Pelosi: ‘We shouldn’t even be thinking’ about reopening schools without federal aid
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday warned that reopening schools without additional federal resources to help protect students, teachers and staff risks exacerbating coronavirus outbreaks, saying that “this is as serious as it gets.”
Congress is under pressure from education advocates to provide billions in aid to school systems to ensure they have adequate supplies and facilities to mitigate the risk of coronavirus spread in classrooms.
Both Democrats and Republicans are increasingly in agreement that education aid should be part of the next coronavirus relief legislation this month, but have yet to decide on the cost or conditions of the assistance.
Allocating that aid, Pelosi argued, is a minimal step needed for schools to figure out how they can possibly reopen safely.
“Let’s show that we put children first, and their education, by putting the resources there. Because without the resources, we shouldn’t even be thinking about sending them back to school,” Pelosi said during an interview with MSNBC’s Craig Melvin.
“The biggest risk to the spread of the pandemic is opening up the schools in a way that is not safe,” Pelosi said. “So if we’re going to defeat this pandemic, we shouldn’t be opening up to more arena to spread.”
Members of the Trump administration and some pediatric experts have argued that keeping schools closed puts vulnerable student populations at risk, like those in abusive home situations or who face food insecurity.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said last week during an interview with The Hill that he believes “having the schools actually closed is a greater public health threat to the children than having the schools reopen.”
Pelosi acknowledged that there should be systems in place to ensure children who normally depend on school meals still have enough to eat, like existing federal programs to serve meals to low-income children during the summer. But she argued that safety should be the priority in deciding to reopen schools.
“The fact is, it’s not a question of balancing equities. It’s about a question of crossing a threshold of safety,” Pelosi said.
House Democrats passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package in May that included $90 billion to help K-12 schools with the costs of cleaning school buildings, transportation that keeps students sufficiently spaced apart and technology for virtual learning.
It also included nearly $1 trillion for state and local governments to offset the budget holes left by the costs of communities trying to contain the pandemic and avoid layoffs of public workers such as teachers.
Senate Democrats also unveiled a proposal in late June that would provide $175 billion to help K-12 schools buy protective equipment, adhere to social distancing guidelines in classrooms and enhance virtual learning.
Senate Republicans have yet to act on either proposal. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week that monetary aid to help schools adhere to the CDC guidelines with increased sanitization, masks and virtual learning will be a priority in the negotiations over the next coronavirus relief package this month.
“You’re going to want the kids to wear masks, you’re going to want to do social distancing, you’ve got transportation issues, all of which will have a cost issue,” McConnell said.
Pelosi said the push by President Trump and others to reopen schools as a way to make it easier for parents to work full-time and boost the economy ultimately ignores the underlying problem that coronavirus cases are still spiking by the day in the U.S., particularly in the Sun Belt.
“We can open the economy, we can open our schools, if we test, trace, treat, separate, mask, hygiene and the rest. But we have to make a national decision to do it,” Pelosi said.
“And I’ll tell you this: I’m very afraid of where we are now because of the ignorance in the administration about what needs to be done, the recognition of the challenge that we face, and the threat to the health and well-being of the American people,” she said.
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