Arizona is delaying the start of the 2020-2021 school year as the number of coronavirus cases spikes around the state. West Virginia is doing the same thing even as President Trump is encouraging all schools to fully open for all students as soon as possible.
Arizona is one of four states that White House health adviser Deborah Birx said on Wednesday should reimpose strict restrictions on the public because of coronavirus infections, including decreasing the size of crowds both inside and outside to 10 people or fewer. The other states are Florida, California and Texas. According to data tracked by The Washington Post, thousands of new cases in Arizona and Florida pushed the country’s total number of confirmed cases past 3 million on Wednesday.
Trump this week began pressuring school districts to open five days a week for all children, and he threatened to withhold funding from those that didn’t (though he doesn’t have the legal authority to cut funding approved by Congress).
A growing number of state and education leaders are pushing back on Trump’s call, including West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R), a strong Trump ally.
At his daily coronavirus briefing Wednesday, Justice said he would delay until Sept. 8 the opening of public schools because of “an avalanche” of confirmed coronavirus cases in recent days. Most of the school districts were planning to open early in August, but Justice said the level of exposure to the coronavirus that children and adults will face in schools is unknown.
“Our president is urging all of us to go back to school. Nobody wants us to go back to school more than I,” the governor said. “ … But in this situation here, I’ve got to look out first and foremost for the kids, for the teachers, the service personnel, all those involved right on down to the parents and everybody else” involved with children.
“And I’m going to do, at the end of the day, what I think is the most safe thing and best thing for our kids,” he said.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) told reporters Wednesday that Trump has no authority over when schools open because that is “a state decision, period.”
“The president does not have any authority to open schools,” he said. “We will open the schools if it is safe to open the schools. Everybody wants the schools open.”
And Elsie Arntzen, Montana superintendent of public instruction, was quoted Wednesday by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle as saying, “I firmly do believe in Montana’s local control.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that the L.A. County public health director, Barbara Ferrer, told school district superintendents it is possible that schools will have to do remote learning in the fall because of surging coronavirus infections.
And in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said on CNN on Wednesday that she is concerned about rising covid-19 cases around the country. “I am not sending kids and our education workforce into our schools unless it’s safe,” she said. “It’s that simple.”
Some school districts have decided to postpone the start of school, including Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, moving it back one week, to Aug. 12, so officials will have more time to look at the covid-19 situation and adjust plans as needed. Shelby County Schools in Alabama is also pushing back the start of school one week, to Aug. 13.