Trump demands that schools reopen, with parents caught in the crossfire

Trump pressuring governors to follow Florida’s lead and mandate schools reopen

The president pushes for a full reopening of schools in the fall; Kristin Fisher reports from the White House.

Everyone wishes the schools could simply return to normal in September.

I want my kids back in the classroom. In fact, there’s a strong case to be made that the fate of the economy depends on it.

But it’s not that simple.

It is easy, in our hyperpartisan culture, to make those who are resisting a wholesale reopening sound like they are nervous nellies who don’t care about education. It is just as easy to make those who are pushing for a widespread reopening sound like they don’t care about the risks to students and teachers.

And parents are stuck smack in the middle of an untenable situation spawned by the pandemic.

Many colleges, including Harvard and the big California universities, have announced they are going online-only for the next academic year. At the public school level, many districts are still grappling with whether they can bring kids back to their buildings–perhaps on a rotating basis to reduce crowding–and Zoom in the rest of the time. And many of these schools are poorly ventilated.


The problem is the half-in, half-out approach really sticks it to working parents, including those who now have to start returning to offices and workplaces. What are they supposed to do during the weeks their kids are staying at home, especially with child care centers now posing their own risks?

Millions of parents are already stressed from having to juggle their own job duties while helping children, especially the younger ones, with their online classes and homework. They were eagerly awaiting the fall, at least until the recent surge in coronavirus cases in dozens of states scrambled the situation.

President Trump has strongly waded into the debate, saying that Democratic officials keep the schools closed because they think “it’s going to be good for them politically.” The result: “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools.”

Trump raised the stakes in a tweet yesterday: “In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”

I doubt the president would actually eliminate federal funding to schools that stay closed–that would generate lots of lawsuits–but the threat of yanking billions of dollars could give him some leverage.


Of course, as he accuses the other side of playing politics, it would also benefit Trump politically for most schools to reopen, fostering a sense of normalcy and progress against COVID-19 in the final weeks of the campaign.

The president also openly criticized his own Centers for Disease Control, faulting its “very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools.” So the White House signaled it will put out its own guidelines instead.

Mike Pence said yesterday that reopening schools was “the right thing to do for our kids.” He spoke at a virus task force briefing yesterday at the Education Department, without Trump, in what amounted to a full-court press for throwing open school doors.

The vice president made the reasonable argument that some kids rely on schools for meals or special-needs classes.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos took a shot at the school system in Virginia’s Fairfax County for offering families a choice of zero to two days a week in class this fall.

CDC chief Robert Redfield, playing defense, said it is “not the intent of CDC’s guidelines to be used as a rationale to keep schools closed.”

And Deborah Birx said there is no evidence the virus causes “significant mortality” in children–though older teachers could also be exposed.


To his credit, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, after being teed up by Pence, spoke of the importance of a “predictable schedule” for getting parents back into the work force.

Scalia said the situation is particularly hard on lower-income parents, that there are also “burdens” on parents teleworking, and that women often cite lack of child care for not returning to work.

This is the missing part of the debate. In a New York Times op-ed, blogger Deb Perelman says the reality is that “in the Covid-19 economy, you’re allowed only a kid or a job.

“Why isn’t anyone talking about this? Why are we not hearing a primal scream so deafening that no plodding policy can be implemented without addressing the people buried by it?…I think it’s because when you're home schooling all day, and not performing the work you were hired to do until the wee hours of the morning, and do it on repeat for 106 days (not that anyone is counting), you might be a bit too fried to funnel your rage effectively…"


“For months, I’ve been muttering about this — in group texts, in secret Facebook groups for moms, in masked encounters when I bump into a parent friend on the street. We all ask one another why we aren’t making more noise. The consensus is that everyone agrees this is a catastrophe, but we are too bone-tired to raise our voices above a groan, let alone scream through a megaphone.”

One other voice here belongs to Anthony Fauci, who wasn’t at the briefing. He said that “we have a great deal of polarization in our country,” and that “any politicization of anything that’s a public health matter has negative consequences.”

And that, of course, is where we are, just like with COVID-19 itself, just like with wearing masks, just like with anything having to do with the Trump presidency.

But despite the pressure that Washington can bring to bear, schools remain under the control of local officials who have to weigh the health risks before doing anything.

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