Wednesday, October 14, 2020

GAO says Education Department and CDC gave conflicting, incomplete guidance to local school officials on reopenings

"President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos talked out of both sides of their mouths on school reopening, a new government watchdog report finds," Evie Blad of Education Week writes about a report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

"On the one hand, DeVos stressed that plans on how to reopen school buildings during the covid-19 pandemic were 'state and local decisions.' On the other hand, Trump and DeVos suggested schools' federal funding may be at risk if they don't allow students to return for in-person learning," Blad reports.

The GAO also concluded that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided unclear and sometimes contradictory guidance about how schools should minimize the spread of the virus. The report also criticized the Department of Education for leaving out details about wearing masks and social distancing when it summarized the CDC’s guidelines on its website, Blad reports.

"The report's findings echo concerns school administrators have voiced for months as they struggle to interpret layers of local, state, and federal directives amid changing information about the virus and how it spreads. Their push for clearer federal instructions started as early as March, when governors around the country ordered mass closures of their buildings to stop the spread of the virus," Blad reports. "And some complained that the Trump administration's push for schools to open in-person added political fuel to an already raging fire."

A paper in progress by two political scientists suggests that community support for President Trump had a significant influence on many school districts' decisions to resume in-person classes.

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