Trump says L.A. schools are making a ‘mistake’ by delaying reopening due to coronavirus
President Trump called the decision by Los Angeles schools to not reopen campuses next month a “mistake” during a CBS News interview on Tuesday.
Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Austin Beutner announced Monday that the nation’s second-largest school system will continue with online learning until further notice because of the worsening coronavirus outbreak in Los Angeles.
A growing number of school districts, including those in San Diego and Long Beach and some in Northern California, are following suit. Long Beach Unified announced Tuesday that it “will remain entirely online, at least through Oct. 5.”
Trump has been pressing schools and universities to reopen despite concerns from some health officials that it is not safe to do so.
Asked during the CBS interview to elaborate on his criticism of Beutner’s decision, the president added: “I would tell parents and teachers that you should find yourself a new person, whoever’s in charge of that decision.”
School systems across the country have had to balance the need to reduce health risks against the importance of returning students to classrooms — where, experts say, they learn more effectively while allowing their parents to resume a more routine work schedule, helping to boost a state economy in deep recession.
Beutner said Monday that the LAUSD could not come close to protecting the health and safety of about half a million K-12 students and 75,000 employees.
“Let me be crystal clear,” Beutner said in an interview with The Times. “We all know the best place for students to learn is in a school setting.” But, he said, “we’re going in the wrong direction. And as much as we want to be back at schools and have students back at schools — can’t do it until it’s safe and appropriate.”
The superintendent pointedly called for county, state and federal officials to provide leadership and funding for regular coronavirus testing and contact tracing and said school districts need clearer guidance on when and how to reopen.
At the same time, Beutner declined to get into a war of words with Trump.
Beutner has tried to develop a channel of communication into the administration as part of district lobbying efforts. He personally knows Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose family foundation has contributed $75,000 over the last two years to Vision To Learn, the nonprofit Beutner founded before he became superintendent. The organization provides free glasses to low-income students. DeVos has supported the nationwide charity’s work in Grand Rapids, Mich., her home state.
Soon after campuses closed in mid-March, Beutner called DeVos, urging her help in obtaining federal reimbursement for L.A. Unified’s distribution of meals to needy households, regardless of whether adults or students were being helped.
So far, Beutner’s efforts to secure full funding for meal distribution have met with little progress — either from federal, state or local sources, Beutner said in an interview with The Times on Sunday.
When it comes to reopening, DeVos has sided with Trump, urging schools to return to a normal schedule.
Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond praised Beutner on Monday.
“I think he made a great decision,” Thurmond said. “L.A. County has a high number of cases. They took that into consideration, and I think they made a decision that’s in the best interests of protecting their students.”
“It’s a decision that — if conditions should change — that they can always walk back from,” he added.
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