How safe are American public schools

US education system in the corona crisis : Trump's poker for schools

It's not looking good for President Trump in the polls right now. The White House is therefore pursuing an aggressive strategy to get voters, especially suburban Americans, on its side. In 2016 they helped him to victory. But since Trump's catastrophic handling of the pandemic, they have begun to turn their backs on him.

To get these renegades back on track, Trump is turning to them more and more often - and advocating the reopening of schools in the fall.

The aim is to win over women voters again for the president. It is not surprising that Trump is now making the reopening of schools a political issue. As is so often the case, his government is hostile to science.

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Not only do Trump's ongoing attacks on his chief virologist Anthony Fauci continue, but also his press secretary Kayleigh McEnany took one of her 180-degree turns when she said within a minute in mid-July that science had classified the school openings as correct and that science should not stand in the way of the school opening.

And Trump recently said: "We cannot stop 50 million American children from going to school indefinitely, damaging their mental, physical and emotional development."

Against public opinion

The government followed up its words with deeds and threatened financial consequences. Government funds for schools that do not open should be diverted into voucher programs. With these "vouchers" parents can send their children to private schools, mostly religious ones, financed by the state. That should be entirely in the spirit of Education Minister Betsy DeVos, who has long been committed to private, religious schools.

Trump also argues with the economy: in order not to let that collapse, parents would have to be able to go to work instead of looking after their children at home. However, a poll by Associated Press / NOR in mid-July showed that public opinion is not on Trump's side when it comes to school opening.

Almost all Americans expressed concern about school opening soon. They fear that starting too early could worsen the pandemic. This view is shared by three out of five Republicans.

[Also read the current analysis by Christoph von Marschall on the discussion about the election date: Republicans reject Trump]

In a CNN interview, Education Minister DeVos was unable to answer reporter Dana Bash's question about whether she had a plan for the schools that her ministry said should open in the fall. "Schools should do the right thing locally," DeVos said.

Bash confronted DeVos with the fact that by calling for all schools to reopen, she contradicted herself when she said elsewhere that there was no one-size-fits-all solution. DeVos then admitted that online classes could take place "for a few days" in the event of a local outbreak.

Trump: Even closed schools lead to death

Trump repeated at the end of last week that one must also see the other side: closed schools would “also lead to death, to economic damage, it also leads to death, for various reasons. But death, probably more death ”.

[Here you can read the - highly inconsistent - conditions under which schools in Germany will reopen after the summer holidays]

He also insinuated that governors might not want to open schools for political reasons and called on the Democrats to work with the Republicans to approve the $ 105 billion aid package presented by them in the Senate, which is supposed to finance the school opening in the fall.

The 105 billion are part of a larger "stimulus package" ("HEALS Act") that distributes corona emergency aid. According to the GOP's plans, 70 billion would go directly to so-called K-12 schools, schools that teach children from kindergarten through 12th grade. Another five billion will go to the Emergency Governors Education Fund, as needed.

Grants for schools depend on the classroom offer

But there is a catch: two-thirds of the 70 billion for K-12 schools are tied to face-to-face teaching. This is intended to cover additional costs due to the guidelines of the US health authority CDC, such as the minimum distance between students. Schools must apply for government support with their own plan.

Only those who offer face-to-face learning for at least half of the children and in which each child must be present for at least half of the week will be automatically admitted for support. That means: only a third of the money will be available to the schools immediately.

The Democrats passed their counter-draft, the “Heroes Act”, in Congress in May. This includes 100 billion for education, of which 58 billion for K-12 schools - regardless of whether schools offer online or face-to-face teaching.

Negotiations on the aid package have been going on since last week. But no agreement is in sight when the school opens. Health experts warn against quick conclusions when it comes to infection rates in children. Fauci, the government's chief virologist, said there was not enough information to confirm Trump's claims that children under the age of ten did not transmit the virus.

DeVos even claimed that children were "stoppers" of the coronavirus. Fauci said in an interview with WebMD that the National Institute of Health is currently conducting a study of 6,000 people from 2,000 families. It is hoped that it will provide more information on the transmission of the virus from children to adults. Nevertheless, Fauci Trump agrees to open schools, with particular caution in corona hotspots.

[Here you will find a summary of the status of studies on corona infections among children and adolescents: How dangerous is school for the infection process?]

However, a study published by the CDC on Friday contradicts this assessment. A corona outbreak in a vacation camp in Georgia at the end of June is evaluated. Children between the ages of six and 18 and adults were infected there.

More than half of all camp participants were tested, of which 76 percent were infected. In addition, a new study from the University of Chicago suggests that the viral load in school children is just as high as in adults.

In line with these studies, the number of infections among children in Florida has recently risen by a quarter within eight days, with new cases in children rising by 34 percent. So far, five children have died of Corona in Florida alone. Nevertheless, the state is preparing for the school opening in autumn.

Exception for corona hotspots?

The CDC, which had warned in May that the reopening of schools posed "the highest risk", had in response to pressure from the government new, relaxed guidelines under the title "Why it is so important to reopen American schools in the fall" released.

The CDC argues, among other things, that physical attendance at school is important for children's mental health. Only in the event of "substantial, uncontrolled transmission" of the virus, schools should, according to the CDC, discuss in coordination with local authorities whether it makes sense to close schools again.

The president also admitted last week that schools in Corona hotspots may have to postpone school opening. In mid-July, the White House prevented Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC, from speaking to a congressional committee about security concerns about school openings.

Some Republicans, including Trump himself, have been criticized for not having their own children or grandchildren returning to schools in the fall. It is measured with two different standards. Trump's community hopes that playing poker with the health of America's children will pay off in the November election.

It is a cynical and highly dangerous game that Trump and his administration are playing, say critics - with potentially fatal consequences.

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