Inside today’s White House summit on reopening American schools
In the weeks ahead, educators and government officials at the state and local level will be making important decisions about when to safely reopen America’s schools.
“Our shared goal should be to have students physically present in school this fall if at all possible,” the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Sally Goza, said at a White House summit today on Safely Reopening America’s Schools.
President Trump and his Administration know that schools are a crucial part of every American community. More than $13 billion from the President’s CARES Act is dedicated to helping schools navigate the extraordinary challenges presented by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Today’s White House summit brought together health and education officials from across government and society, including Dr. Deborah Birx, Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Panels featured state and local leaders, healthcare professionals, school administrators, teachers, and parents.
First Lady Melania Trump—whose Be Best initiative focuses on improving child well-being—and Second Lady Karen Pence, a teacher, both joined the summit, as did President Trump and Vice President Pence.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, offered this statement urging local governments to reopen schools this fall: “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”
Long periods away from school, the AAP says, interrupts support services for children and often results in social isolation. These factors make it “difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation,” they add.
“This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk.”
Secretary Azar spoke on President Trump’s bold actions to both slow the spread of Coronavirus and get America back open for business. “Through this historic response to this unprecedented pandemic, we have the tools to get back to work, back to school, and back to healthcare,” he said.
The CDC is encouraging schools to have plans in place that will help anticipate cases, minimize spread, and limit the need for school closures. Since every school is unique, each will require a different approach to safely welcome students back to the classroom.
Secretary DeVos said the Administration expects children to be back in their learning environments this fall—and urged decision-makers to think practically about the consequences if children do not return to the classroom this year.
“We want to reopen the schools,” President Trump said. “Everybody wants it. The moms want it. The dads want it. The kids want it. It’s time to do it.” He added that America’s Coronavirus mortality rate is down tenfold from the peak of the crisis.
Now, as more states safelyreopen under President Trump’s guidelines, local leaders must continue to put the critical needs of America’s children first.
PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP IS SUPPORTING THE SAFE REOPENING OF AMERICA’S SCHOOLS
“Our country has got to get back, and it’s got to get back as soon as possible. And I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed.” – President Donald J. Trump
SAFELY REOPENING SCHOOLS: President Donald J. Trump and his Administration are working to support the safe reopening of schools for the fall.
Today, President Trump is hosting a national dialogue with State, local, and tribal leaders, educators, and families to discuss the importance of reopening all of America’s schools in a safe way, starting from the premise of what is best for the children of America.
President Trump knows that, for the wellbeing of our children and country, students must begin safely learning again and receiving supportive services from schools.
As the American Academy of Pediatrics has said, “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
PROMOTING SAFE AND EFFECTIVE LEARNING: The importance of in-person learning is well documented, and continued closures stand to negatively impact the welfare of America’s youth.
Through educational advancement and the many supportive services they provide, our Nation’s schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development.
Continued school closures could have serious consequences for the holistic health of children and communities, especially those who are most underserved, for generations.
Research has shown that school closures disproportionately affect the most vulnerable students, widening disparities in achievement and harming economic potential.
Lengthy time away from schools – and associated interruptions in supportive services – make it difficult for schools to best serve their students’ wellbeing.
While children are away from schools, educators are unable to effectively address important learning deficits, child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.
School closures also limit the availability of reliable, healthy meals for some students and take away physical activity options for children and families.
SUPPORTING STUDENTS AND SCHOOLS: The Trump Administration is providing strong support to ensure K-12 students continue to learn while mitigating the spread of the virus.
The President has made more than $13 billion available to support continued education for K-12 students enrolled in public, charter, and private schools affected by the coronavirus.
Through the Treasury Department’s $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, State and local governments can access funding to help school districts affected by the coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released detailed guidance to ensure school officials understand how to prepare for, prevent transmission of, and react quickly to coronavirus cases within an education system.
The CDC has offered schools supplemental considerations on how to assess risks of in-person classes, class sizes, behaviors, and cleaning techniques and provided guidance to help schools determine the necessity of conducting screenings, testing, and contact tracing.
The Trump Administration has provided flexibility for school breakfast and lunch programs, helping children access nutritious meals in a safe manner for the entire school-year.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] has released a needed opinion that is strongly in favor of getting children back to school this fall,” the Washington Examiner editorial board writes.
“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” a statement from the group reads. President Trump is hosting a National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools event at the White House today.
