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Mike Pence pushed governors to reopen their schools, citing economy

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  • Vice President Mike Pence pushed governors to reopen their public schools during a Tuesday call in which he cited the adverse economic impact of school closures.
  • Pence argued that continuing to keep kids at home to help contain the spread of the coronavirus is untenable given the significant negative impacts on learning and mental health, among other concerns.
  • Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, said all schools must reopen this fall and be “fully operational.” She condemned districts that are reluctant to fully reopen as the coronavirus surges across the country. 
  • Many Democrats, public health experts, and education leaders are critical of the administration’s move to quickly bring kids back into schools even as the coronavirus surges in many parts of the country. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Vice President Mike Pence pushed governors to reopen their public schools during a Tuesday call with local leaders in which he cited the adverse economic impact of school closures amid the pandemic.

Pence argued that continuing to keep kids at home to help contain the spread of the coronavirus is untenable given the significant negative impacts on learning and mental health, among other concerns. He also cited an economic analysis by the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers that he said found the US economy would take a $50 billion hit if all schools remain closed. 

“I literally saw a data point from the Council of Economic Advisers here at the White House that if every school in America were to close its doors, it would cost the economy $50 billion,” Pence said on the call, a recording of which was obtained by Business Insider. 

Pence cited a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics to resume in-classroom learning across the country. He emphasized that the administration is “here to help” states reopen schools safely by implementing social distancing and other protective measures in the classroom. 

Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, also made a forceful case for reopening schools during Tuesday’s hour long call.

“Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools need to open, it’s a matter of how. School must reopen, they must be fully operational,” DeVos said. “And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders.” 

DeVos sharply criticized school districts that she said failed to serve students through distance learning this spring. She claimed they “didn’t figure out how to serve students or … just gave up and didn’t try.” And she condemned proposals to bring students back into classrooms for just two days a week in the fall, calling the idea a “false paradigm.”

The secretary added that schools “already deal with risk on a daily basis” and mentioned that there are also dangers associated with “learning to ride a bike” and being “shot off in a rocket into space.” 

“We know that risk is embedded in everything we do,” DeVos said. “Physical health and safety is a factor, so is mental health … so is social-emotional development, and, importantly, so are the lost opportunities for students.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Robert Redfield, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were also on the call and are backing the push to reopen schools. Redfield pointed out on Tuesday that the CDC never recommended schools be closed as a public health measure this spring and said he supports all efforts to reopen schools. 

In June, the CDC released guidelines on how to reopen schools with new public health precautions. The agency recommends creating more space between students’ desks, setting up barriers between sinks in bathrooms, and staggering class schedules, among other suggestions. 

Azar argued on Tuesday that teachers and other school staff can protect themselves from the virus in the same way health care professionals do — with social distancing and protective equipment. 

“Health care workers don’t get infected because they take appropriate precautions. They engage in social distancing, wear facial covering,” Azar said at a Tuesday White House panel. “This can work. You can do all of this, there’s no reason schools have to be in any way any different.”

Many Democrats, public health experts, and education leaders are critical of the administration’s move to quickly bring kids back into schools even as the coronavirus surges in many parts of the country. 

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden released a proposal to reopen schools and has argued that Trump’s plan doesn’t involve sufficient safety precautions.  

This comes as Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced new regulations that prohibit international students at US colleges from remaining in the country if the schools they attend aren’t holding in-person classes. The new rules are forcing colleges to decide between facilitating their students’ deportation and opening up their classrooms. 

The president has claimed repeatedly this week that elected officials and others who oppose school reopenings are doing so for political, not health, reasons. 

“We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons,” Trump said during a White House event he hosted later on Tuesday to discuss schools reopening. “They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed. No way. So we’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools.” 

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