Jul 12, 2020

Betsy DeVos Interview Transcript on Reopening Schools

Sec. of Education Betsy Devos interview on reopening schools
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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos did a CNN on July 12 where she talked about reopening U.S. schools. Read the full interview transcript here.


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Interviewer: (00:00)
You said this week, “… that there’s nothing in the data that suggests it would not be appropriate to have kids in school.” I want to take a look at that data. The U.S. hit a record number of new cases on Friday. The number of new cases per day is higher now in 45 of the 50 states than when schools shut down in March. Hospitalizations are climbing in several states, and some ICUs are at or near capacity. Yes or no? Can you assure students, teachers, parents that they will not get coronavirus because they’re going back to school?

Betsy DeVos: (00:36)
Well, the key is that kids have to get back to school, and we know there are going to be hotspots, and those need to be dealt with on a case by case basis, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall. They’ve been missing months of learning. Many of them are going to be so far behind, it difficult to catch up, and we know that this is a matter of their health in a multitude of factors or multitude of dimensions. We know that their emotional wellbeing, their mental wellbeing, and particularly for kids from low income and vulnerable populations, this is devastating to be out of school and not learning for months on end.

Interviewer: (01:16)
Madam Secretary, I don’t think anybody disagrees with that. I mean, I’m a parent. I want my school-age child to go back to school as much as you are saying you want for everybody, but the question is, can it happen safely? Can you, by saying what you just said, also assure parents, students, children, everybody who’s there that they’re going to be able to do so safely.

Betsy DeVos: (01:41)
Well, we know that children get the virus at a far lower rate than any other part of the population. Again, there is no nothing in the data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them. In fact, it’s more a matter of their health and wellbeing that they be back in school. We’ve seen this in countries, other countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world, where students have gone back to school and have done so very successfully. That should be the goal.

Interviewer: (02:11)
Well, we do know that children can spread the virus. For example, there was a summer camp in Missouri, which closed after 82 campers and staff tested positive. Texas says, “More than 1,300 children and employees in a childcare facility tested positive.” Here’s what the CDC guidelines say. “If children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk. Children can pass this virus onto others who have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.” That’s your own federal government’s guidelines.

Betsy DeVos: (02:46)
We also know that the YMCAs that provide childcare for frontline workers across the country have been studying this very carefully and that there has not been high incidents of a viral spread in those situations. It really is a matter of paying attention to good hygiene, following the guidelines around making sure we’re washing hands, wearing masks when appropriate, staying apart at a bit of a distance socially, and doing the things that are common sense approaches to ensuring that kids can go back to the classroom and can go back to learning.

Interviewer: (03:25)
There are a lot of things to unpack there. First of all, you talking about YMCAs, I mean, that’s great news, but I’m asking you about your own federal government’s guidelines, the CDC guidelines, and what the CDC has said is that, “If children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk.”

Betsy DeVos: (03:47)
Well, the CDC has also been very clear to say they never recommended schools close down in the first place, and they are very much of the posture that kids need to be back in school for a multitude of reasons. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said the same thing. Kids need to be in school. They need to be learning. They need to be moving ahead. We cannot be paralyzed and not allow that or not be intent on that happening.

Interviewer: (04:15)
You’re right. The APA, AAP rather, has said that the goal, of course, is for children to be back in school, but they also signed a letter saying, “Schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community-spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts.” It sounds like what you’re saying is you, as the Secretary of Education, you are compelling schools to reopen, regardless of what’s happening.

Betsy DeVos: (04:46)
No, what we’re saying is that kids need to be back in school and that school leaders across the country need to be making plans to do just that. There’s going to be the exception to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall, and where there are little flareups or hotspots, that can be dealt with on a school by school or a case by case basis.

Interviewer: (05:08)
As the Secretary of Education, should schools in the United States follow the CDC recommendations or not?

Betsy DeVos: (05:17)
Dr. Redfield has clearly said, “These are recommendations, and every situation is going to look slightly different.” The key for education leaders, and these are smart people who can figure things out, they can figure out what is going to be right for their specific situation, because every school building is different, every school population is different. If you have an elementary school or a middle school or if you have a K-12 campus-

Interviewer: (05:42)
That’s completely understandable, but what I want to know is if the federal government is all on the same page. As the Secretary of Education should schools follow the guidelines of the CDC?

