While the Trump administration continues its full-court press on schools to re-open, they sent out Betsy DeVos to defend an indefensible cause. Either that or the education secretary did not do her homework prior to her appearance on Sunday morning.
CNN’s Dana Bash continuously pressed DeVos on basic questions about students, teachers, and parents’ safety from the virus and whether schools should closely follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.
Although the interview extended past 20 minutes, it was clear DeVos had only a few talking points in her quiver, and she went to them often.
Bash asked DeVos multiple times if schools should follow CDC guidelines and the secretary repeated her answer using the word “flexible” several times while describing the health recommendations.
“The CDC guidelines are just that, meant to be flexible and meant to be applied as appropriate for the situation,” DeVos said.
The secretary’s focus was on the single message that schools need to re-open. But other than threatening to defund schools that refuse, she provided no answers for how they might deal with a possible outbreak and placed that responsibility on the institutions themselves.
“The key is that kids have to get back to school,” DeVos said, “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 have been missing months of learning.”
When DeVos tried to minimize the possibility that children will spread the virus, Bash used two examples that showed the concern is real. The host mentioned a Missouri summer camp that was forced to close after 82 campers and staff tested positive. And Bash also cited a report out of Texas where more than 1,300 children and employees in child care facilities have tested positive.
Bash also reminded the secretary that the CDC itself says the grouping of children “put everyone at risk.”
“Here’s what the CDC guidelines say: ‘If children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk. Children can pass this virus onto others who have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.’” Bash added, “That’s your own federal government’s guidelines.”
DeVos again noted that the priority should be for the children to be back in school.
“There’s 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,” DeVos said.
Bash tried to pin DeVos down again, asking, “So, I want to be clear from you. As the secretary of education, should schools in the United States follow the CDC recommendations or not?”
DeVos ducked the question by saying that the head of the CDC refers to the guidelines as “recommendations.”
So, Bash asked again: “What I want to know is if the federal government is all on the same page. As the secretary of education, should schools follow the guidelines of the CDC?”
DeVos said yes, the government does agree. But she spun the question into one about only re-opening schools and not whether CDC guidelines should be followed.
The federal government is “very much on the same page,” DeVos continued, saying, “Kids need to get back to school. They need to get back in the classroom. Families need for kids to get back in the classroom. And it can be done safely.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi followed DeVos on CNN and called the secretary’s interview “appalling.”
“I think what we heard from the secretary was malfeasance and dereliction of duty. This is appalling… The president and his administration are messing with the health of our children,” the speaker said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the Trump administration's push to restart in-person learning in schools is "messing with the health of our children" and that "going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus.” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/qsAECfIGGc
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) July 12, 2020