Joe Biden on Wednesday said U.S. schools are facing a “national emergency” as they struggle to reopen safely amid the coronavirus pandemic, pinning the blame squarely on President Donald Trump.
“Let me be clear: if President Trump and his administration had done their jobs, America’s schools would be open,” Biden said in a speech from Wilmington, Delaware. “Instead, America’s families are paying the price for his failures.”
“President Trump may not think this is a national emergency but I do,” Biden added. “Protecting our students, our educators, and our communities. Getting our schools open safely and effectively – this is a national emergency,” he said.
Biden said that if he were president, he would direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make sure that all K-12 schools received “full access to disaster relief and emergency assistance funds” that would allow them safely reopen and operate during the outbreak.
Those funds, he said, could be used to purchase large amounts of personal protective equipment, install better ventilator systems or fund more teachers to allow for smaller class sizes. It could also be used to fund more remote learning technology and to address emotional and mental health needs among students.
A fact sheet provided by the Biden campaign Wednesday pointed to an estimate from the Schools Superintendents Association which said schools would need around $200 billion in emergency funds.
On Tuesday, FEMA said it would cease reimbursing states for masks and other personal protective equipment for schools.
Biden also called on Congress to return to pass a larger relief package that would include more school funding and slammed Trump who, he said, “still does not have a real plan for how to open our schools safely.”
“He’s offered us nothing but failure and delusions from start to finish and American families and our children are paying the price,” Biden said.
“Mr. President, that is your job. That’s what you should be focused on — getting our kids back to school,” he added. “Not whipping up fear and division — not inciting violence in our streets.”
Before his speech, Biden and his wife Jill, a longtime educator, attended a briefing with public health experts on how to best reopen schools.
Later in the day, Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., echoed the nominee’s criticism of Trump, saying during a virtual event with Minnesota officials that the president “is offering no real plan to help schools reopen safely and he’s refusing to do the work of getting the virus under control.”
“His administration is attempting to bully schools into reopening without the support they need,” she said. “It’s clear that our children’s safety is the last thing on Donald Trump’s mind.”
In July, Biden released a five-step “roadmap” to safely reopen schools — a plan that included empowering local decision-making while still setting clear national safety guidelines for them to follow, a national testing and contact tracing plan, and calling on Congress to pass emergency funding measures for public schools.
The Trump administration has pushed to fully reopen schools across the country, even as coronavirus cases continue to climb in some areas and teachers have threatened to strike over preparedness concerns.
More than 186,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 with over 6.1 million confirmed infections.