide education systems with additional resources for reopening schools.
House Democrats' $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill that they passed in May includes more than $900 billion for state and local governments to make up for budget shortages due to the pandemic, as well as $90 billion for helping schools cover the costs of personal protective equipment, cleaning and transportation.
And an infrastructure investment bill that House Democrats passed last week would provide $130 billion for schools with high student poverty rates to make safety upgrades to their facilities.
Neither bill is expected to gain traction in the Senate.
But negotiations are expected to begin this month between the House and Senate on another coronavirus relief package ahead of enhanced unemployment benefits enacted by a previous pandemic aid law are set to expire. Democrats have been pushing particularly hard for providing state and local governments with additional funding, while Republicans have prioritized shielding businesses from liability as they reopen.
States have been adopting varying strategies for reopening public schools as soon as next month. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said Wednesday that schools would be open with students one to three days a week, similar to plans outlined by school districts in Northern Virginia in the suburbs outside the nation's capital.
But in Florida and Texas, which are currently among the nation's coronavirus epicenters, schools will be required to reopen next month for in-person classes.