The American Academy of Pediatrics and national education groups are pushing back against President Donald’s Trump’s repeated calls to reopen American schools in the fall, saying those decisions should be made by scientists and educators, not politicians.
“Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools,” said the AAP, American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and The School Superintendents Association in a statement released on Friday.
“Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it,” the groups said.
The statement reflects a sharp split with Trump, who has said repeatedly over the past week that schools must reopen in the fall and has threatened to pull federal funding for those that do not.
However, as HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney previously noted: “Schools are mostly funded by state and local taxes, and federal funds are appropriated by Congress, so it’s not clear how much the president’s threat matters.”
The AAP previously came out “strongly” in favor of in-person learning in the fall despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, citing the many benefits for children. Estimates suggest that roughly 54 million American children were abruptly sent home when schools closed last spring.
And long-term school closures can lead to significant learning loss in children, the AAP has warned, as well as significant social isolation. Children are less likely to get enough food and physical exercise and may be less likely to get help with problems such as domestic abuse.
The Trump administration has pointed to the AAP’s support of returning to in-person learning to bolster support for its calls to universally reopen U.S. schools this fall.
At the same time, the administration has publicly sparred with the CDC over its recommendations for reopening schools, calling them too “tough” and “expensive.”
In both of its recent statements on reopening schools this fall, the AAP has emphasized the need for local districts to make individual decisions about how and when to have children return to the classroom, using the most up-to-date data on community spread.
While advocating for school districts to resume in-person learning when possible, the AAP has also acknowledged that those districts will need to be “flexible” and “nimble” and respond to the fluid nature of the ongoing pandemic.
America’s pediatricians and national education groups say they are calling for federal funding for new protocols to allow children to return to school safely, and for elected officials to cooperate with scientists and teachers as well as each other.
“For our country to truly value children, elected leaders must come together to appropriately support schools in safely returning students to the classroom and reopening schools,” the AAP said.