Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s threat to withhold funds from schools that refuse to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, while refusing to say whether her department will follow federal safety health guidelines, which she said are “meant to be flexible.”
“American investment in education is a promise to students and their families. If schools aren’t going to reopen, and not fulfill that promise, then 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,” she said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace.
DeVos’ comments came after Trump accused Democrats last week of wanting to keep schools closed in the hopes that it would hurt his reelection bid this November. He further criticized COVID-19 school safety guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calling them “very tough & expensive.”
“May cut off funding if not open!” Trump said on Twitter Wednesday.
Wallace pointed out that only Congress has the authority to cut school funding, to which DeVos responded that the administration is “looking at all of the options.”
The CDC’s guidelines include hand washing, mask wearing, not sharing materials, and keeping people at least 6 feet apart. DeVos emphasized that the guidelines are not hard rules.
“The CDC guidelines are just that, meant to be flexible and meant to be applied as appropriate for the situation,” she told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.” She repeatedly declined to say whether the federal government is following the CDC’s guidelines when asked.
DeVos instead highlighted a need to balance virus safety with children’s education, arguing that keeping kids out of school not only stunts their education but in some cases fuels mental health issues.
“There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous,” DeVos told Wallace, despite the World Health Organization on Thursday acknowledging the possibility that the virus can be airborne indoors.
“We know that other countries around the world have reopened their schools and have done so successfully and safely,” she said.
She further defended Trump’s comparison of the U.S. to several European countries where schools have safely reopened. That’s despite those countries — Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden — reporting as few as 11 new cases a day. The U.S. recorded 66,281 new cases on Saturday. Because of the continuing coronavirus surge in the U.S., the European Union continues to ban American travelers.
DeVos conceded that schools in viral “hot spots” should “be dealt with differently,” though she did not specify which areas or in what way. Forty states have reported a growing number of COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.
“We’re not talking about places where it’s, quote, ‘out of control.’ We’re talking about the rule, not the exception. And where there are hot spots, in the future in the fall, of course, that has to be dealt with differently,” DeVos said.