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Dismissing ‘Flexible’ CDC Guidelines, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Doubles Down on Pushing Schools to Reopen

3 minute read

On Sunday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reiterated the Trump Administration’s risky push for schools to fully re-open in the fall. This despite CDC guidelines warning that children meeting in groups could greatly increase the spread of the coronavirus.

“Kids need to be back in school and that school leaders across the country need to be making plans to do just that,” DeVos said Sunday on CNN’s State of The Union. “There’s going to be the exception to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall. And where there are little flare ups or hotspots, that can be dealt with on a school-by-school or a case-by-case basis.”

DeVos dismissed the importance of CDC guidelines in influencing school re-openings, saying they are “meant to be flexible and meant to be applied as appropriate for the situation.” She added that the CDC is “very much of the posture that kids need to be back in school for a multitude of reasons.”

In the absence of a concrete federal plan for school reopening, CDC guidelines appear to be the closest thing to a coordinated U.S. approach. The guidelines recommend that schools space desks six feet apart; seat only one child per row on school buses; discourage students from sharing toys, books or sports equipment; close communal spaces, such as cafeterias and playgrounds; and create staggered drop-off and pick-up schedules to limit contact between large groups of students and parents.

But President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he disagreed with the CDC guidelines to open schools, calling them “very tough and expensive.” CDC Director Robert Redfield resisted calls from the White House to revise guidelines, saying they would not be loosened.

On Wednesday, Trump also threatened to withhold federal money from school districts if they don’t fully reopen in the fall.

DeVos repeatedly refused to answer anchor Dana Bash’ questions about whether those threats were still alive. “How does it help to take money away from school districts during a pandemic?” Bash asked.

“There’s no desire to take money away,” DeVos replied. She went on to say that the administration is “committed to ensuring students are in school and learning.”

When asked about concerns from school administrators warning that they don’t have enough space to allow for in-person learning five days a week and social distancing, DeVos said that any options that aren’t “full-time instruction” are “not valid options and choices for families.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared on CNN shortly after DeVos’ interview and said that the education secretary’s remarks on the show were “appalling.”

“What we heard from the secretary was malfeasance and dereliction of duty,” Pelosi said, adding that, “going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus.” She accused the Trump administration of ignoring science and governance and called for the CDC guidelines to be “mandates” and not just recommendations.

“The President and his administration are messing with the health of our children,” Pelosi said. “We all want our children to go back to school: teachers do, parents do and children do but they must go back safely.”

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Write to Sanya Mansoor at sanya.mansoor@time.com