A coalition representing millions of American teachers and parents slammed President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday over their push to reopen schools by the fall without first presenting a concrete plan to protect students and educators from Covid-19.
"The White House and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] have offered at best conflicting guidance for school reopening, and today offered little additional insight," the National Education Association (NEA), the National Parent Teacher Association, and four other groups said in a joint statement late Tuesday.
"No one should listen to Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos when it comes to what is best for students."
—Lily Eskelsen García, National Education Association
The groups warned that "without a comprehensive plan that includes federal resources to provide for the safety of our students and educators with funding for personal protective equipment, socially distanced instruction, and addressing racial inequity, we could be putting students, their families, and educators in danger."
The statement came hours after Trump said during a roundtable discussion at the White House that his administration is going to "put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open."
"We're going to be putting a lot of pressure on: Open your schools in the fall," Trump said after accusing local officials of keeping schools closed "for political reasons."
DeVos, a billionaire advocate of school privatization, echoed Trump. "Under the president's strong leadership, our economy is roaring back," DeVos said. "Our schools must do the same."
Trump and DeVos both applauded Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis for ordering public schools to reopen for in-person classes at least five days per week beginning in August despite surging Covid-19 cases in the state.
Following the White House event, NEA president and sixth-grade teacher Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement that "no one should listen to Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos when it comes to what is best for students."
"If Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have proven anything over the past four years, it's that they do not care about students. They have zero credibility for how to best support students, and how to re-open classrooms safely," said García.
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"I dare Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos to sit in that classroom where the kids don't have what they need to be safe, and the school doesn't have enough money to provide a hotspot or a device for them because of the Senate’s failure to finish their job," García added. "Where they, and educators, don't have the masks and PPE they need. Where they can't socially distance because there are 40 kids in the class."
In the absence of a cohesive school reopening strategy from the Trump White House, NEA—the largest teachers union in the U.S.—released its own reopening guidelines last month to "ensure the safety of our members, students, and our most vulnerable communities while still providing a way forward."
"America must listen to the health experts on when to reopen schools," García said, "and to educators on how to return to in-person instruction."
“I double dog dare Donald Trump to sit in a class of 39 sixth graders and breathe that air without any preparation for how we’re going to bring our kids back safely.”
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia says schools can only reopen if done so safely. pic.twitter.com/d13sVYr5oS
— New Day (@NewDay) July 8, 2020
In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee Tuesday morning, García demanded that congressional Republicans "abandon their wait-and-see approach and act quickly" to approve desperately needed education funding.
"To stave off the elimination of thousands of critical educator positions, NEA urges Congress to provide at least $175 billion more for the Education Stabilization Fund," said García. "In addition, we are calling for at least $56 million in directed funding for protective equipment, and at least $4 billion to create a special fund to help close the 'Digital Divide.' Even when schools do open, they will very likely need to incorporate online learning."
García also urged Congress to pass Rep. Pramila Jayapal's (D-Wash.) Paycheck Guarantee Act, which would use federal grant dollars to cover 100% of worker benefits and salaries up to $100,000 for three months.
"Even now, NEA members have not lost hope that we can come out of this as a stronger nation, able to provide the opportunities that every student deserves," said García. "We stand ready to work with this committee to ensure that students in every school have the support and educators they need."