On Sunday night, the Mayor of Atlanta "issued a full-throated call for citizens to stop ‘shooting each other up on our streets,’ after an 8-year-old girl was shot and killed on the Fourth of July,” Gregg Re writes. “You can't blame this on police officers,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said. Last month, President Trump offered federal help for any states and cities needing to quell violence and restore order to their streets. Read more in Fox News.
“At the direction of President Donald Trump, USDA built from the ground up an innovative new program called the Farmers to Families Food Box. This $3 billion program is supporting America’s farmers and producers by partnering with distributors to buy food that would otherwise go uneaten and distribute it to families and people who need food,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue writes in The Detroit News.
“President Trump just suspended nearly all guest-worker programs for the rest of the year. This historic executive order will open up more than 500,000 jobs to Americans—and it’ll disproportionately help Black citizens. These reforms aren’t mere rhetoric. They’re tangible proof that Donald Trump believes Black workers matter,” writes Tom Broadwater, an advocate for minority and other workers, in The Washington Times.
BACKGROUND PRESS CALL BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS ON SAFELY REOPENING AMERICA’S SCHOOLS
9:05 A.M. EDT
MS. LEAVITT: Thank you, Operator. Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining today’s briefing on the administration’s dialogue concerning the safe reopening of American’s schools.
Today at 3:00 p.m., President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, several administration officials, and teachers, administrators, and students from around the country will participate in a roundtable discussion on the safe reopening of schools, with respect to the holistic health and learning needs of America’s students.
This briefing will be conducted by [senior administration officials]. Both opening remarks and the question-and-answer portion to follow will be background to “senior administration officials,” and all information is embargoed until the conclusion of this call.
With that, I am happy to introduce [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. I appreciate you setting up this call today, and thanks for joining.
I wanted to share a few thoughts on the overarching programing throughout the day today. At 11 o’clock this morning, the Vice President will be doing a call with our nation’s governors on the same topic that was just laid out: safely reopening America’s schools. And then, this afternoon, we’ll have a robust afternoon of programing on, again, discussing the importance of safely reopening America’s schools to respect the holistic health and learning needs of America’s students. And as was laid out, we will have a big -- a variety of stakeholders in both then higher ed and the K-12 space -- administrators, teachers, students, and parents -- that will share perspective and identify best practices to safely reopen America’s schools.
I’ll yield to my colleague to talk more about those practices and the CDC’s perspective on that. But we will also have additional health and education leaders from the state level.
We’ll also have Dr. Sally Goza from the American Academy Of Pediatrics, who will share perspective on their report that they put out about a week ago. And -- where they said, and I will quote, “The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” unquote.
And so we’re going to have both health and education leaders, practitioners at the educational K-12 and higher-ed level, again, along with students and parents. And so, a great variety of the stakeholders here today -- we’re going to have a panel with Secretary Azar and Secretary DeVos led by Dr. Birx. We’re going to have a panel on the ABC’s of safely reopening schools. And then also a panel on those who are going to implement safely reopening schools.
And then the final event of the day will be a culminating roundtable with the President, the Vice President, the First Lady, and the Second Lady, along with about 20 other stakeholders that will be involved in the programing throughout the afternoon. And so we’re really excited about the day’s programing to help identify best practices.
And with that, I’ll turn it back over.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. And thank you. And thank you all for joining us this morning. My name is [senior administration official].
We understand that this is an important conversation where our educators will be following the leads of our public health officials to ensure that they are able to fulfill their obligations to meet the unique learning needs of each and every student. Throughout this crisis, we’ve been concerned that students, particularly our most vulnerable students, have lost access to the support services they need in order to meet their child development goals and their educational attainment goals.
Finally, we recognize that our education officials need the guidance and leadership of our public health officials and that they are eager to return to the classroom, particularly those receiving federal support in response to this crisis.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. It’s important to consider schools as high-priority settings within the community, given the unique and critical role they play in our society. In the local context, the needs of all school districts are unique, and as such, plans for returning to school should be tailored in a way that minimizes the risk of COVID-19 spread while providing students with the critical services, academic resources, and social and emotional support that they need.
CDC encourages school districts to make reopening plans that anticipate COVID-19 cases, minimizing the risk of spread, and then limit the need for the potential of school closures.
Schools are an important -- for the wellbeing of students, families, and communities. They provide critical services that help mitigate health disparities in children, such as school lunch programs, as well as the social, physical, behavioral, and mental health services for the students.
