Despite the CDC stating that children meeting in groups could put everyone at risk and many states already reporting incidents of children spreading the virus in environments like day cares, DeVos said that students must go back to in-person learning.
“It really is a matter of paying attention to good hygiene, following the guidelines around making sure we are washing hands, wearing masks when appropriate, staying apart at a bit of a distance, socially, and doing the things that are common sense approaches to ensuring that kids can go back to the classroom and can go back to learning,” DeVos said during an appearance on CNN.
When asked about the federal government’s guidelines for the coronavirus, DeVos said the CDC never recommended schools close down in the first place. She said the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics say that students need to go back in order to learn and we “can’t be paralyzed and allow that or not be intent on that happening.”
DeVos said there will be exceptions to the rule but that schools need to begin in-person instruction. She said “hotspots” will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
DeVos’ plan, or lack thereof, is prioritizing money over the safety of the American people, the Massachusetts representative said.
“You have no plan. Teachers, kids and parents are fearing for their lives. You point to a private sector that has put profits over people and claimed the lives of thousands of essential workers. I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child,” Pressley tweeted out on Sunday.
.@BetsyDeVosED you have no plan. Teachers, kids and parents are fearing for their lives. You point to a private sector that has put profits over people and claimed the lives of thousands of essential workers. I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child. https://t.co/Qs0Z7gCnMo
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) July 12, 2020
In her interview, DeVos cited YMCAs that have remained open to provide child care for essential workers. But day care centers in Texas that have remained open have seen a spike in cases. The state has reported 950 cases at 668 child care facilities, with 307 children and 643 staff members infected, reports the Texas Tribune.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that any plan to reopen schools should follow key guidelines such as flexibility in developing and revising strategies, accommodations for vulnerable populations and collaboration between pediatricians, parents and schools. But many are still worried that these precautions aren’t enough.
Many people are focusing on the dangers regarding children in this reopening plan, but teachers are fearing for their health as well.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teacher unions in the country, said she believes many educators will retire if they are forced to return to work under uncertain circumstances during this pandemic.
"If too many of our members believe Donald Trump's hyperbole instead of somebody like Andrew Cuomo's caution about their health and safety, we're going to have a whole lot of people retire early, quit, take a leave," Weingarten said on TODAY. “So at the very same time that kids need these experienced teachers because they're facing three crises, they need people to calm them down, focus on their well-being and their instruction, we're going to see a huge brain drain in the next few weeks.”
Schools in low-income communities that already have inadequate facilities won't be able to follow expensive guidelines in reopening that will ensure students and staff are kept safe.
A 2017 city audit in Philadelphia found that the majority of schools need an estimated $4.5 billion worth of upgrades, reports U.S. News. That doesn’t account for the additional $1.2 million schools will need, on average, to reopen. The additional expenses will be needed for instructional learning, protective equipment, cleaning supplies, health staffing, distance learning and more, according to U.S. News.
Families that are better off financially will have a choice in sending their children back to school if they feel safe, said Khulia Pringle, an education outreach coordinator at AmeriCorps in Minnesota.
"If I'm poor and I don't have resources for child care or to make sure my child is learning at home, what choice do I really have? It's sad. It's scary. It's disgusting,” she said.
Pringle also said higher-income families will be able to ensure that their children’s schools have the resources needed.
“Privileged people in general, those who have the means, regardless of color, will make sure that their kids' school is straight," Pringle said. "They will make sure that the school is done from the top to the bottom.”
Sen. Rand Paul worries that if schools don’t reopen, low-income families won’t be able to sustain at-home learning.
"If we keep kids out of school for another year. What's going to happen is the poor, underprivileged kids who don't have a parent able to teach them at home are not going to learn for a full year," Paul said. "I think it's a huge mistake if we don't open the schools in the fall."
The National Education Association released a statement in April explaining how the coronavirus has disproportionately affected communities of color and how reopening schools in the fall will not be feasible if those issues aren’t addressed.
“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the inequities facing our most vulnerable students, and they will still be there when school buildings re-open unless we address them now,” the statement read. “We must share in finding solutions that finally work for students of color, students with disabilities, English language learners, undocumented families, homeless families, rural schools, and under-resourced schools.”
Pringle said that if schools are going to reopen, administrators need to ensure that the most vulnerable communities are taken care of.
"They're already facing disparities in housing, health and employment, so it's already bad. Poor people are going to be the guinea pigs in this situation,” she said.
Last week both DeVos and President Donald Trump threatened to keep funding from schools that do not resume instruction come fall.
“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!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 8, 2020
After Trump’s threat, House Democrats said that the president can not deplete schools’ funding.
"Congress provides federal education funding to support some of the most vulnerable young people in our country," Evan Hollander, a spokesman for the Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, said according to CNN. "The president has no authority to cut off funding for these students, and threatening to do so to prop up his flailing campaign is offensive."
Much of schools’ financial support comes from state and local governments, according to the Congressional Research Service. In the 2015-2016 school year, the federal government only provided 8.3% of funding for public elementary and secondary schools, while state governments provided 47% and local governments provided 44.8%.