U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says children should go back to schools in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many school systems across the nation have been exploring options and deliberating about how to efficiently continue education and child development while keeping students, teachers and school staff members safe.
As a resource, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines and recommendations to help educators and school leaders consider how they might adjust plans for the upcoming school year.
“Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community,” the CDC wrote. “Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.”
The CDC recommends having students bring their lunches to school and discourages use of communal cafeterias. The agency also advises having students’ desks at least six feet apart and closing playgrounds. Face coverings are encouraged for students and staff.
A number of guidelines address cleaning and disinfecting, reducing shared items between children and maintaining physical space between students as much as possible.
The CDC notes that the lowest risk of spreading COVID-19 is posed when virtual learning is implemented. The highest risk occurs in full-sized in-person classes in which students share classroom materials and supplies and mix between classes and activities.
President Donald Trump has said that some of the guidelines are tough and impractical.
In a Sunday interview with Dana Bash, DeVos said the CDC guidelines are just that — guidelines — and that they’re intended to be flexible.
“These are recommendations. Every situation is going to look slightly different,” DeVos said. “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.”
DeVos, who supports all schools resuming in-person classes five days per week, said “the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall.”
“Kids need to be in school. They need to be learning, they need to be moving ahead. And we can’t — we cannot be paralyzed and not allow that or not be intent on that happening,” DeVos said. “Families need for kids to get back in the classroom. And it can be done safely.”
The education secretary insisted that individual schools can make decisions based on what they deem right, and school systems can make decisions that fit their needs, including any potential outbreaks.
“Where there are little flare-ups or hotspots, that can be dealt with on a school-by-school or a case-by-case basis,” she said, noting that “planning for an entire school year in anticipation of something that hasn’t happened” shouldn’t be the focus.
When asked about teachers and school staff who might not feel comfortable returning to schools, DeVos said, “that’s something for them to work out with their local district.”
“But, again, that’s the exception, not the rule. The rule needs to be schools need to get open. Kids need to get back to school,” she said.
DeVos continued to assert the administration’s belief that schools should reopen in the coming months despite Bash’s questioning about implementation of CDC guidelines.
“Kids need to get back to school. They need to get back in the classroom,” she said. “There is nothing in the data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them.”
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