WASHINGTON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is revising its guidance on reopening schools after President Donald Trump tweeted his disagreement with them, Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday.
“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence said at a news conference at the U.S. Department of Education. “That’s the reason why, next week, CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward.”
Trump tweeted Wednesday that he disagrees with the CDC’s “very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools” as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
“They are asking schools to do very impractical things,” Trump tweeted. “I will be meeting with them!!!”
He also threatened to withhold funding from schools that don’t populate their classrooms this fall.
Asked about that threat, Pence said the administration wants to include “incentives for states to go forward” in the next federal stimulus package.
“And as we work with Congress on the next round of state support, we’re going to be looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back to school,” said Pence, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Most education funding comes from the state and local levels, but the federal government provides billions to schools through grants for low-income schools and special education programs.
On Tuesday, the president and first lady Melania Trump staged a White House event designed to push local school districts to reopen in the fall. The event provided a forum for teachers, administrators, students and parents to discuss “best practices” for safely reopening schools around the country.
The first lady urged parents, teachers and schools to inform children about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on coronavirus at the start of the school year and to implement those guidelines when appropriate.
At Wednesday’s news conference at the Education Department, CDC Director Robert Redfield said he wanted “to make it very clear” that the guidelines are intended to help schools reopen and are not “to be used as a rationale to keep schools closed.”
Pence said that was the sentiment behind Trump’s tweet about the guidelines.
“What the President was saying this morning is, that if there are aspects of the CDC’s recommendations that are prescriptive, or that serve as a barrier to kids getting back to school, we want governors and local officials and education leaders to know that we’re here to work with them,” Pence said. “Every American knows that we can safely reopen our schools.”
In Pence’s home state of Indiana, the Republican state superintendent of education, expressed her displeasure Wednesday morning with the threatening message coming from the White House.
Jennifer McCormick tweeted that while schools and health departments are working on re-entry plans, schools “cannot & should not be bullied from DC into ignoring safety concerns.”
“Not helpful,” she added.
The CDC’s “readiness assessment” to monitor “recommended practices” includes a multi-page checklist schools can follow. It covers such items as coming up with procedures for regular cleaning, for daily health checks of staff and students, for limiting contact throughout the school day and for responding if someone does become infected.
The CDC says implementation “should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs and context of each community.”
Contributing: Michael Collins