There are, not unexpectedly, big differences between the approaches that President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden are taking about whether and how to reopen schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump has been repeatedly saying that all schools should open fully — even in areas where coronavirus infection rates are spiking — and that he wants to withhold federal funding from districts that don’t. Although he can’t unilaterally withhold money Congress has already spent, he is working with Senate Republicans to attach conditions or incentives to billions of dollars in new emergency aid for schools.

In contrast, Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, released a new plan of his own on Friday (see video below) for reopening schools that stressed the importance of keeping people safe — a point that is not part of Trump’s threatening call to reopen.

Biden, joined by his educator wife, Jill Biden, said in a video recorded in his basement that school districts should make decisions about reopening based on local conditions.

“Forcing educators and students back into classrooms in areas where infection rates are going up or remaining too high is just plain dangerous,” he said.

Biden called on Congress to provide billions of dollars in emergency funding for school districts, which say they cannot openly safely without federal assistance to make the changes necessary and purchase enough protective equipment.

“If we do this wrong, we will put lives at risk and set our economy and our country back,” Biden said in the video.

Jill Biden added, "Teachers are tough. But it’s wrong to endanger educators and students. We need a better plan.”

Trump and his aides have said that all schools can be opened safely — and, despite warnings from leading health and science experts that it is risky to reopen schools in areas with high infection rates, that the science of the pandemic favors their view.

Late last week, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said: “When [Trump] says open, he means open in full, kids being able to attend each and every day at their school. The science should not stand in the way of this.” A few seconds later, she said the “science is on our side.”

Actually, the science that is known today about the coronavirus — and there is still a great deal to learn — would not suggest the Trump plan to open schools regardless of local conditions. It would favor the Biden plan — to allow local conditions and school resources to dictate decisions — which follows the advice of experts, including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

On Sunday, Fauci, in an interview with WebMD, said about school reopenings:

That’s a critical question, because it’s on everybody’s minds right now. So the way I look at it, I want to go to 40,000 feet and say, let’s take a concept. And in my mind and the mind of -- of people who really care about this, like representatives in the American Academy of Pediatrics, who say the default position is that we should try to the best of our ability to get the children back to school and keep the schools open because of the considerable deleterious downstream ripple effect negative consequences of keeping the kids out of school. That’s a default. But it really is going to depend on what the viral activity is in the place that you are right now. So there are some counties, you know, we have 3,007 counties in the United States. Google it. ...There are some counties where there’s so little viral activity, you could just say, don’t worry about it. Go back to school. But there are others, and I think these are the ones that you’re referring to, where there’s enough activity where you’ve got to make a choice.
And the choice can either be, don't bring the kids back or, preferably, bring them back in a way that is very, very geared towards guaranteeing their safety, and their welfare, and the safety and the welfare of the teachers. And that might be simple logistic things, like spacing of desks, alternating schedules, and cleaning down the classes.
Outside as much as you possibly can versus inside. There are creative ways of doing that. I think to say it’s uni-dimensional is missing the point. To say, we are going to open up schools in the United States or not. That doesn’t make any sense, because we’re such a big, big country, that things are going to be different in one region versus the other. But getting back to what I said. The default should be, try as best as possible to get the children back to school.