Betsy DeVos: (05:48)
It’s very much on the same page. Kids need to get back to school. They need to get back in the classroom. Families need for kids to get back in the classroom, and it can be done safely.

Interviewer: (06:01)
Well, okay, let me-

Betsy DeVos: (06:01)
There are guidelines that are very clear and also very acknowledging that situations are going to be different, but the rule has got to be that kids go to learning full-time.

Interviewer: (06:12)
I want to just tell you that I don’t know that it’s clear because the CDC guidelines do lay out steps in which they see a vision for returning to school safely, and I don’t hear that coming from you.

Betsy DeVos: (06:30)
Well, I know for a fact that there are many schools that have been working hard to put together their plans for moving ahead, and we want to see every school district, every state, doing the same thing to say, “Not what we can’t do, but what we’re going to do and what we can do.”

Interviewer: (06:47)
What our experts telling you about the appropriate level of transmission for a school before it has to shut down?

Betsy DeVos: (06:57)
Well, I know that that’s an area that the CDC is helping to provide further insight into. I can’t, as a nonphysician or a nonmedical expert, tell you precisely what to do in the case of one child in a classroom or five children in a classroom, but the key is every school should have plans for that situation to be able to pivot and ensure that kids can continue learning at a distance if they have to for a short period of time.

Interviewer: (07:28)
But you’re the Secretary of Education. You’re asking students to go back. Why do you not have guidance on what a school should do, just weeks before you want those schools to reopen, and what happens if it faces an outbreak?

Betsy DeVos: (07:43)
There’s really good examples that have been utilized in the private sector and elsewhere, also with frontline workers and hospitals, and all of that data and all of that information, and all of those examples can be referenced by school leaders who have the opportunity-

Interviewer: (07:59)
Okay, but I’m not hearing a plan from the Department of Education. Do you have a plan for what students and what schools should do?

Betsy DeVos: (08:09)
Schools should do what’s right on the ground at that time for their students and for their situation. There is no one uniform approach that we can take or should take nationwide-

Interviewer: (08:23)
But can I just ask you, I want to-

Betsy DeVos: (08:25)
… because the needs of a school in the city of Detroit, in my home state, in the city of Detroit would be very different than that of a school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Interviewer: (08:34)
Exactly, and that’s the point. That’s completely understandable, but you are arguing over and over that they should handle this on a local level, but at the same time, as the Secretary of Education, you are trying to push them to do a one-size-fits-all approach, which is go back and reopen schools. You can’t have it both ways.

Betsy DeVos: (08:57)
I am urging all schools to open and to be providing their students a full-time education. We all acknowledge that that could and may well look different in a certain area that has a flareup of the virus, but the go-to should be that schools are opening and fully functional and operational and giving parents and families the flexibility that’s necessary, so if there is-

Interviewer: (09:26)
Just to be clear-

Betsy DeVos: (09:26)
… a situation where a child has a vulnerable underlying condition, that the parents could have a choice to be able to educate their-

Interviewer: (09:35)
Just to be clear, are you saying, in areas where there is a flareup, that schools should revert to remote learning?

Betsy DeVos: (09:45)
I’m saying that school should have plans, like Miami-Dade County has. They should have plans, and the parents and families should know what their options are and what they can do to ensure-

Interviewer: (09:54)
I’m asking you, Madame Secretary of Education, if there is a flareup, should schools revert to remote learning? You’re very aggressive about saying reopen, and the next question, the obvious question is, what happens if they feel that they can’t? Are you comfortable with remote learning if they can’t?

Betsy DeVos: (10:13)
I think the go-to needs to be kids in school, in person, in the classroom, because we know for most kids, that’s the best environment for them, and we have to also under-

Interviewer: (10:24)
I understand that, but what if they can’t.

Betsy DeVos: (10:27)
What if they can’t what?

Interviewer: (10:28)
What if the school district feels that they can’t safely go into the school because there is a flareup in that district? Remote learning, are you okay with it in that situation?

Betsy DeVos: (10:40)
If there is a short-term flareup for a few days, that’s a different situation than planning for an entire school year in anticipation of something that hasn’t happened.

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