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White House says returning to classrooms is ‘perfectly safe’ as some school districts plan for online-only learning in the fall

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany during a press briefing on Thursday.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany during a press briefing on Thursday.Drew Angerer/Getty

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday continued the Trump administration’s push to open schools in the fall, saying at a press briefing that it is “perfectly safe” for children to return to in-class learning, even as large school districts across the country announce plans to start classes online amid coronavirus concerns.

“As has been clear, we don’t think our children should be locked up at home with devastating consequences when it’s perfectly safe for them to go to school, as emphasized by many medical experts,” McEnany said at the White House.

In response to a reporter asking what the president would say to parents with kids in school districts that have announced plans to begin the school year with online-only learning, McEnany said the president wants schools to fully open in the fall.

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“You know, the president has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open,” McEnany said. “And I was just in the Oval talking to him about that. And when he says open, he means open in full — kids being able to attend each and every day at their school.”

“The science should not stand in the way of this,” she added, a comment that she later said was taken out of context.

McEnany cited a JAMA Pediatrics study that said children have a greater risk of being critically ill from the flu than from COVID-19.

“The science is on our side here, and we encourage for localities and states to just simply follow the science, open our schools,” she said.

The exchange comes about a month before the school year is set to begin in parts of the country, and as the virus is surging in multiple hot spots. States in the South and West again reported record numbers of confirmed infections and deaths Thursday.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults make up most of coronavirus cases, and “based on available evidence, children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults.”

The CDC noted some children have developed a rare inflammatory syndrome, which researchers have detected in children who “had the virus that causes COVID-19 or had been around someone with COVID-19.”

“Although most COVID-19 cases in children are not severe, serious illness that needs to be treated at the hospital still happens,” according to the CDC.

Experts told Bloomberg that there are still unknowns about how COVID-19 impacts children, including at what rate an infected child can spread the virus, and potential long-term effects.

Last week, President Trump threatened to withhold funding for schools that don’t open in the fall and criticized the CDC’s guidelines on resuming in-person instruction.

“We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open,” Trump said at a White House roundtable on reopening schools.

This week, some school districts announced plans to begin the school year with online-only learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Los Angeles and San Diego school districts, the two largest in California, said students won’t return to classrooms next month and will instead start the year with digital learning as the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rise in the state.

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In North Carolina, students who attend Durham Public Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools will spend the first nine weeks of the term learning online, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

Arlington Public Schools in Virginia had initially planned on providing a mix of in-person and online classes for the fall, but changed course Tuesday and announced the district’s 28,000 students will begin only online, according to the Washington Post.

In Baltimore, Howard County Public Schools will provide online-only classes for its almost 59,000 students through at least January, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Massachusetts has asked school districts to prepare for three possible scenarios : In-person learning, online learning, and a combination of both. In new guidance released last week, Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley asked schools to prioritize in-person learning and wait until August to announce any final plans.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.



Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.