Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday said that she expects schools to be “fully operational” in the fall, rejecting plans by some school districts to offer partial in-person learning.
“Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools need to open, it’s a matter of how,” DeVos said during a call with governors, reported The Associated Press. “School[s] must reopen, they must be fully operational. And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders.”
The remark comes as some school districts are considering a hybrid model, with students going to school a few days a week for traditional in-person learning and learning from home the rest of the week. Meanwhile, some districts have yet to decide at what capacity the schools should operate in the fall, as the pandemic lingers in their regions.
DeVos specifically called out the Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, which is asking parents to choose between a school year offered entirely online and a mixture of in-person and online learning.
“A choice of two days per week in the classroom is not a choice at all,” she said, according to the Associated Press.
“Students across the country have already fallen behind. We need to make sure that they catch up,” DeVos said, urging the governors to help schools return to normalcy. “It’s expected that it will look different depending on where you are, but what’s clear is that students and their families need more options.”
President Donald Trump on Tuesday also pledged to pressure state leaders he believes are politicizing the decision to reopen schools.
“We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons—they think it’s gonna be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed—no way,” Trump said during a round-table discussion at White House, after crediting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who ordered schools in his state to reopen next month.
“So we’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open,” the president continued. “And it’s very important. It’s very important for our country. It’s very important for the well-being of the student and the parents.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended schools to start with a goal of “having students physically present in school” when they plan to reopen in the fall. The organization says keeping students at home can lead to social isolation, and makes it difficult for schools to identify and address learning deficits, as well as child abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.