CHICAGO (CBS) — President Donald Trump might want all schools to reopen their buildings this fall, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot said it’s too early to say what Chicago Public Schools will do, and she insisted the question of reopening must be left up to local school districts.
“This really has to be a localized decision. Candidly, I don’t put much weight into what President Trump says, particularly given his lack of leadership over the course of this pandemic, but making those kinds of decisions has to lie with the local school district, because we and they are the ones that know what’s actually happening in local circumstances,” Lightfoot said Wednesday morning.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Trump accused Democrats of plotting to keep schools closed before the November election, and threatened to “cut off funding” if schools don’t reopen in the fall.
In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 8, 2020
Trumpat an event at the White House on Tuesday.
“We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants it. The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it,” he said. “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools.”
Lightfoot said it doesn’t make any sense to make a broad federal declaration demanding schools reopen, and to ignore the circumstances of individual school districts and eliminate the possibility of a hybrid model of remote and in-person classes.
“It’s ironic, because typically Republicans talk about states’ rights and localized control, but here’s one where the president’s trying to mandate from Washington, D.C., what the conditions should be on the ground across the country,” she said.
The president also has slammed guidelines for reopening schools issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “very tough & expensive,” while downplaying concerns about the risks of spreading the coronavirus if schools and universities fully reopen in the fall.
The CDC has issued a nine-page checklist for educators to help determine schools’ general readiness for reopening, daily and weekly readiness, and plans for what to do if someone gets sick. The checklist urges schools to follow state and local guidelines, educate students about handwashing and social distancing and purchase cleaning and disinfecting supplies.
The CDC issued interim guidance for schools on how to safely reopen in April, and has frequently updated its website to provide new information for administrators. It is unclear what part of the guidelines Mr. Trump was specifically referring to in his tweet.
Vice President Mike Pence said during a briefing by the White House coronavirus task force Wednesday that the president didn’t want the guidelines to be “barriers” to reopening.
“We don’t want the guidance from CDC to be a reason schools don’t open,” Pence said. CDC Director Robert Redfield added at the briefing that the guidelines are “not requirements” and “not meant to be predictive.”
Lightfoot said Chicago Public Schools officials are still in the planning process for how to resume classes in the fall, and she said it’s too early to know what reopening might look like. She said all decisions about how to resume classes in the fall will be guided by advice from public health experts.
“We’re in July. We don’t know what’s going to happen in September. We’re carefully watching it. We’re making sure that we’re putting plans together, but those decisions have to be done locally,” she said.
Last month, Gov. JB Pritzker announced the state’s guidance for schools and colleges to reopen in the fall. For K-12 schools, that includes a cap of 50 people in one space, requiring students, teachers and staff to wear face coverings in school buildings, increasing cleaning and disinfection protocols, and enforcing social distancing rules wherever possible. The governor’s office also said schools should conduct symptom screenings or temperature checks, or require anyone entering a school building to self-certify that they don’t have COVID-19 symptoms.
The state also plans to provide cloth masks to every student, teacher, and staff member at every public school district in Illinois.
The governor said the state also is distributing $510 million in federal funding from the CARES Act to help school districts address their COVID-19 response needs. Schools are encouraged to use the funding to provide laptops, tablets, and Internet access for students.
However, the state is leaving specific reopening plans up to individual school districts.