Following criticism from President Trump, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plan to release updated guidelines outlining how schools can safely reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vice President Mike Pence announced the upcoming documents Wednesday, just hours after Trump took to Twitter to quash the agency’s current guidelines.
“Well, the president said today, we just don’t want the guidance to be too strict,” Pence said in a news conference for the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force. “That’s why the CDC will be releasing a new set of tools next week, five different documents that will provide even more clarity about future guidelines.”
However, as NPR notes, schools receive an average of 10 percent or less of their funding from the federal government, and those funds are typically focused on supporting children with disabilities and children from low-income households. Furthermore, during the press conference, Pence clarified that the White House would be “very respectful” if “certain restrictions” prevent some school districts from reopening.
It is unclear which CDC guidelines or recommendations the president criticized. However, existing documents recommend that administrators consider closing schools for an extended period of time if there is “significant community transmission” of COVID-19 – which is currently prevalent in many parts of the country.
In today’s press conference, Pence emphasized that the agency’s guidelines should be aligned with each area and should not replace any local or state rules or guidelines. CDC director Robert Redfield appeared alongside Pence and noted that the CDC’s recommendations were not intended to be used “as a reason to keep schools closed.”
The Trump administration is not alone in urging schools to reopen. On June 26, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its interim guidelines, stating that it “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the upcoming school year should begin with the goal of having students physically in school.” The organization noted that schools play a fundamental role in “academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, nutrition, physical activity and mental health therapy”. As such, it argued that the benefits for children of having schools open to personalized learning outweigh the risks.
But many teachers and parents are still wary of personal learning. In many school buildings and classrooms, social distancing measures are difficult, if not impossible, to follow. And due to chronic underfinancing, buildings are poorly ventilated.
Parents and teachers
On Tuesday, six groups representing teachers and parents released a statement saying: “Without a comprehensive plan that includes federal resources to ensure the safety of our students and educators with funding for personal protective equipment, social distancing education and addressing racial inequality , we could endanger students, their families and educators.”
The statement further noted that the government has failed to provide guidance in preparing schools and issued conflicting and confusing guidelines.
The issuance of a new set of guidelines may not provide clarity. Despite the lack of a clear plan as the disease ramps up in many areas, President Trump has stepped up his calls for schools to reopen. On Tuesday, he vowed to pressure states to reopen schools in the fall, which could have a significant impact on the economy and elections.