One day after revelations that he had viewed coronavirus as a “deadly” disease as early as February, President Trump demanded schools still engaged in virtual learning to return to in-person instruction.
Trump suggested on Thursday morning that the motivation for schools to conduct virtual classes was political, driven primarily by Democratic lawmakers. He also suggested that schools which didn’t return to an in-person format should face financial penalties.
“Democrats, OPEN THE SCHOOLS (SAFELY), NOW!” Trump tweeted. “When schools are closed, let the money follow the child (FAMILY). Why should schools be paid when they are closed? They shouldn’t!”
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However, recommendations made earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to restart in-person instruction (such as keeping students apart from one another, wearing masks, and other social distancing suggestions) were previously rejected by the president, deemed by him as being too costly and burdensome.
The tweets from Trump came just one day after a number of interviews between him and journalist Bob Woodward revealed he had viewed coronavirus as harmful in early February.
In comparing it to the flu, Trump explained to Woodward that the disease was more worrisome.
“You know, people don’t realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?” Trump said at the time.
“This is more deadly” than the flu, he added.
Weeks later, on March 19, the president also admitted to Woodward he preferred to minimize the severity of the disease in his public comments.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said.
Trump even conceded to Woodward that the disease could cause harm to young people.
Many school districts across the country are trying to determine whether it is feasible to reopen their doors and offer in-person instruction, or if it’s too dangerous to do so within their communities, opting to teach online instead to limit the spread of COVID-19. These determinations are especially important to make, particularly in light of research published just last month that suggests children played a bigger role than originally thought in spreading the disease.
The president has limited control over federal funding for public schools. An analysis from The New York Times in July found that 90 percent of all budgets nationwide came from local sources.
Still, for schools that depend heavily on federal funding, Trump’s threats are not completely empty, and could pressure some districts to make decisions prioritizing economic concerns instead of public health.
Americans are, for the most part, opposed to the kinds of threats Trump made toward schools that are doing virtual learning. When he made similar threats in July, polling demonstrated that 65 percent of Americans were against reducing federal funding for schools choosing to go online, while only 22 percent said federal funding should be cut.