WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that states that are currently coronavirus hot spots may need to delay reopening schools by a few weeks, but otherwise pushed for students to be able to return to classrooms en masse in the fall.
“They have to open,” Trump said of schools nationwide.
The president said it would be up to governors in the badly affected states to decide about school reopenings, and said decisions needed to be based on data.
Schools were shut down across the country after the novel coronavirus emerged and began spreading, and Trump has been determined to find a way to get them open again.
With schools set to resume in a few weeks, local officials across the country have announced a variety of plans, including some that involve continuing remote instruction through the rest of 2020.
While the risk of severe COVID-19 is seen as relatively low for children, there is fear they could infect more vulnerable teachers and other adult school administrators.
Despite Trump’s pressure, only one in four Americans thinks it is safe for public schools to reopen this autumn as U.S. coronavirus cases climb, and four in 10 parents said they would likely keep their children home if classes resume, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll last week.
More than 142,000 people have died in the United States during the past five months and deaths are still rising in 23 states, according to a Reuters tally.
Trump, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November, has accused Democrats of wanting to keep schools shut for political reasons and threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that do not reopen.
He said the administration was pushing Congress to provide $105 billion to schools as part of the next coronavirus relief bill currently under negotiation.
“If schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their child to public, private, charter, religious or home school of their choice,” Trump said. “If the school is closed, the money should follow the student.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued additional guidelines on how schools can safely reopen that included a call for students to stay 6 feet (1.8 m) apart from each other when feasible and to bring meals from home and eat them in classrooms instead of lunchroom.
Earlier this month, Trump criticized the initial CDC guidelines on schools as too tough, impractical and expensive. The agency charged with protecting Americans’ health then said it would issue additional guidelines.
Reporting by Steve Holland, Lisa Lambert, Tim Ahmann and Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Matthew Lewis and Peter Cooney