Rep. Ayanna Pressley tore into Betsy DeVos after the secretary of education backed President Donald Trump's demand that schools reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 135,000 people in the U.S.
"@BetsyDeVosED you have no plan. Teachers, kids and parents are fearing for their lives. You point to a private sector that has put profits over people and claimed the lives of thousands of essential workers," tweeted the freshman Democrat from Massachusetts.
"I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child."
DeVos appeared on Sunday morning news shows to defend Trump's insistence that schools reopen even as the number of confirmed cases across the county continue to spike. And she repeated Trump's threat to withhold federal funds from schools that refuse to resume in-person classes.
.@BetsyDeVosED you have no plan. Teachers, kids and parents are fearing for their lives. You point to a private sector that has put profits over people and claimed the lives of thousands of essential workers. I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child. https://t.co/Qs0Z7gCnMo
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) July 12, 2020
On CNN's "State of the Union" – in a clip shared by Pressley – DeVos argued COVID-19 cases among children are less frequent and less severe.
Host Dana Bash pointed to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that say while they aren't at higher risk, "If children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk."
"Children can pass this virus onto others who have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19," the CDC guidelines say.
DeVos said children are not likely to spread the disease, citing a report that said the YMCA did not see an uptick in cases after it volunteered to use its facilities to provide care for the children of first responders.
"That's great news," Bash said of the YMCA report. "But I'm asking you about your own federal government's guidelines, the CDC guidelines. And what the CDC has said is that if children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk."
'You can't do that': Fox News host Wallace confronts DeVos on threat to redirect funds from schools
The CDC published a guidance offering educators a roadmap on how to reopen amid the pandemic that includes keeping children six feet apart, installing physical barriers, and closing communal spaces like playgrounds and dining halls. Trump has said the guidelines are "tough" and "expensive," sparking debate about whether schools should follow them upon reopening.
When asked if she thought schools should follow the CDC guidance, DeVos replied that Director Robert Redfield "clearly said, these are recommendations and every situation is going to look slightly different."
"We have education leaders who can work hard and figure this out," she said.
DeVos conceded that some schools might have to shut down and resume remote learning, but declined to say what level of infection would justify that switch, or what level of community spread in the area might warrant wider closures. She said there were "really good examples that have been utilized in the private sector" and in hospitals that could inform school leaders.
"OK, but I'm not hearing a plan from the Department of Education. Do you have a plan for what schools should do?" Bash asked.
"Schools should do what's right on the ground, at that time, for their students and for their situation. There is no one uniform approach that we can take, or should take, nationwide," DeVos said.
Bash argued DeVos was trying to "have it both ways" by insisting schools open nationwide while leaving specifics to local authorities.
On "Fox News Sunday" DeVos backed Trump's threat to withhold funds from schools that refuse to reopen.
"American investment in education is a promise to students and their families. If schools aren't going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn't get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise," DeVos said.
Host Chris Wallace contended Trump and DeVos did not have the authority to "unilaterally cut off funding" that had been approved by Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Bash she considered DeVos' statements on school reopenings "malfeasance and dereliction of duty."
"This is appalling," she said. "The president and his administration are messing with the health of our children."
"We all want our children to go back to school. Teachers do. Parents do. And children do. But they must go back safely."
Can Trump do that?: FAQ on CDC guidelines, federal funding for schools during coronavirus
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Betsy DeVos has 'no plan,' says Rep. Ayanna Pressley