By Nicole Gaudiano
08/12/2020 08:28 PM EDT Updated: 08/12/2020 09:03 PM EDT
President Donald Trump announced a plan Wednesday to send 125 million reusable masks to school districts throughout the country and deploy CDC teams to those that need help reopening for in-person learning.
The president’s proposal, still short on public details, follows his continual plea for schools to welcome students back to classrooms despite gridlock in negotiation over a stimulus package that holds the promise of billions of dollars to help aid that reopening and facilitate distance education amid the pandemic.
“We got to open up. We got to open up our schools and open up our businesses,” Trump said during a White House briefing. “And a lot of it has been opened. But we can do better.”
Trump said earlier Wednesday that he wants federal funding to “follow the student” under the stimulus package being debated on Capitol Hill.
“We’re having a hard time with the Democrats. They want the money to follow the union,” he said, questioning why extra federal aid would go to schools that do not open for in-person instruction.
The president also offered recommendations and guidance for schools to protect “high-risk” teachers and students from the coronavirus, including through self health assessments, frequent hand washing, minimizing large gatherings, improved classroom ventilation and social distancing. He said masks should be encouraged when social distancing is not possible.
“Those advocating for a never-ending blanket nationwide lockdown have no answer for what it would do to the mental, physical and social health of millions of American children and people,” Trump said.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called the White House recommendations “almost comical in their lack of detail and rigor” and said the administration “simply sketched out what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention produced months ago.”
“There’s no mention of the testing for kids and teachers, or the threshold of community spread for schools to open,” Weingarten said. “They seem to finally understand the importance of ventilation and social distancing, but what are they doing to make it a reality?”
The stimulus plan Senate Republicans unveiled last month would boost school choice policies and set aside tens of billions of dollars in new funding for schools that reopen. But the battle over new coronavirus relief funds has stalled and could drag into September.
Pluralities of registered voters said this month that federal money for schools should neither be increased nor decreased, regardless of whether they open virtually or for in-person instruction, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
Trump has been calling for schools to fully reopen and lashed out at hybrid learning plans on Wednesday, saying “the concept of every other day” at school is “ridiculous,” despite guidance to the contrary from leading health experts. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned against a “one-size-fits-all approach.”
“If you are going to do it, you do it,” the president said. “If you are not going to do it, the concept of going back … every other day seems very strange.”