Chairman Clyburn's Opening Remarks at the Remote Hearing on “The Challenges to Safely Reopening K-12 Schools”

Aug 6, 2020
Press Release

Chairman James E. Clyburn

Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis

Remote Hearing on “The Challenges to Safely Reopening K-12 Schools”

August 6, 2020

Opening Statement
(as written)

In July 11, President Trump tweeted, and I quote, “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for children & families.”  He ended with a threat:  “May cut off funding if not open!”

 

And just yesterday, he said, quote, “My view is the schools should open. This thing is going away.  It will go away like things go away and my view is that schools should be open.”

 

The President views the decision about how to reopen schools as a political dispute about his own reelection.  And to paraphrase his press secretary, he is refusing to let science stand in the way.

 

I fundamentally disagree with that approach:  Schools must reopen based on science and the safety of our children and teachers—not politics and wishful thinking.

 

I do agree with the President that schools are critically important for children and families.  My first job after I graduated from college was as a high school history teacher.  My wife was a school librarian.  At this time of year, I remember the anticipation as the start of school would come into focus.  Two of my grandchildren are school-age, and I know they are feeling that anticipation now.

 

In May, the Select Subcommittee focused on how to reopen safely through testing, tracing, and targeted containment.  I hoped that the Administration would implement these measures, and that schools could safely reopen in the fall, fully in person.  

 

Unfortunately, this is not possible in much of the country.

 

Last Friday, Dr. Fauci told us the virus is still raging across the United States because, unlike in Europe, we didn’t shut down sufficiently in the first place. 

 

We cannot make the same mistake with our schools.  We need to follow the science. 

 

First, children can get the coronavirus, and they can pass it on to others.

 

The President has falsely claimed that children are, and I quote, “almost immune to this disease.”  But Dr. Fauci told our Subcommittee last week, and I quote, “Children do get infected.  We know that.  So therefore, they’re not immune.” 

 

Evidence has started to pile up about outbreaks at summer camps, such as CDC’s report last week that 76% of children who were tested at a YMCA camp in Georgia had the virus. 

 

Other summer-camp outbreaks have been documented in Florida, New York, Texas, South Carolina, Louisiana, and other states.  Nationwide, more than 338,000 children have tested positive for the virus.

 

Second, the CDC has been clear that a key consideration for physically reopening schools is coronavirus rates in the community, and that in-person school presents the, quote, “Highest Risk” of spreading the disease.  CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield has warned that in virus hotspots, quote, “remote and distance learning may need to be adopted for some amount of time.” 

 

The White House Coronavirus Task Force reported last week that 21 states are in so-called “red zones” because they have high positivity rates or rising infections.  Reopening schools in these hot spots presents heightened risks.

 

Third, even for schools outside of red zones, CDC experts and other scientists have urged that any schools considering reopening should take steps to limit transmission.  That includes improving school ventilation systems, physical distancing, and wearing masks. 

 

Our schools face life-or-death decisions because of the Administration’s inexcusable failure to get the virus under control over the last six months.

 

But there are steps the federal government can take to help schools safely reopen in person and stay open.  As Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield told us last week, we can control the pandemic by wearing masks, limiting gatherings, closing indoor dining and bars, and practicing social distancing.  The President needs to follow and promote this expert advice, not denigrate and distract from it.

 

Rather than threaten to withhold funding from schools, we should ensure every school has the resources it needs to safely educate students during the pandemic, whether remote or in-person. 

 

The next coronavirus relief package must provide sufficient funding to meet these needs.  It must also include the funds in the HEROES Act to provide mobile hotspots and other connectivity devices to students, and subsidies to make internet affordable for low-income families.  I urge my Republican colleagues to support these investments in our children.

 

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses, who speak from deep expertise and experience in education and public health.  

 

I also invited Secretary DeVos to testify today, so she could explain why she is pressuring schools to fully re-open, despite the risks.  I offered to accommodate her schedule.  But she refused to appear.  I find it hard to understand how Secretary DeVos can expect to lead our nation’s effort to safely educate our children during this pandemic if she refuses to speak directly to Congress and the American people.

 

I will now yield to my friend, the distinguished Ranking Member, Mr. Scalise, for his opening remarks.

 

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116th Congress