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Trump says he'll pressure governors to reopen schools in fall

President Donald Trump, flanked first lady Melania Trump

President Donald Trump, flanked first lady Melania Trump by Vice President Mike Pence (L) participate in an event with students, teachers and administrators about how to safely re-open schools on Tuesday. Credit: Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday ramped up his calls for schools to reopen in the fall, saying he is “very much going to put pressure on governors” to return to full-time, in-school instruction.

”It's very important for the well-being of the student and the parents, so we're going to be putting a lot of pressure on ‘open your schools’ in the fall,” Trump said at a roundtable discussion with educators and students at the White House, his message coming as more than two-dozen states continue to grapple with increasing COVID-19 cases.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has struck a more measured tone than Trump about reopening plans, telling reporters at a Monday news briefing that the state has “some time” to evaluate data and review plans requested from the state’s 700 school districts, before making a decision on what the upcoming school year will look like.

“There has been no decision yet as to whether or not we are reopening schools,” Cuomo said days after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled preliminary plans to reopen schools in September. Cuomo administration officials have said the authority to reopen schools rests with the state.

Cuomo said the state “obviously, very much, would like to” reopen schools, noting that “no one knows the effect” the springtime closures are “going to have on students, the socialization of young students.” But, he added, “we’re not going to say children should go back to school until we know it’s safe.”

Trump’s roundtable was one of a series of events held at the White House on Tuesday that focused on the issue of reopening schools as state officials and district leaders nationwide scramble to develop plans for a school year just weeks away for several states. 

Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in a conference call with governors, urged states to move forward with a full reopening, as school districts across the country weigh the possibility of hybrid school sessions that include online learning from home and part-time sessions in school that would allow for social distancing. 

DeVos criticized such plans, telling governors that schools “must be fully operational, and how that happens is best left to education and community leaders.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, in a separate forum at the White House, both backed the idea of reopening, saying the closures were taking a toll on the mental health of students.

“We must reopen,” said Azar. “We’ve got to get people back to work, back to school, back to health care, because we can’t stay locked in our homes forever. It’s bad for our physical and mental and emotional health — us as adults, as well as for our kids.”

Birx said she believed “in the rush to just close things down, everything was not completely considered in that moment about how we were going to protect our children.”

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaking at the same event as Azar and Birx, warned that more work was needed to communicate the risks of the coronavirus to students. 

"I do think we need a strategy. I don't think we've hit home there,” Redfield said. “I don't think the younger group understands how important it is for them to fully participate in the social distancing."

The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Sally Goza, speaking at the White House, said the group supported the push to reopen, but called on the administration and Congress to provide increased funding to school districts to ensure they have sufficient resources to safely open schools, including access to immediate virus testing for students and teachers.

Education advocacy groups have asked for $200 billion in federal funding to bolster protective supplies and to fill budget gaps caused by the economic shutdown, but so far only $13.5 billion for K-12 education has been appropriated.

“We urge you to ensure the schools receive the resources necessary so that funding does not stand in the way of keeping our children safe or present at school,” Goza said.

With The Associated Press