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Trump says he will pressure states to reopen schools in fall

AP Photo/Alex Brandon President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, left, and first lady Melania Trump, attend a "National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America's Schools," event in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 7, in Washington.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched an all-out effort to reopen schools this fall, arguing that some are keeping schools closed not because of the coronavirus pandemic, but for political reasons against the will of families.

“We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants it. The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it,” Trump said at a White House event. “We’re very much gong to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools.”

Trump did not immediately explain how he would pressure governors, but he repeated an earlier claim that Democrats want to keep schools closed for political reasons and not health reasons. He made the same claim Monday on Twitter, saying, “They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!”

At a White House roundtable hosted by Trump, speaker after speaker addressed the need to get students back in the classroom, both for academic and mental health reasons. They minimized the risk of the spread of COVID-19 among children but acknowledged that it was important to protect the vulnerable.

In making its case, the Trump administration has argued that keeping students at home carries greater risks than any tied to the coronavirus. Health officials say students need to be in schools this fall to continue their educational development and to access meal programs and services for mental and behavioral health.

“Children’s mental health and social development must be as much of a priority as physical health,” first lady Melania Trump said at the roundtable. “The same is true for parents. Many will be forced to make stressful choices between caring for their children and going back to work.”

Trump made his remarks hours after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos assailed plans by some local districts to offer in-person instruction only a few days a week and said schools must be “fully operational.”

Anything less, she says, would fail students and taxpayers.

DeVos made the comments during a call with governors. Audio of the call was obtained by The Associated Press.

“Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools need to open, it’s a matter of how. School must reopen, they must be fully operational. And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders,” DeVos told governors.

It followed earlier comments from Trump insisting that schools return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

But some are calling for greater caution as schools plan for the fall. Arne Duncan, who served as Education Secretary under former President Barack Obama, has said the focus should be on making sure students can return safely.

“We all want children to go back to school,” Duncan said on Twitter. “The question is whether we care enough about our children to ALLOW them to go to school safely. Our behavior, our commitment to shared sacrifice — or our selfishness — will determine what happens this fall for kids.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out guidance for schools last month, including staggering schedules, spreading out desks, having meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria, adding physical barriers between bathroom sinks and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

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