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U.S. education chief DeVos downplays risk of opening schools

UPDATED: Sun., July 12, 2020

By Erik Wasson and Ryan Beene Bloomberg News

The top U.S. education official downplayed the risk of reopening schools in the fall, a high priority of President Donald Trump, and repeated a threat to cut funding to schools that don’t fully resume in-person learning as educators wrestle with the risk of coronavirus.

“There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous. We know that children contract and have the virus at far lower incidence than any other part of the population,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Parents are expecting that this fall their kids are going to have a full-time experience with their learning, and we need to follow through on that promise,” she added.

The comments by DeVos come as U.S. education policy regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has moved to the forefront.

Trump and DeVos last week began to forcefully advocate that public elementary and high schools, as well as universities, reopen fully to students in the fall despite a resurgence in COVID-19 cases in many parts of the U.S., and suggested that funding could be pulled from schools that don’t comply.

“If schools aren’t going to open, they shouldn’t get the funds,” DeVos said on Fox. “Give it to the families.”

Separately, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” DeVos said there was “no desire to take money away,” but didn’t specifically say that the administration wouldn’t carry through with the threat.

“The rule should be that kids go back to school this fall,” DeVos said, adding that teachers who are at greater risk from coronavirus because of their age or underlying conditions should work it out with their local school districts.

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to safely reopen schools are “meant to be flexible and meant to be applied as appropriate for the situation,” DeVos claimed.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, appearing on CNN after DeVos, said the secretary’s comments added up to “malfeasance and dereliction of duty. They are messing with the health of our children.”

Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said on “Fox News Sunday” that while it’s true that children are less at risk of serious COVID-19 infection than adults, the virus can still be dangerous. He cited a 5-year-old in South Carolina who died from the virus.

Additionally, the science surrounding how easily children spread the virus to adults is still murky, Inglesby said.

“What’s less clear is how efficiently kids will spread the virus in school, both to each other and to teachers, adults and parents,” he said.

“In some places in the world, it seems like that has been relatively uncommon, but there are examples,” Inglesby said, citing a large outbreak in schools in Israel after schools reopened.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, with Vice President Mike Pence, speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the Department of Education building Wednesday on July 8.

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