Joe Biden urges flexible school openings

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Joe Biden on Friday released a new plan on how public schools should approach reopening this school year, contrasting sharply with President Donald Trump’s message that every school in the nation should reopen completely or risk having its funding cut.

Biden urged caution, saying that each district should make its own decisions based on local conditions, and that schools in areas with high infection rates should not reopen too soon. He also called on Congress to pass new emergency funding to help the schools.

“If we do this wrong, we will put lives at risk and set our economy and our country back,” the Biden campaign wrote in a plan released Friday afternoon.

Biden also released a new video, recorded from his basement in Wilmington, Del., joined by his wife, Jill, a longtime educator.

“This year, back to school is going to look very, very different,” Biden says in the video. “And we know how hard it’s going to be for families all across the country.”

Jill Biden adds, “Teachers are tough. But it’s wrong to endanger educators and students. We need a better plan.”

Biden argued that the federal government should develop clearer standards to help local districts decide when and how to reopen, including how low the infection rates should be, what a maximum safe class size is, and who should return to classrooms first if schools can’t accommodate all students.

“The current lack of clarity is paralyzing for schools,” the Biden plan says.

Biden also warned that without an infusion of federal funds, districts will struggle to pay for added health protections and may be forced to lay off teachers. He called on Congress to allocate emergency funding to help schools reconfigure classrooms, improve ventilation, and take other steps to allow for social distancing within their buildings.

He says he supports $58 billion in school funding, which is the amount that has been approved by the House but not the Senate, and called for at least an additional $34 billion. The Washington Post reported this week that Republicans were looking at funding of between $50 billion and $100 billion, with one person familiar with the talks saying the target was about $70 billion.

The plan is in line with the approach Biden has taken in recent days, suggesting that school districts are confronting different scenarios and should respond accordingly. It’s a notably different message than the one being sent by the White House, which argues that science and economic well-being dictate that all schools should reopen on time.

Biden said each school district must evaluate its circumstances.

“If you have the ability to have people wear masks and you have teachers able to be in a position where they can teach at a social distance – that, I think is one thing,” he said earlier this week in an interview with WBTV in Charlotte. “But it costs a lot of money to do that. If you don’t have that capacity, I think it’s too dangerous to open the schools. So it depends.”

Biden said he empathized with students in poorer communities, whose families rely on schools as a social safety net, but that a premature reopening it could endanger health and safety.

“You’ve got to make sure you’re not putting them back in the circumstance where they’re going to become ill with covid and/or bring that covid back home,” he said. “Many of them live in multigenerational homes. So they come home with covid and they may not get seriously ill, but their mom their grandmom, their grandpop – somebody ends up dying.

“So we end up with a circumstance where you’ve got to try to figure out what the mix is that you can afford to do,” he said.

Biden’s plan comes amid increased polarization around whether and how schools should reopen this fall. It also lands a day after White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that the online options that some districts are considering are not sufficient.

“The president has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open. … And when he says open, he means open in full, kids been able to attend each and every day at their school,” she said during a White House briefing.

“The science should not stand in the way of this,” she added, arguing that the data shows that children are less likely to be affected by the virus and that they benefit from being in the schools.

Biden’s plan, on the other hand, blames Trump for the problems that school districts are confronting, saying that the president “has made it much worse.”

“We had a window to get this right. And, Trump blew it,” his plan says. “His administration failed to heed the experts and take the steps required to reduce infections in our communities.”

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