United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has recently echoed President Trump’s intent to reopen public schools throughout the country, despite persistent concerns about the consequences such an action may have on the health and safety of American children.
Secretary DeVos first made mention of this reopening plan in a CNN interview on July 12th, where she suggested that the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines are “merely guidance,” and that “kids have got to be back at school.” Although she disagreed with Trump by recommending that these reopenings should be implemented on a “school-by-school basis,” President Trump has already officially announced that he intends for schools across the country to reopen by this fall. For schools that refuse to comply with these mandates of the administration, DeVos has threatened to cut their funding and instead “allow families to take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools refuse to open.”
These announcements come amidst a resurgence of coronavirus cases throughout the country, in which 45 out of 50 American states are currently reporting a higher number of cases per day than when the pandemic first began in March. The recent outbreak has been particularly severe in states such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona, with Florida being the most extreme. The state has recently recorded an outbreak of over 15,000 COVID-19 cases, making it a hotspot for the virus not only within the U.S., but across the world.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases, has attributed recent spread of the virus to the fact that “some states skipped over [guidelines] and opened up too quickly.” Because of this, many states have been forced to forego their reopening plans and instead resume lockdown protocols to prevent the virus from spreading any further.
The fact that this rush to reopen may have created this recent coronavirus explosion brings into question whether the reopening of American schools is truly in the best interest of the public. In the largest clinical study conducted on coronavirus in children outside of China, researchers in the United Kingdom found that the fatality rate for infected minors under 18 was roughly 0.7%. Given that the U.S. is currently averaging about 987 infections per 100,000 people, and that there are 50 million K-12 public school students nationwide, this could mean that national school reopenings may put about 34,545 children potentially at risk of dying under this new policy. It should be noted that this figure is a rough estimate derived from generalized statistics across the entire population.
Additionally, according to a new report from the New York Times, internal documents from the CDC have warned that a complete reopening of K-12 schools would be the “highest risk” for the spread of coronavirus, as it may cause infection rates to rapidly rise across the country. The CDC has also raised similar concerns in their prior guidelines for school reopenings, although President Trump has criticized these guidelines as “very tough and expensive” and impractical for the U.S. to implement. He has also suggested that schools that do not open are doing so “because they think it’s going to be good for them politically,” without offering evidence of any political motive schools may have to remain shut down.
If schools were to follow the advice of the Trump administration, they may have to reopen in just about a month when students’ summer break ends in August. Yet, with this growing rift between the suggestions of the current administration and the medical and scientific communities, a consensus on reopening schools will likely not be reached for some time.
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