Is Betsy DeVos Blackmailing Schools To Reopen, Whether Or Not It’s Safe?

Brianna Provenzano
WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 19: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos listens during a cabinet meeting in the East Room of the White House on May 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the day President Trump met with members of the Senate GOP. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 19: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos listens during a cabinet meeting in the East Room of the White House on May 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the day President Trump met with members of the Senate GOP. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Responding to repeated insistences from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that students must return to school full time this Fall despite concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) wrote on Twitter that the Trump administration official has “no plan,” and said that “teachers, kids and parents are fearing for their lives.”

“You point to a private sector that has put profits over people and claimed the lives of thousands of essential workers,” Pressley wrote on Sunday. “I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child.”

The call-out came hours after DeVos made the rounds on the Sunday morning shows, doubling down on her previous calls to fully reopen schools and have children return to “learning full-time,” even as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the country. In one particular sentiment, DeVos suggested that schools that do not re-open should not receive any additional government funds during the pandemic.

“If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds,” DeVos said, with an “investment in education” as the promise she referred to. “And give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise.”

DeVos repeatedly doubled down saying 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. “There’s going to be the exception to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this Fall. 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.”

According to a report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), children make up about 0.02% of all COVID-19 fatalities. In the U.S., this amounts to over 10,000 children under the age of 15. DeVos came under fire over the weekend when a viral Tweet suggested that she was willing to let thousands of children risk their lives in order to re-open schools and avoid seeking alternate plans for education during the pandemic.

Despite threats from the Trump administration to cut federal funding from districts who refuse to plan for full reopenings, many districts have outlined plans to reopen in a limited capacity, or to lean more heavily on online learning curriculums in lieu of making in-person classroom attendance mandatory. During her appearance on CNN’s State of the Union broadcast on Sunday, DeVos danced around host Dana Bash’s repeated questions about what school districts should be doing in order to ensure that students are safe this Fall.

“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,” DeVos said. “Every school population is different.”

“Okay, but I’m not hearing a plan from the Department of Education,” Bash responded. “Do you have a plan for what students and what schools should do?”

“Schools should do what’s right on the ground at that time for their students and for their situation,” DeVos replied.

DeVos also dodged questions about the Trump administration’s seriousness when it comes to stripping schools of their federal funding, saying that her department is simply “committed to ensuring that students are in school and learning.” The comments immediately drew the ire of several top Democrats, who countered that the Trump administration’s carelessness in providing guidance on school reopenings bordered on misconduct.

“What we heard from the secretary was malfeasance and dereliction of duty,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said during a separate interview on CNN on Sunday. “This is appalling.”

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) said in a tweet that DeVos’ “lack of leadership on how to safely resume schools is dangerous to our students, our teachers, and our staff.” Harris also wrote: “She has no plan.”

Time and again, DeVos has signaled a willingness to acquiesce to President Trump’s most base impulses when it comes to school safety. In addition to a long history of siphoning funding away from public schools in order to benefit private ones, DeVos also famously advocated for federal dollars to be spent on arming teachers in the wake of a deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and faculty members dead. 

But on Sunday, at least one GOP leader signaled a commitment to limiting school reopenings in his state until it seemed safe for students and faculty to do so.“Everybody would like to get our kids back to school as quickly as we can, but we also want to do it and make sure our kids are going to be as safe as possible,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said during a Sunday appearance on Meet The Press. “So, we’re not going to be rushed into this.”

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