President Trump sent a clear message to public schools and universities: Get open

President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the American Workforce policy advisory board meeting Friday, June 26, 2020, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

President Donald Trump sent a clear message to public schools and universities around the country Tuesday: He wants their doors open this fall.

“Get open in the fall. We want schools open. It’s going to be a much better climate than it is right now,” Trump said during a summit on school reopening at the White House.

Federal pressure to reopen schools hits Idaho as positive COVID cases are climbing, and state leaders are on the brink of announcing guidance for how K-12 school districts should proceed in the fall.

Asked about the president’s comments on Tuesday, Gov. Brad Little’s spokeswoman Marissa Morrison Hyer said Little would announce plans for Idaho’s schools on Thursday, in a joint news conference with the State Board and State Department of Education.

Trump administration officials during a series of panel discussions argued that reopening K-12 schools for in-person classes is a key to ensuring students’ mental and academic well-being, and will allow their parents to go back to work.

Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that some 7 million students rely on public schools for mental health care. The president of the American Pediatrics Association said schools help address economic and racial inequities. That organization is urging schools to reopen if possible, while following safety  guidelines. 

Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said parents should expect their students’ schools to enforce “smart practice,” such as maintaining six feet of distance, wearing facial coverings when distance isn’t possible, practicing good hygiene and avoiding large gatherings like assemblies.

“We can get back to school. We can do so safely if we think smart and accept our individual responsibility and our collective responsibility to act within  a smart framework.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published guidance for how to safely reopen schools, Azar said, but said that guidance is meant to “enable and empower” the reopening of schools.

“Nobody should hide behind the CDC’s guidance as a way to not reopen schools,” he said.

In a call Tuesday morning, the White House said school reopening is a local decision, national media reported. Trump said during the Tuesday summit that he didn’t want governors to use politics as a deciding factor in reopening schools — but made it clear he will pressure state officials to reopen.

“We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to reopen the schools,” Trump said.

Trump took aim at Harvard University, which on Monday announced it will hold all classes online in the fall, while allowing a limited  number of students to return to campus.

He called the virtual class-setting “the easy way out.”

Idaho schools chief Sherri Ybarra has throughout the pandemic emphasized the need for schools to improve their digital infrastructure, and make sure students have necessary devices to learn remotely. The State Board of Education asked for $34 million in coronavirus relief funds earlier this year to help facilitate remote-learning for students in K-12 and higher education.

“I share the hope and desire that students return to school safely  in the fall,” Ybarra said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “At the same time, our schools must be prepared to pivot to  an online or blended learning model quickly if conditions in a community require it. Our focus must be what is best for students given conditions that may change rapidly.”


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