The day after Indianapolis delayed K-12 school start dates, Vice President Mike Pence spoke at Marian University and urged schools to reopen.
“The best thing for our kids is to get them back to school, and get them back to school this fall,” he said.
Pence, the former governor of Indiana, returned to his home state with other members of the Trump administration, including Dr. Deborah Birx and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Pence repeatedly praised Gov. Eric Holcomb’s “strong leadership” on K-12 education and reopening the economy.
“Things are getting better in this state,” he said.
Yet the Indiana State Department of Health on Friday reported 1,011 new COVID-19 cases, a new record, as daily case counts continue to rise. That led Holcomb to slow the pace of reopening the state by prolonging step 4.5 of his plan. Friday morning, the governor signed an executive order making masks mandatory for people ages 8 and older in public indoor spaces.
“Wearing a mask is how we stay open,” Pence said. “Wearing a mask is how we open up our schools.”
Pence said, “there are real risks to our children’s well-being” if school buildings don’t reopen. He referenced special education services and food as examples of benefits school leaders can’t replicate remotely.
He noted that healthy children are at relatively low risk for the coronavirus, whereas studies show students fall dramatically behind academically without in-person instruction.
He said the Trump administration has been working with Indiana universities to provide supplies for reopening safely and will work with state leaders to make sure they have resources to follow federal guidelines on reopening.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance Thursday that called for schools to reopen, which Pence and DeVos both reiterated.
DeVos said the Trump administration will “continue to extend the needed flexibility and freedom to reopen safely.” And she said education funding should follow the student. Parents must be able to find an alternative if their school doesn’t meet their needs for reopening, she said.
“Students and their families shouldn’t have to conform to a one-size-fits-all approach,” she said.
DeVos said the chance to rethink education to creatively meet student needs could function as a silver lining. She said the debate over reopening schools should not center around “if,” but “how.”
“Kids aren’t meant to be alone,” DeVos said. “They’re social. They need to be together with other students.”
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.