With the 2020 school year fast approaching, President Trump’s threats to withhold federal funding from schools who do not resume in-person instruction in the fall belie his lack of a clear national strategy to safely reopen schools in the midst of a global pandemic. Despite the expert testimony of scientists and public health experts, in addition to the pleas of teachers and parents nationwide, Trump has continued to insist upon reopening schools for in-person instruction, despite repeated warnings that this move could put millions of lives in unnecessary risk and lead to a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases.
To date, the Trump Administration has failed to produce a coherent national strategy outlining how schools should safely reopen, suggesting the president is attempting to strongarm struggling school districts across the country to reopen despite the danger it may present to students, parents, and staff. To date, the Trump Administration’s seemingly only piece of concrete advice to school district’s weighing the decision has been “science should not stand in the way” of in-person instruction.
Yet scientists and experts across the country have warned of the human cost of reopening in-person instruction without a coherent strategy or plan from the Federal Government. A top panel of scientists have noted that, “Even with extensive mitigation measures, it’s not possible to reduce the risk [of infection] to zero.” These scientists released a report offering some specific guidance on reopening in some capacity, especially for younger learners, as safely as possible in the absence of details from the C.D.C., which has been sidelined by the Trump Administration and has abdicated decision-making to local districts.
In Israel, political leaders faced a similar crossroads regarding school reopening. In late May, believing they had beaten the coronavirus, they fully reopened schools with no restrictions, only to have a massive spike of new cases surge across the country. Experts in Israel noted that “if there is a low number of cases, there is an illusion that the disease is over, but it’s a complete illusion.” Israeli experts warned leaders that, “They definitely should not do what we have done.” Despite this grim warning, the Trump Administration is plowing full steam ahead.
The president’s threats to withhold federal funding from schools who don’t reopen in the fall have been parroted by his Education Secretary, Betsy Devos, who is labeled as the “most unpopular” person in the Federal Government due to her frequent pushes to slash funding for public schools and the millions of teachers, parents, and kids they serve every day.
Trump’s blunted approach papers over the differing needs of the thousands of different localities and school districts that are attempting to chart their own difficult path forward for the upcoming school year. The public’s desire to moderate school reopenings with a blend of online or adjusted learning is borne out in the data, as well: recent polling shows that a significant majority of the American people want schools to either not open at all in-person or open with major adjustments to the education environment. With little empathy or concern, the president, however, is taking an all or nothing approach, lambasting schools who do not reopen with little to no restrictions.
In November, President Trump is seeking reelection support from millions of America’s public educators and students who he is brazenly putting in danger by attempting to force America’s public schools to reopen in the face of the most deadly pandemic the country has seen in generations.