In an interview with CNN, Ms DeVos offered little new information on what her department is doing to alleviate concerns of teachers, parents, and students about how schools can cope amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“So, yes or no? Can you assure students, teachers, parents, that they will not get coronavirus because they are going back to school?” CNN host Dana Bash asked Ms DeVos.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos repeatedly parried questions on Sunday about how US schools can safely re-open this fall, resorting to the refrain that they simply must open back up so that children can receive an education and parents can go back to work.
“Well, the key is that kids have to get back to school,” Ms DeVos replied. “We know there are going to be hotspots, 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’ve been missing months of learning. Many of them are going to be so far behind. It’s difficult to catch up.”
Throughout the interview, Ms DeVos downplayed the risks that the virus poses to students.
“We know that children get the virus at a far lower rate than any other part of the population,” she said. “There is nothing in the data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them.”
“In fact, it’s more a matter of their health and well-being that they be back in school,” she added.
Ms Bash continued to press Ms DeVos on the risks of re-opening schools, highlighting guidelines from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that urges parents to keep their kids socially distanced to avoid spreading the disease to more vulnerable populations, even if children are far less likely to die from the virus themselves.
A summer camp in Missouri closed after 82 campers and staff tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month. In Texas, more than 1,300 children and employees in child care facilities alone have tested positive, Ms Bash noted.
According to the CDC, “if children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk,” especially older people who are more likely to need hospitalisation or die from the disease.
“That’s your own federal government’s guidelines,” Ms Bash said.
In an interview with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace, Ms DeVos doubled down on her previous threats to withhold funding from school districts that do not immediately reopen in the fall.
Freezing such funding could be “exactly the wrong answer,” Mr Wallace said, especially during the pandemic when schools desperately need more money to develop health check procedures and other methods to ensure students aren’t coming in or leaving with Covid-19.
“American investment is a promise to students and their families,” Ms DeVos said. “If schools aren’t going to reopen and fulfil that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds. Then, give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise.”
Ms DeVos supports a school voucher system that is unlikely to ever become law so long as Democrats retain some negotiating power at the federal level.
Schools in many states are scheduled to open next month, even though new cases continue to climb in the US. Officials have reported more than 50,000 new cases for nine of the last 11 days.
The daily coronavirus death toll curve remains lower than its late-April and early-May peak.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticised Ms DeVos’ comments as “malfeasance” and a “dereliction of duty” for minimising the importance of safety concerns in the Trump administration’s messaging about kids returning to school.
“This is appalling,” Ms Pelosi said in her own interview with CNN on Sunday.
“The president and his administration are messing with the health of our children. We all want our children to go back to school. Teachers do, parents do and children do. But they must go back safely,” Ms Pelosi said.