SACRAMENTO — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pledged Wednesday to use the “bully pulpit” to pressure states to reopen schools for in-person learning amid the pandemic.
DeVos said on a Zoom event hosted by the Pacific Research Institute that she and President Donald Trump have been “very consistent” about the need to reopen schools for in-person learning “in every possible situation.”
The context: The comments come the same day that Boston schools paused reopening plans because of a rise in coronavirus cases and as New York City scrambles to reverse its reopening plans for hundreds of schools. In California, some schools have reopened with mandated mask and social distancing policies but many, including Los Angeles Unified, the country’s second-largest district, have no plans of a full scale reopening anytime soon.
“We know that in some places where there is a spike in cases of the virus, that there may have to be short times of working at a distance, but for those families who need and want this for their children, learning in person, there’s no other substitute for it,” DeVos said Wednesday. “We have continued to urge states and districts to make sure they’re offering this as an option to families. Of course, these are state and local decisions, but we will continue to use the bully pulpit to urge this to happen.”
California reported on Tuesday that there has been no spike in coronavirus cases in the limited openings across the state, which mostly include elementary schools.
The big picture: DeVos used the pandemic as reason to promote school choice, including charter schools, “micro schools” and learning pods, saying now more than ever parents should have a say in their child’s education due to campus closures and distance learning struggles.
But teachers unions and civil rights advocates across the country have warned of the impact that an increase in charter school or private school enrollment could have on the traditional K-12 system, worried it will exacerbate already wide achievement gaps for low income students and student of color.
In California, online charter schools that were not a popular choice before the pandemic now have wait lists in the thousands, with parents scrambling for distance learning experts. Private schools have also reopened at a quicker rate than public schools.
“These choices and these options have got to be protected and frankly expanded for families because the demand is there,” DeVos said Wednesday.
Although many parents are struggling to accommodate at-home learning amid the pandemic — with some unable to supervise because they cannot work from home — DeVos called home schooling “a wonderful option” that she thinks the virus has put a positive light on.
“The reality is all families had to school at home out of necessity and many of them have found that this is actually a really good answer and a really good solution for their kids going forward,” DeVos said.
A swipe at teachers unions: DeVos slammed teachers unions for their stance against charter schools on Wednesday. In California, teacher strikes across the state last year included a push for legislation to crack down on charters, with unions alleging they unfairly take too many resources from community schools.
Teachers unions across the country have demanded personal protective equipment and other public health measures before they return to in-person learning.
“It’s not focused on doing what’s right for students. It’s focused on adult issues and protecting adult positions, adult power, and frankly, at the core, it’s all around the resources and the power,” she said. “This is not focused on doing what’s right for kids.”