Determined to reopen America's schools despite coronavirus worries, President Donald Trump threatened Wednesday to hold back federal money if school districts don't bring their students back in the fall. He complained that his own public health officials' safety guidelines are impractical and too expensive.
Shortly afterward, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be issuing new guidance next week “that will give all new tools to our schools.” The recommendations will keep students safe, he said, but “the president said today we just don't want the guidance to be too tough.”
Up until now, the CDC's guidance has recommended that students and teachers wear masks whenever feasible, spread out desks, stagger schedules, eat meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria and add physical barriers between bathroom sinks.
Despite Trump's increased his pressure on state and local officials, New York City announced that most of its students would return to classrooms only two or three days a week and would learn online in between. “Most schools will not be able to have all their kids in school at the same time,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Trump again accused Democrats yet again of wanting to keep schools closed for election-year reasons rather than health concerns. And he issued a veiled threat to CDC officials over their reopening guidelines, tweeting, “I will be meeting with them!!!”
Elsewhere in the nation, many states continued to confront a resurgence of the the virus, which has claimed more than 130,000 lives in the U.S.. But safety obstacles in schools can be surmounted, Trump insisted, and reopening “is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”
He did not say what funding he would pull, but Pence suggested at a coronavirus task force briefing that future COVID-19 relief bills could be tied to reopening schools as one way “to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back in school.”
Trump's Twitter warnings drew backlash from some governors who said he has no authority over schools' fall plans. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said officials will reopen when it's safe to do so.
“School reopenings are a state decision, period,” he said at a news conference. “That is the law, and that is the way we are going to proceed. It's not up to the president of the United States.”