We happen to agree with the president about the importance of getting children back into the classroom. Too much learning already has been lost, and continued time away from school robs children of the educational and social tools they will need to succeed in life. Those who are vulnerable because of income or special needs are especially at risk. And there can be no true economic recovery until children are back in school and parents can go back to work.
Unlike the president, though, we don’t think it is sufficient, let alone effective, to make believe the virus isn’t a problem while bullying and threatening states and local school districts to open their doors in August. Mr. Trump and his remarkably unhelpful education secretary, Betsy DeVos, threaten to withhold federal funds from schools that don’t return to in-person instruction while failing to offer any guidance or even endorse school safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is pretty much the opposite of what schools need: careful planning, thoughtful precautions and additional resources to manage risks. But thoughtfulness is anathema to this administration. In fact, its heedless approach to the pandemic, elevating politics over public health expertise, has led to an epidemic so out of control in many states that any thought of reopening schools has become irresponsible.
It is rich to see the administration point to the experience of other countries that have managed to reopen schools as examples to follow when those countries embraced the kind of careful steps and precautions — lockdowns, masks, extensive testing — that Mr. Trump constantly belittles. The federal abdication of any kind of leadership leaves it up to state and local officials to, using Ms. DeVos’s words, “figure things out.” Some, such as the Los Angeles and San Diego school districts, have opted to start the upcoming school year with full distance learning, while others, including New York City, have plans for in-school learning for part of the week. Many districts are still struggling with what to do. Most say they need more money. The only thing clear at this point is that children will pay a price far higher than it had to be.