What Matters: The truth about Trump’s call to reopen schools

Related: The schools mess is a complete crisis. And completely unfixable

Opening schools is obviously a welcome goal for working parents. Texas, yet another hot spot whose governor is just a key Trump ally, announced later on Tuesday that it might offer all parents the choice of remote learning — and would require masks in schools.

The Florida order — which calls for all schools to open brick-and-mortar facilities five days per week for all students and for districts to submit step by step reopening plans — is full of caveats and exceptions.

A careful reading

Read this language from the order, which was signed by state education commissioner Richard Corcoran:

a. All schools open. Upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open offline schools at the least five days per week for many students, subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of health, Executive Order 20-149 and subsequent executive orders. Absent these directives, the day-to-day decision to open or close a school should rest locally with the board or executive most closely of a school, the superintendent or school board in the case of a district-run school, the charter governing board in the case of a public charter school or the private school principal, director or governing board in the case of a nonpublic school.

That sure makes it appear to be all schools in Florida aren’t of necessity going to be open in the fall.

Now read this tweet from Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie, which he posted hours prior to the order:

“It is up to each individual school district how it reopens in the fall and we will submit a plan to FLDOE. We will continue to follow the advice of our public health and medical experts as to how and when it is safe for our @browardschools community to return to school.”

Sounds such as a definite “maybe.”

Now listen to Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who appeared on CNN on Tuesday to talk about the order and the need for districts to have flexibility.

He said that he could adhere to the order to open schools whilst not actually bringing kids to school every single day:

“We have innovative models, models where students do not need to come to school for education,” Carvalho said. “In the last quarter we demonstrated how effective they can be, continuous remote education without necessarily forcing all students into the same building at the same time.”

He said their internal surveys suggests 30% of parents could actually choose remote learning in today’s environment.

That does not sound too much off most of the plans other school districts in other states have already been considering.

Later, Carvalho said definitively that the present situation must change before kids reunite to class. “I will not reopen our school system August 24th if the conditions are what they are today,” that he said.

Despite the President’s activist stance, they’re largely local decisions, as Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy Homeland Security secretary and former Virginia attorney general, noted Tuesday on CNN.

“The federal government can’t order schools to do A, B or C,” that he said. “Certainly, the President is seeking the maximum reopening we can get not just of schools, but of the economy.”

New CDC guidance for school districts is expected next week, according to Vice President Mike Pence, even though we should mention that states (at Trump’s prodding) did not follow CDC guidelines for opening up. And now cases of coronavirus are resurging.

We haven’t even addressed several key dilemmas, like:

Transportation. Can old buses be crammed full of children?

Teachers. Kids might be not as likely to get sick, but teachers aren’t kids. Their unions have previously had plenty to say about safety for adults who work in school buildings, including custodial workers and other staff.

After care. Assuming school days are truncated or staggered, that is not going to help parents get back to work regular. The care that local governments provide in addition to school could be just as essential to parents.

If Trump will make these things happen, the country might have reopened by Easter. That was never going to happen.

Who’s going to pay? It’s never clear how states and districts ‘re going to buy personal protective equipment and infrastructure changes they’ll need. Congress has recently allocated a lot more than $13 billion for school districts, but much more will undoubtedly be necessary.

A completely different crisis for foreign students

While the federal government can’t force K-12 schools to open, it could apply pressure, as it’s now trying to do with universities planning an online-only fall.

From CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez and Catherine Shoichet:

In a news release Monday, ICE said that students who fall under certain visas “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States,” adding, “The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.”

The agency suggested that students currently enrolled in the usa consider other measures, like transferring to schools with in-person instruction. There’s an exception for universities employing a hybrid model, such as a mixture of online and in-person classes.

“We’re not forcing universities to reopen,” Cuccinelli said during that CNN interview. “However, if a university … if they don’t reopen this semester, there isn’t a reason for a person holding a student visa to be present in the country. They should go home. Then they can return when the school opens. That’s what student visas are for, and we want to accommodate that for schools, and we’re working hard to do that.”

But it puts both students (who may be from countries with Covid travel restrictions) and schools (which rely on foreign student revenue) in a difficult spot.

The guidance “undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programs while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic,” said Harvard University President Larry Bacow.

Trump’s pressure campaign

Trump was focused on education during a conference at the White House, where that he suggested anybody who does not immediately want to open schools does it for political reasons.

“We hope that most schools are going to be open,” Trump said at a White House event on reopening schools safely. “We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons. They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed,” he so-called. “No way.”

That echoed messaging from Trump’s campaign Tuesday insinuating that his campaign rival Joe Biden does not want schools to restart in the fall. “Question of the day for Joe Biden,” Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign, tweeted, “Will you side with union bosses who want to keep schools closed or parents who want their kids to keep learning?”

And Trump wasn’t shy about his efforts to influence states the other way. “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open,” the President said at the White House. “And it’s very important. It’s very important for our country, it’s very important for the well-being of the student and the parents. So we’re going to be putting a lot of pressure on open your schools in the fall.”

It is essential. That’s something every single American can acknowledge.