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Trump, Asked About Timelines, Says School Closures ‘Up to the Governors’

By Evie Blad — March 23, 2020 2 min read
Servepro employee Joseph Felks cleans chairs and other items at Joyner Elementary School in Tupelo, Miss., March 11.
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Asked about state’s decisions to close schools in response to the coronavirus, President Donald Trump said Monday that those decisions are “going to be up to the governors” and that, in some states, “the schools are going to be open.”

He spoke at a White House briefing hours after a second state, Virginia, announced its schools would not reopen before the end of the academic year and as several other state leaders suggested they may follow. Last week, Kansas became the first state to say it wouldn’t reopen school buildings for the remainder of the year as it works to slow transmission of the virus.

After Trump expressed skepticism about long-term closures of businesses as the country responds to the pandemic, saying he didn’t want “the cure to be worse than the problem itself,” a reporter asked him how people could go back to work if their children are at home.

“The governors of various states will have a lot of leeway. If we open up [businesses]—and when we open up—the governors, for instance you go to some of the states I just mentioned, those schools are going to be open,” Trump said, apparently referring to states with fewer confirmed coronavirus cases. “In many cases, they are open now. But the schools are going to be open.”

But signs suggest broad, extended school closures will continue in most of the country.

Forty-six states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have ordered their schools to close. And some have already extended those closure beyond their initial end dates. In states that haven’t mandated school shutdown, leaders have recommended them and most or all districts are closed.

“In other cases ... certain governors are going to maybe have a decision to make,” Trump continued, referring to the governors of California and New York, which have had large numbers of confirmed cases. “Now, they may make a decision to keep them open in a certain part of New York and in Westchester County or wherever it may be, they will keep them closed. But they’re going to have leeway. We are giving the governors a lot of leeway.”

See also

School & District Management Data Map: Coronavirus and School Closures in 2019-2020
March 6, 2020
2 min read

But state leaders, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, have said their schools will likely not reopen this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance to schools has suggested that short-term closures have not been found to be effective at bringing down the spread of the coronavirus in areas with community spread and that longer school closures may be necessary to ensure that hospitals and resources aren’t strained by new cases.

At the end of the Monday briefing, Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. Department of Education was preparing resources on best practices for distance learning as schools work to teach students online.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will appear at a briefing this week, he said. Her planned presence was prompted by a question at a briefing over the weekend, when a White House reporter asked about broad waivers she announced Friday that will allow states to more easily opt all of their students out of standardized testing required by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

You can see the rapid escalation of coronavirus-related school closures in our data visualizations.

See Education Week’s complete coverage of the coronavirus and schools