“Too many classrooms are empty because of President Trump’s continued and willful failure to offer a meaningful plan to address covid-19,” Symone Sanders, a senior Biden campaign adviser, said Tuesday night. “He’s barreling forward trying to reopen schools because he thinks it will help his own reelection. It’s very clear, glaringly clear, that Donald Trump doesn’t have a plan.”
“We all want our schools to reopen,” she added. “To get kids back into the classrooms, to help parents get back to work and to allow educators to do what they love most. But the question is: How to make it safe?”
Biden has recently been under pressure to take a stand on the protests that are occurring in several city centers. On Monday, in Pittsburgh, he delivered a scathing anti-Trump speech in which he accused the president of inflaming urban violence. But even in that speech, he took aim at Trump’s haphazard response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying both crises had made the country less safe.
The return to a focus on the pandemic’s effect on education is another in Biden’s repeated efforts to connect with Americans whose lives the virus has upended in myriad ways.
Jill Biden, who has spent much of her career as a community college teacher, has undertaken a “Back-to-School Tour” of 10 cities in eight battleground states. She is participating in some virtual events and visiting some schools in person to hold socially distanced conversations, trying to discuss plans for safe reopenings as well as for remote learning.
Biden in July outlined proposals for reopening schools, including proposing nearly $100 billion of new funding to reconfigure classrooms, improve ventilation and take other steps to allow for social distancing within school buildings.
He also has called on the federal government to adopt clearer standards to help local districts decide when and how to reopen, including how low a region’s infection rates should be, what a maximum safe class size is, and who should return to classrooms first if schools cannot accommodate all students.
But he also has said that individual districts with high infection rates should not be quick to open.
“If you have the ability to have people wear masks and you have teachers able to be in a position where they can teach at a social distance — that, I think is one thing,” he said in July during an interview with WBTV in Charlotte. “But it costs a lot of money to do that. If you don’t have that capacity, I think it’s too dangerous to open the schools. So it depends.”
The Bidens will speak Wednesday morning with Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a secretary of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama and now the president of American University in Washington; Joshua Sharfstein, the vice dean for public health practice at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative; Linda Darling-Hammond, the president of the California State Board of Education; and Ingrid Katz, an infectious-disease physician who oversees the Harvard Global Health Institute’s covid-19 work with a primary focus on schools.
“If we fully reopen schools before we get this virus under control, the consequences we know could be dire because children will go home and spread the virus,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said during the campaign’s briefing Tuesday night. “But it didn’t have to get to this point. Public health experts, educators, parents — they all know the reason schools can’t open safely is because we don’t have a plan.”