Donald Trump said schools in US coronavirus hotspots “may need to delay reopening for a few weeks” as he spoke at a White House press conference on Thursday, adding that the decision will fall on local governors.
The move marks a slight shift from his previous positions, as the US president claimed in recent weeks that it was safe to reopen schools and that students needed to return so their parents could go back to work – denouncing an attempt by the Democrats to block this for allegedly political reasons.
His push has at times put him at odds with his own health officials.
Earlier this month, he said school guidelines from the US health agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), were too tough, prompting the agency to update its guidance on Thursday.
The CDC did not appear to remove any of its earlier suggestions, but its website emphasises the importance of reopening schools, echoing many of Trump’s arguments.
“School closure disrupts the delivery of in-person instruction and critical services to children and families, which has negative individual and societal ramifications,” it reads.
“The best available evidence from countries that have opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission, and suggests that children are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus.”
The updated guidance lays out a range of measures depending on the level of spread. If there’s minimal or moderate spread, it recommends social distancing, masks and increased sanitation.
But in areas with substantive and uncontrolled spread, school closures should be an “important consideration”.
However, some of the nation’s largest districts, like Los Angeles and San Diego, have already ruled out reopening schools, while New York City plans to offer a mix of online and in-person instruction.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said that students should be in the classroom every day if their families want and that any alternative fails students and taxpayers.
In many states, education leaders said the lack of funding to implement safety measures is preventing students from returning to school.
Trump said he’s asking Congress to provide some €90 billion in education funding as part of the next virus relief bill, with the aim to help schools reducing class sizes, hire teachers, rearrange spaces and provide masks.