"I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child," Rep. Ayanna Pressley tweeted at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has helped push for reopenings

By Sean Neumann
July 13, 2020 05:11 PM
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Democratic lawmakers are lining up to blast President Donald Trump's administration for what they're saying is a haphazard effort to send children back to school in the fall during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told CNN's State of the Union on Sunday that "the rule should be kids go back to school," despite challenging surges in states like Texas and Florida, where a record-breaking 15,300 new virus cases were reported on Sunday.

So far, 135,100 U.S. deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus, according to a New York Times tracker.

But health officials are still continuing to learn about the respiratory illness and its effect on kids — while balancing public health strategies with how best to resume in-person schooling.

"There is going to be the exception to the rule. But the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall," DeVos said on CNN.

Still, she said, “These are recommendations. Every situation is going to look slightly different. And the key for education leaders — these are smart people who can figure things out. They can figure out what is going to be right for their specific situation. Because every school building is different. Every school population is different.”

In the meantime, critics of the administration's effort to have students return to in-person classes amid the pandemic are making noise.

"@BetsyDeVosED you have no plan," Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ayanna Presley tweeted in reaction to DeVos' CNN interview, returning to familiar critique of the former millionaire businesswoman. "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."

Pressley, 46, added: "I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child."

Elsewhere, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — one of Trump's biggest detractors — also spoke out.

"This is appalling," Pelosi told CNN's Dana Bash, soon after the host's interview with DeVos. "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."

Parents have been receiving conflicting information from the federal government about the risks in sending their kids back to school this fall, while President Trump, 74, and his administration have made their effort a priority in recent weeks.

At the same time, some lawmakers are criticizing the White House for not having a concrete plan on how to make sure students can go back to in-person classes safely with an ongoing pandemic.

Meanwhile, various local school districts are also shaping their own strategies for classes when the school year resumes.

The Los Angeles and San Diego school districts this week released a joint statement saying they would begin the fall semester with online classes.

"Unfortunately, much of the research is incomplete and many of the guidelines are vague and contradictory," the school districts' joint statement read. "One fact is clear: those countries that have managed to safely reopen schools have done so with declining infection rates and on-demand testing available. California has neither. The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control."

The Times reported last week that New York City — once the national epicenter of the virus — announced it would have students attend limited in-person classes while continuing to rely on online classes as well. Still, some educators and parents urged caution about the process.

“We can make up learning for students,” N.Y.C. Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza told the Times. “We cannot bring a student back who is infected and passes away.”

The same day N.Y.C. made its decision about the fall semester, the president threatened to withhold federal funding for schools that do not reopen with in-person classes.

On Sunday, DeVos, 62, argued that "children get the virus at a far lower rate than any other part of the population" and that there's "nothing in the data" that says going back to school is dangerous for kids.

However, last week the White House's coronavirus task force response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, told reporters the part of the data "that has been the lowest tested" is "the under-10-year-olds."

"Our data is skewed originally to people with symptoms, and then skewed to adults over 18," Birx said.

Current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say kids should avoid gathering in groups, just as adults have been advised by federal health experts.

"If children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk," the CDC's guidelines read. "Children can pass this virus onto others who have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19."

The current guidelines for reopening schools say that the lowest risk would be to continue holding online classes, as schools did in the spring.

The CDC warned that the highest risk of spreading the coronavirus comes when students physically gather for "full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events."

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence said the administration would change the school guidelines coming out of the CDC, though White House officials refused to comment Monday on a Today show report that says there were new guidelines in the works.

Trump has added to the confusion by retweeting a message from former Wheel of Fortune host Chuck Woolery that claims the CDC and the American media were "lying" about the coronavirus, which has infected millions of Americans.

"The notion of the tweet was to point out the fact that when we use science, we have to use it in a way that is not political," White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday, adding, "We need to use science, lean into science, but not use it and cherry-pick it to fit whatever particular political persuasion is."

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