Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Sunday there was no danger in sending children back to school amid the coronavirus pandemic and stood by a threat to withhold federal funds from schools that do not resume in-person classes.
“There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous,” DeVos told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. “We know that children contract and have the virus at far lower incidence than any other part of the population, and we know that other countries around the world have reopened their schools and have done so successfully and safely.”
President Donald Trump has also pointed to other countries that had successfully reopened their schools, specifically citing Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden in a tweet last week.
Wallace pointed out that those countries have far fewer daily cases of COVID-19 than the U.S.
“Is it really fair, is it reasonable to compare the situation in countries that have 20 new cases in a day with a country that has 68,000 new cases in a day?” he asked.
“Well, we’re talking about schools and other countries’ experiences with reopening schools. And it has been shown to be very successful,” DeVos said.
“But schools happen in an environment,” Wallace replied. “If there’s 30 cases in a country, that’s very different than a place where it’s out of control and there are 70,000 new cases in a day.”
Though cases are on the rise in nearly every state, DeVos said the places that are “out of control” were “the exception.” She said that when hot spots do appear, they have to be “dealt with differently.”
Schools that do not reopen should not be eligible for federal assistance, she said.
“Under what authority are you and the president going to unilaterally cut off funding, funding that’s been approved from Congress and most of the money goes to disadvantaged students or students with disabilities?” Wallace asked, adding it would make more sense for the funds to be used to make the schools safer.
“Look, American investment in education is a promise to students and their families. If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise,” DeVos replied.
“Well, you can’t do that,” Wallace said.
Trump said that the guidelines on reopening schools that were issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were “very tough,” “expensive” and “impractical.”
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DeVos said the guidelines were only recommendations that were meant to be “helpful” for educators determining how to reopen.
“We know that schools across the country look very different and that there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach to everything,” she said.
DeVos argued the mental health consequences children might suffer from missing school outweighed the concern about the virus, since children are infected at a lower rate, don’t tend to suffer from serious complications and “a lot of data that suggests that kids are not spreaders.”
Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Wallace that “kids are at much lower risk of serious infections than adults, but not zero.”
“There have been deaths in the United States of children, including, tragically, a death yesterday in South Carolina of a 5-year-old. So there are serious outcomes in children, but far, far less than adults,” Ingelsby said.
“What’s less clear is how efficiently kids will spread the virus in school both to each other and to teachers, adults, and parents,” Inglesby added. He said that while in some countries such spread has been “relatively uncommon,” in others such as Israel “there was a large outbreak in schools when they reopened.”
Inglesby said the “ultimatum” of threatening schools’ funding was the “wrong approach.”
“I think guiding schools and helping schools with financial support and encouraging schools to follow CDC guidance and state health department guidance is the right way to go,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that DeVos’ comments amounted to “malfeasance and dereliction of duty.”
“This is appalling,” said the California Democrat. “The president and his administration are messing with the health of our children.”
“We all want our children to go back to school. Teachers do. Parents do. And children do. But they must go back safely,” Pelosi said. She said a return to school “presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus. They ignore science, and they ignore governance in order to make this happen.”
Pelosi said the CDC guidelines “should be requirements.”