School closures disrupt these critical services to the children and their families and can have a significant negative impact on the health of the communities.
MS. LEAVITT: Okay. Thank you. And with that, we will move into the question-and-answer portion. Again, all information is on background to “senior administration officials.”
Operator, you may open up the line.
Q Thank you so much. To the senior administration officials on the call, has the President discussed whether he is showing signs of concerns with the reopening of America’s school, particularly with the spikes across the country? How is the White House Coronavirus Task Force going to respond to that if spikes are still present when schools are reopened? Thanks so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much for your question. I think it is really -- as I mentioned in my opening comments, really critically important to get our schools open. And I think it’s worth noting that CDC, actually, in its guidances, we never recommended through the pandemic -- in March, April, and May -- that actually that schools close. Those were local jurisdictional decisions that were made.
We do believe there are a variety of strategies that schools can adopt that really minimize the risk, and then can open these schools quite safely. And I think that’s really the intent here.
I think, as we know, the relative significance of COVID infection in individuals that are in the age groups, particularly under the age of 30, is that this frequently is a self-limited disease. The biggest risk in -- obviously, in K-12 and in higher learning is really the risk that these individuals get infected and somehow then transmit that infection to someone who is more vulnerable in the community, in the society.
So, we’re going to, again, stress that the most important thing that we do now as we reopen our schools is that we double down in our commitment to protect the vulnerable.
Q Hi. Thanks for doing this call. You mentioned -- one of you mentioned schools getting federal support in your opening remarks. Are there any plans to use federal money, particularly Department of Education funds, as a carrot or stick -- perhaps withhold federal assistance to schools systems that do not have in-person instruction?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right. Thank you -- thank you for the question. So, as part of the CARES Act, schools received more than $13 billion as a -- to help them respond to the COVID-19 situation. That funding (inaudible) was very flexible in its uses, whether it was allowed to support their -- the provision of distance education and remote learning services, or whether it was allowed to use for -- to support (inaudible) activities or activities that will actually maintain the continuity of services in the physical building itself.
Q Hi. Thank you for doing this. Yesterday, DHS announced that F-1 and M-1 visas would be suspended for international students. I was wondering -- for these international students who were doing online courses in the fall. And so a number of these universities have announced that they’re going to just online courses. I’m wondering why the Trump administration made that decision, who made that decision, and how that benefits the education system in this country.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Could you please repeat your name and your outlet, and I will follow up with you on that question?
Q Sure. It’s Liz Landers, with VICE News.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, great. Thank you, Liz. I will follow up with you today.
Q Yes. Hi, good morning. Thank you. Just to follow on the question that was asked about the federal carrots or sticks. I did hear the response about the $13 billion, but my question is: In addition to that, what is there, from a regulatory standpoint or what other methods might there be specifically to perhaps punish schools who are not reopening according to a timeline that might be the most beneficial for students from your perspective? Is there something in addition to that $13 billion?
And one other question is: What has been the response that you have seen from teachers unions? Are they in opposition to this? Do you anticipate that they will be pushing back and saying that you might be putting their members -- i.e. the adults in the room, the teachers -- at exposure to COVID because they are older and potentially more vulnerable?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for the questions. First, in addition to the dollars -- the $13 billion that were referenced -- all the state, local, and tribal leaders also received about $150 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund that also are flexible dollars that can be prioritized in ways that they deem best use.
Also, I think today is, again, going to be focused on identifying best practices -- both those identified by the CDC, those identified by the American Association of Pediatrics, and those identified by practitioners all across the country -- to do this safely and to use commonsense measures and best practices to make sure that we reopen our schools, again, for the holistic health and the learning needs of American students.
And so, from many -- as the folks on this line know, school decisions are local decisions. And so we’re going to provide folks with resources -- both the dollars that we’ve referenced, but also help identify best practices, which the CDC has done, but also other organizations have done as well -- to make sure that this can be done safely moving forward.
Q Thank you very much. You mentioned that there are vulnerable -- vulnerable students have been hurt by the closures. Are you pushing for summer school for these students, especially children with special needs? And I have another question after that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. I think we support learning recovery activities, which is one of the reasons why you saw the flexibility when it came to providing the funding. When it comes to the individual needs of particular students, particularly individuals with disabilities, we are very deliberate in not requesting any waivers of the statutory authority underlying provision of education services to those students.
How state and local authorities go about in providing those services, we think, is best left to them. But we recognize that, you know, schools play an important role in facilitating access to these services and that learners with particular needs have had some of the greatest challenges when it comes to accessing services or actually fulfilling their -- meeting their learning goals through a distance or a remote setting.
