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Trump’s push to compel public schools to reopen is backfiring



  • The Trump administration’s aggressive push reopen schools in the fall is already backfiring on President Trump, polls show.
  • In recent weeks, Trump has called for K-12 public schools to resume in-person learning as soon as possible, disagreed with the CDC’s guidance, and tried to pin the blame on his Democratic opponents. 
  • A number of polls released in the past week show that most Americans and most parents oppose K-12 schools and colleges fully resuming total in-person instruction in the fall. 
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The Trump administration’s push to compel public schools to re-open in-person instruction in time for the fall is already backfiring on President Donald Trump, with a number of surveys showing that Americans and parents are cautious about sending students back to school in the near future. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on working parents, millions of whom are now tasked with keeping up with their jobs while taking care of young children and, in many cases, helping their children adjust to full-time online learning.

Despite the heavy burden that a switch to online learning places on many parents, several surveys conducted over the past couple of weeks indicate that majorities of Americans and parents feel cautious about reopening in-person education, and aren’t buying Trump’s rhetoric. 

  • A Politico/Morning Consult national tracking poll released on Wednesday found that 53% of voters oppose “fully reopening” daycares and K-12 schools, 50% oppose a full reopening of colleges and universities, and 65% oppose Trump’s threats to pull federal funding from schools that don’t re-open. 
  • A new Navigator survey conducted by the Global Strategy Group and GBAO from July 9-13 found that 51% of parents oppose reopening K-12 schools for in-person instruction at the end of summer, up from 31% on June 1. 
    • 64% of parents believe schools should be among the last in-person venues to reopen compared to 28% who think they should be among the first.  
    • The poll found that 35% of parents approve of how Trump is handling the issue of whether to reopen schools compared to 51% who disapprove. Among all Americans, 32% approve of Trump’s handling of the issue while 56% disapprove.  
    • While Republicans largely approved of how Trump is handling the school reopening issue, they prefer for decisions to be made at the local level. 72% of all Americans, 69% of parents, and 52% of Republicans all said they trusted their state and local governments more than Trump and the federal government for decisions on school reopening.  
  • An Axios/Ipsos poll of US parents conducted July 10-13 found 71% of all parents, 89% of Black parents, 80% of Hispanic parents, and 53% of Republicans said they believed sending their children back to school posed a large or moderate risk to their health.
  • An Economist/YouGov survey conducted July 12-14 and released on Wednesday showed that just 15% of Americans believe K-12 schools should be completely in-person, 17% believe schools should offer mostly in-person instruction with some online components, and 58% believe that K-12 instruction should be held mostly or completely remotely. 
  • In California, a survey conducted by Strategies 360 in consultation with the Los Angeles Times from June 26-July 6 found that just 16% of Californians support a full return to in-person instruction (even with required social distancing) while 37% support schools still holding all instruction remotely and 41% support a partial re-opening. 

With the beginning of the 2020-21 school year just a few weeks away, Trump and his education secretary Betsy DeVos have undertaken an aggressive effort to force the hand of K-12 public schools and universities to fully reopen for in-person instruction. 

Trump has publicly challenged the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and threatened to pull federal funding from school districts that do not fully resume in-person instruction, despite not having the power to do so unilaterally.

He’s also attempted to turn the debate over school reopenings into a partisan wedge issue by attacking his Democratic presidential opponent Joe Biden over it. 


Doctors and childhood development experts emphasize that in-person instruction should be pursued to the greatest extent possible is essential for ensuring that children are able to keep pace with their education, access key services and support they may not receive at home, and gain the benefits of interacting and socializing with their peers. 

At the same time, the severity of the pandemic is worsening in the United States, particularly in the south and southwestern regions of the country.

Even with masks and social distancing, limiting the spread of COVID-19 poses a particular challenge in educational institutions. Though research indicates that children are less suspectable to contract and transmit COVID-19 than adults, schools fit many of the criteria for spreading the virus as indoor (and often poorly-ventilated) spaces with hundreds of people inside all talking, interacting, and moving about. 

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Unified School District and San Diego Unified School District in California, which serve an estimated 825,000 students, announced they will be holding online instruction in the fall until further notice.

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