WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump says states should "seriously consider" reopening their public schools before the end of the academic year, even though dozens already have said it would be unsafe for students to return until the summer or fall.
Trump made the comments Monday in a call with governors discussing how to reopen their economies, among other topics.
"Some of you might start thinking about school openings, because a lot of people are wanting to have the school openings. It's not a big subject, young children have done very well in this disaster that we've all gone through," he said.
While addressing Vice President Mike Pence, Trump added that it's something "they can seriously consider, and maybe get going on."
None of the governors on the call responded to the suggestion, according to a recording obtained by The Associated Press.
Trump made the comments as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked to finalize guidelines for reopening the economy.
For schools, that included putting students' desks 6 feet apart, serving meals in the classroom instead of the cafeteria and closing playgrounds.
Reopening schools is considered key to getting the economy moving again.
Without a safe place for their kids, many parents would have difficulty returning to work.
But some education officials say opening schools quickly would bring major risk and little reward, especially since the end of the school year is approaching.
"Are they going to reopen for two weeks? Three weeks?" said Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators said.
"It's not the right thing to do. Particularly when we're involving the safety and welfare of our students."
At a White House news conference Monday, Trump acknowledged that there's little time left in the school year, even as he said many states are thinking about getting kids back into the classroom.
"I think you'll see a lot of schools open up even if it's for a very short period of time," he said.
"In terms of what this vicious virus goes after, young people seem to do very well. Young people seem to do very well so I know that there are some governors that aren't necessarily ready to open up states, but they may be ready to open up the school systems."
Schools across the nation have closed during the pandemic, and dozens of states have ordered their schools to remain closed through the rest of this academic year.
Only a few have publicly discussed earlier openings, including Montana, which says school districts can resume classroom instruction on May 7.
In many districts, officials have said it's still unclear whether students will be able to return to the classroom by next fall.
And even if they do, many are planning for social distancing measures that could make school look radically different from the past.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said on CNN that it's "way too early" to reopen his city's schools, adding that "you don't get a lot of credit for moving too quickly to reopen."
Responding to Trump's comments, one of the nation's largest teachers unions said there's still much work to be done before schools can open safely.
The American Federation of Teachers said there needs to be better testing and tracking for the virus, and schools must have access to personal protective equipment.
"It's good the president understands that reopening society and the economy hinges on successfully and safely reopening schools," said Randi Weingarten, the union's president.