Q Hi. Thanks so much for taking my question. I have, I guess, a two-fold question. The first is: The New York Times had to sue the CDC to get racial data, and their analysis shows that black and Latino people in the United States are three times as likely to contract the virus as white people, and nearly twice as likely to die. Is that information accurate based on the CDC’s analysis? And if so, how does that impact which schools should be reopening and how they should be reopening?
And then the second question is: What are the metrics guiding how and when schools are being opened or should be opened?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much for your question. And as you noted, clearly there’s evidence that Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, African Americans, and Hispanic Latino have been disproportionately impacted by the morbidity associated with this infection. And I think it’s highlighted the health disparities that have existed in our nation, largely because of the occurrence of specific comorbidities: diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, reactive airway disease, obesity.
And so it has underscored the importance of us developing effective approaches to those underlying conditions that are driving this health disparity, and we continue to expand the full extent in which we have data that can be transparent, in terms of ethnic group and race impact on this.
Related to the school issues and the parameters that would be used: As I mentioned before -- and I think it’s important to reflect on it -- is that CDC never recommended school closures. We didn’t feel that was really an effective public health strategy that needed to be operationalized. But as was said earlier, these decisions are local decisions, and local jurisdictions made those decisions.
Our goal right now is to work hand in hand with the local jurisdictions now to help let them see the best ways to reopen these schools in a safe way and get back to where we would have really preferred to have been through the spring of this year, which was to have that active educational component available to the students. Because as was mentioned, it’s such an important component of our communities and it’s a really important component of the wellbeing and health of individuals that are school age.
Q Hi, thank you. Yesterday, Florida announced that it was mandating that schools must fully reopen next month. Were you consulted on that decision? And is it your recommendation to states, like Florida, that are seeing spikes that their schools should open at full capacity?
And I have a second question as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for the question. So, honestly, these are state and local decisions at the end of the day, and we have confidence that state and local leaders across the country are taking these decisions very seriously and leveraging best practices that they’ve identified.
Again, the CDC has had guidance out for quite a while. They continue to update those. And also, again, the outside groups that have looked at this issue have had recommendations out for a while as well, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.
And so we have confidence that the state and local leaders are looking out for those best practices and leveraging those as they make these decisions moving forward.
Q But were you consulted by Florida? And have you been consulted by other states on their plans to reopen schools?
And then, secondarily, what is your advice to schools about reopening afterschool daycares?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, on the continuation of the first question: Again, these are state and local decisions, and we’re here to provide best practices and help connect with resources, and that’s what we’ve done as we’ve moved forward here. We stay in very close contact with state and local leaders on a variety of COVID response and reopening activities, including -- the Vice President was briefly down in Florida as well. We stay in close contact with Governor DeSantis and his team, and we look forward to doing that with state and local leaders of various political stripes moving forward.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And what was the second question?
Q The second question was: What is your advice to schools about reopening afterschool daycares?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just emphasize that, in addition to the guidances that we have on K through 12, as well as higher education, we do have guidances that we provided on childcare, daycare centers, as well as youth camps, for the different states and local jurisdictions to consider.
And just to add to what was said previously, that the CDC is in regular -- I mean, literally weekly contact with the state, local, tribal, territorial public health officials on a variety of the issues of reopening America. And we do have pretty close to constant dialogue with them, sharing our guidance, advice, et cetera, for their consideration.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The only thingI would add is, in addition, today’s conversation between the Vice President and our nation’s governors is actually the second one on this very topic. And so the Trump administration takes this topic very seriously in being good partners with our state, local, and tribal leaders across the country, and educational partners. And so we’re having another conversation today on this very topic of safely reopening America’s schools to look out for the holistic health and learning needs of America’s students.
Q Yep, thank you. Thank you for doing the call. About the decision yesterday on foreign college students and visas, did the CDC or other government health officials contribute to that decision? And do you have any concern about essentially forcing foreign college students to take in-person classes while they’re in the U.S., regardless of any health risks they may pose to their classmates? Thank you.
MS. LEAVITT: Hi, Paul. I will follow up with you on that question later this afternoon.
That’s actually going to be the conclusion of the question-and-answer portion. Thank you everyone for calling in today and for asking your questions.
Again, all of this information was on background, to “senior administration officials.” And as always, please direct all further questions to the White House Press Office.