- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2020

The Trump administration on Friday said reopening schools is not a matter of “if” it happens but “how it must be done” this fall, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rolled out new guidelines that support President Trump’s push to resume classroom learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The default needs to be that schools are fully open and operational in the fall,” said Mitchell Zais, a deputy to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Mr. Trump blasted earlier CDC guidelines as “very tough” and cumbersome for schools, so the CDC supplemented them with new resource documents.

In an opening statement, the CDC highlighted the downsides of keeping kids out of the classroom.

“Parents are understandably concerned about the safety of their children at school in the wake of COVID-19. The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms,” it says. “Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults. At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant.”

The CDC says many kids also rely on schools for their meals, mental-health care and other services.

The documents touch on proper ventilation and how to space students out to maintain social distancing. It encourages hand-washing and says face masks should be worn “as feasible, and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult.”

Schools should disinfect frequently touched surfaces and post signs that remind students and staff of social distancing rules. Any students or teachers who appear sick, or may have come in contact with someone infected by the coronavirus, should remain home.

The CDC also says schools should consider the use of cohorting, or “pods,” in which the same group of students and teachers are kept together to minimize the chances of exposure to the virus.

“Strategies that keep smaller groups of students together can also help limit the impact of COVID-19 cases when they do occur in a school,” the CDC says. “If a student, teacher, or staff member tests positive for [the coronvirus], those in the same cohort/group should also be tested and remain at home until receiving a negative test result or quarantine.”

Mr. Trump said it is “possible” that some COVID-19 hotspots around the country may have to delay reopening for a few weeks.

“That’ll be up to governors. The decision should be made based on the data and the facts on the grounds in each community, but every district should be actively making preparations to open,” he told reporters.

The CDC says each community will have different needs, based on the spread of COVID-19 within their communities, though CDC Director Robert Redfield said most parts of the country have a relatively safe positivity rate of 5% or less.

He said the guidelines shouldn’t be interpreted in ways that keep schools closed.
“Schools are an important part of the infrastructure of our communities,” Dr. Redfield said.

Parents and employers widely agree that schools need to reopen to pave the way for normal work activity, though there is disagreement over how safe it is for everyone involved.

A recent study from South Korea says children under 10 were roughly half as likely to transmit the disease than adults, but that kids aged 10 to 19 would spread it at the same level.

Major school districts from California to Georgia have announced they will start the academic year with online instruction instead of reopening classrooms, saying the virus is transmitting too widely within their communities.

That’s set up a clash with Mr. Trump, who says the closures harm children and hold back parents looking to return to work and rejuvenating the economy.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top National Institutes of Health scientist, told a Washington Post Live event that the CDC’s new resources appeared “sound” to him.

“I think the CDC has put some good guidance down,” Dr. Fauci said.

Meanwhile, critics of the administration said the guidance was political in tone and lacking in scientific guidance.

“An abasement of ⁦@CDCgov on schools: no guidance on safety, masks, protection for teachers — just a polemic for unconstrained reopening with no safety measures,” tweeted Ron Klain, the former Ebola “czar” under President Barack Obama and a key supporter of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

The president is lobbying to reopen schools even as he acknowledges a surge in COVID-19 cases across the Sun Belt. The spike forced him to cancel Republican convention events in Jacksonville, Florida.

Mr. Trump wants Congress to provide more than $100 billion to repurpose schools to make them safe amid the pandemic. He said if school districts don’t open, then parents should be allowed to get some of the proposed money from Congress to put their kids in private or charter schools.

Stephen Moore, an economic commentator aligned with Mr. Trump, said he is advocating for education vouchers of $8,000-$10,000 for parents to use however they wish. He said parents should be able to band together and hire a teacher for a handful of kids in their neighborhood if schools are closed.

Meanwhile, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School — a private institution in Maryland attended by Mr. Trump’s son, Barron — has announced it is not planning to fully reopen when classes resume.

It’s exploring either distance-learning or a hybrid model that includes instruction on and off-campus, the school said in a letter to parents.

“We will make a final decision around how to begin the school year and share it with families the week of August 10. In the meantime, we are continuing to pay close attention to current guidance from state and county health officials, as well as the CDC, as the health status of our region evolves,” wrote Robert Kosasky, the head of school, and David Brown, the assistant head of school.

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