Donald Trump made clear on Wednesday he is willing to do battle with local and tribal school officials – and his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leaders – over getting children back into the classroom this fall.
Senior administration officials on Tuesday notably opted against threatening school systems with possibly withholding $13b recently allocated by Congress to help them deal with the coronavirus outbreak. But the president did just that the next morning.
“In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS,” he tweeted. “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!
That was a warning shot over the bow of any local and tribal school system officials who are hesitant about opening schools in just a few months – as Covid-19 cases spike in the Sun Belt, with states like Arizona, Florida and South Carolina outpacing entire countries in terms of new cases in the last several weeks.
“So, as part of the CARES Act, schools received more than $13 billion … to help them respond to the COVID-19 situation. That funding was very flexible in its uses, whether it was allowed to support their, the provision of distance education and remote learning services, or whether it was allowed to use … to support activities or activities that will actually maintain the continuity of services in the physical building itself,” a senior administration said in a heavily veiled threat on a call with reporters.
The next day, the president did not stop with school system and local officials. He also threw down the gauntlet on his own hand-picked CDC leaders. Mr Trump apparently believes the center’s guidelines for re-opening schools are too rigorous and could lead some officials to decide to keep their students on an online-only curriculum come the fall term.
“I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” he tweeted Wednesday morning.
That came just hours after the president had warm words for CDC Director Robert Redfield during a Tuesday afternoon White House event on reopening schools across the country.
“And I see Dr. Redfield over in the audience, and I appreciate it. And I know you’d like to see everybody coming back and getting back to school in the fall,” the president said with a smile. “And I’ve read everything you’ve written, and I appreciate that very much, doctor. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.”
Overwhelming majorities of Americans believe the country had reopened too quickly amid the ongoing – and worsening – pandemic. Majorities of Americans disapprove of Mr Trump’s response, even as he pushes for states to do more to open and schools to be open in the fall.
“We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants it,” the president said, ignoring warnings from some health experts who say it would lead to another spike in cases. “The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it.”
Mr Trump lacks the legal authority, however, to order public or private schools to open. Those decisions are up to state and local officials, and the director of privately operated and funded institutions.
The president appears to think the economy and schools should be fully open, with some exceptions, because the Covid-19 mortality rate across the country is in decline.
“You know, our mortality rate is, right now, at a level that people don’t talk about, but it’s down tenfold. Tenfold,” he claimed at the Tuesday event. “So, if you look at, deaths are way down from this horrible ‘China virus,’ and it’s a disgrace that it happened. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, continues hammering the president. Mr Biden has said Mr Trump has waved a “white flag” of surrender and failed to craft the needed plans to deal with the disease that has killed over 131,000 in the US and infected another 3m, according to The Johns Hopkins University.