U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and CNN guest-anchor Dana Bash engaged in a vigorous back-and-forth debate on the topic of schools reopening in the fall.
The Sunday morning “State of the Union” segment began with Bash contending that “everyone shares the same goal” of schools reopening, but then asking DeVos whether she can “assure students, teachers, parents, that they will not get coronavirus because they are going back to school?”
“Well, the key is that kids have to get back to school,” DeVos responded. “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’ve been missing months of learning. Many of them are going to be so far behind, it’s going to be difficult to catch up. And we know this is a matter of their health in a multitude of factors or multitude of dimensions. We know that their emotional well-being, their mental well-being, and particularly kids from low-income and vulnerable populations, this is devastating to be out of school and not learning for months on end.”
After Bash rephrased her original question, DeVos pointed out that children “get the virus at a far lower rate than any other part of the population.”
“And, again, there is nothing in the data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them,” she said. “And, in fact, it’s more a matter of their health and well-being that they be back in school. We’ve seen this in other countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world where students have gone back to school and have done so very successfully. That should be the goal.”
Bash cited two instances of children spreading the virus, to which DeVos countered with data from YMCAs that show no “high incidents of infections.” The two then went back and forth on the CDC guidelines, with DeVos arguing that the agency “never recommended schools close down in the first place.”
“No, what we’re saying is that kids need to be back in school, and that school leaders across the country need to be making plans to do just that,” DeVos said responding to a question about her department “compelling” schools to reopen against their will by withholding federal funding. “There is 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.”
“There’s ample opportunity to have kids in school,” DeVos continued. “There are many counties across the country that have virtually no cases. And so school leaders need to be looking at the granular data right on the ground where they are and looking at if there are problems, then how are you going to deal with them? But the goal needs to be that kids are learning full-time again this fall.”
As the discussion continued, a key aspect throughout featured Bash pushing back against DeVos’ argument that local schools can approach things differently based on their situation.
“So as the secretary of education, should schools in the United States follow the CDC recommendations or not?” Bash said at one point. (RELATED: Stanford’s Dr. Scott Atlas: There Is ‘No Science Behind Having Children Not Attend Schools’)
“Dr. Redfield has clearly said these are recommendations, and every situation is going to look slightly different,” said DeVos. “And the key for education leaders, and these are smart people who can figure things out. They can figure out what is going to be right for their specific situation. Because every school building is different, every school population is different.”
“I want to just tell you that I don’t know that it’s clear,” Bash told DeVos later. “Because the CDC guidelines do lay out steps in which they see a vision for returning to school safely. And I don’t hear that coming from you.”
“Well, I know for a fact that there are many schools that have been working hard to put together their plans for moving ahead,” said DeVos. “And we want to see every school district, every state doing the same thing to say not what we can’t do but what we’re going to do and what we can do. We’re a country of action, we’re a country of doers. We have education leaders who can work hard and figure this out.”