Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos pressed the need for schools to reopen in the fall on Sunday morning, but failed to fully articulate what measures would be put in place to ensure the health and safety of the students and teachers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
CNN’s Dana Bush repeatedly pressed DeVos numerous times on how closely schools should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s reopening guidelines, but DeVos continually labeled the guidelines as “flexible.”
“The CDC guidelines are just that, meant to be flexible and meant to be applied as appropriate for the situation,” DeVos said.
The interview lasted more than 20 minutes, but DeVos mainly just reiterated her few talking points without providing any clear answers, other than that schools need to reopen.
“The key is that kids have to get back to school,” DeVos said, “And we know there are going to be hot spots. And those need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. But the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall. They have been missing months of learning.”
Bash noted that CDC currently lists groups of children as a risk.
“Here’s what the CDC guidelines say: ‘If children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk. Children can pass this virus onto others who have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” Bash said. “That’s your own federal government’s guidelines.”
DeVos deflected the hit, by saying again that there will be “the exception to the rule,” and that the focus should be on getting kids back in the classroom.
“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 hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school-by-school or a case-by-case basis,” DeVos said.
Bash followed up: “So, I want to be clear from you. As the secretary of education, should schools in the United States follow the CDC recommendations or not?”
DeVos said the guidelines are not mandatory, but are instead “recommendations.”
Bash pressed once more, “What I want to know is if the federal government is all on the same page. As the secretary of education, should schools follow the guidelines of the CDC?”
The federal government is “very much on the same page,” DeVos said, without answering the question about following CDC guidelines. “Kids need to get back to school. They need to get back in the classroom. Families need for kids to get back in the classroom. And it can be done safely.”
DeVos’ comments drew sharp criticism from both educators and Democratic leaders.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) slammed the Trump administration’s move, calling it “wrong.”
“We’re not going to use our children as guinea pigs,” he said Monday.
“I represent 3 million teachers, lunch workers, bus drivers,” Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association told MSNBC. “Any one of my 3 million members is more qualified than Betsy DeVos to be talking about how to safely open schools.”
Appearing shortly after DeVos on CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) called the education secretary’s remarks “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.”
“The President and his administration are messing with the health of our children,” Pelosi continued. “We all want our children to go back to school: teachers do, parents do and children do but they must go back safely.”