By: Cristina Marcos
Source: The Hill
House chairman asks CDC director to testify on reopening schools during pandemic
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) on Thursday asked Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield to testify before his panel later this month to discuss how schools can safely reopen this fall.
Scott asked Redfield in a letter to testify before the panel's subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education on July 23 so that lawmakers could "engage directly with you concerning the CDC’s guidance to schools on how to safely reopen as the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic."
Trump, eager to restart the economy as much as possible ahead of the November elections, has pressed for schools to reopen, which would make it easier for parents to work full-time. On Wednesday, Trump criticized the CDC in a tweet for "their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools."
Redfield said during an interview with The Hill's Steve Clemons on Thursday that the CDC is not changing its current guidelines for schools but will issue additional information in the coming days to offer more clarity. He added that he believes the risks of delaying school openings outweighs keeping them closed.
"I think really people underestimate the public health consequences of having the schools closed on the kids," Redfield said at an event hosted by The Hill and sponsored by the Biosimilars Forum. "I'm confident we can open these schools safely, work in partnership with the local jurisdictions."
The Trump administration has not offered a specific plan for helping school districts reopen, despite its push to resume in-person classroom instruction. Trump also threatened to cut off funding for public schools that don't fully reopen — although Democrats contest that the president doesn't have the authority to rescind money appropriated by Congress.
"Congress has not and will not grant the administration the authority to withhold federal funds from local school districts that are following the advice of health experts to safely reopen," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Department of Education, and Northern Mariana Islands Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, who chairs the House Education and Labor subcommittee on early childhood, elementary, and secondary education, said in a joint statement on Thursday.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for students physically returning to classrooms, arguing that the closures risk social isolation, food insecurity and interruption of supportive services. At the same time, the organization's president told NPR on Wednesday that "a statewide mandate to reopen [schools] without consideration of community spread really goes against our recommendations."
Teachers unions are also warning of health risks to teachers, staff and students with in-person instruction, especially if there isn't additional funding or resources for school districts to ensure that school buildings have adequate protective equipment, sanitization and ventilation systems.
The coronavirus relief measure enacted in March, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, included $13 billion for states to assist school districts with cleaning and buying technologies for virtual learning.
House Democrats also passed another $3 trillion coronavirus aid package in May that included $900 billion for state and local governments, as well as $90 billion for helping schools cover the costs of personal protective equipment, cleaning and transportation.
Senate Republicans have declined to take up the legislation. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that the next coronavirus relief package expected later this month would include funding to assist schools with reopening.
“It will be challenging for the schools,” McConnell said, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “You’re going to want the kids to wear masks, you’re going to want to do social distancing, you’ve got transportation issues, all of which will have a cost issue.”
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