Betsy DeVos insists all US children should be in school this fall

<span>Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prepared to release new details on its guidance for reopening US schools, the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, reiterated the administration’s push to reopen fully in September and repeated Donald Trump’s threat to pull funding from schools which do not do so.

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In response, one Democratic congresswoman said she “wouldn’t trust [DeVos] to care for a house plant, let alone my child”.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, DeVos said “the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall”, adding that any coronavirus hotspots can be “dealt with on a school-by-school or a case-by-case basis”.

Pressed about the CDC guidelines, which currently say both that “if children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk” and that virtual learning bears the lowest risk of the spread of Covid-19, DeVos said: “We know that children get the virus at a far lower rate than any other part of the population. There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being back in school is dangerous to them.”

In response, the CNN host Dana Bash cited a case in Missouri where 82 positive tests were linked to a summer camp and an announcement from the Texas department of health that more than 1,300 cases were linked to childcare facilities.

DeVos said: “It really is a matter of paying attention to good hygiene” through washing hands, wearing masks “when appropriate” and “staying apart at a bit of distance socially”.

DeVos skirted questions about specific plans for reopening schools, saying her department had been working with school leaders who will develop their own plans for reopening. CDC guidelines are “meant to be flexible”, she said.

Democrats criticized DeVos’s comments.

“You have no plan,” the Massachusetts representative Ayanna Pressley wrote on Twitter. “Teachers, kids and parents are fearing for their lives. You point to a private sector that has put profits over people and claimed the lives of thousands of essential workers. I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant, let alone my child.”

On Twitter last week, Donald Trump voiced his anger with the CDC guidance, calling it “very tough” and “very expensive”. The president also wrote that in countries such as Sweden, Germany and Norway, “schools are open with no problems”, and threatened that he “may cut off funding if [US schools do] not open”.

Those countries have seen fewer cases than the US, which hit 3m last week. They are also experimenting with remodeling schools around the virus, in the way the CDC recommends, including implementing social distancing and alternate-day schedules.

Such moves would require significant investment. Asked about Trump’s funding threat on Fox News Sunday, DeVos said: “American investment in education is a promise to students and their families. If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds. Then give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise.”

On Monday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News that the president might in fact consider giving schools more funding, as an incentive to reopen.

“I think the president would be willing to consider additional funding for state and local governments if the schools do reopen, so that’s perhaps an incentive,” Kudlow said.

In Florida, which saw a record 15,000 new cases in 24 hours over the weekend, the education commissioner has ordered public schools to reopen in August, though the decision will ultimately be left to local school boards.

Vice-President Mike Pence has said the CDC will issue new guidelines this week.