NAICU Washington Update

National Attention Focused on Reopening Schools and Restarting Athletics

July 09, 2020

As states have reopened this summer, pressure has increased for schools and colleges to also reopen in the fall.  In response, Congress and the Trump Administration have held a series of meetings and hearings during the past two weeks with public health officials, education officials, college presidents, parents, teachers and pediatricians to discuss the best practices for reopening schools.  Additionally, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics released a set of guidelines focused on restarting college athletics. 

Below is a summary of these events.

White House

Earlier this week, the White House hosted a summit on reopening schools in the fall that featured White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The message from the summit was that children are the least likely to contract coronavirus, are the least likely to have severe cases of coronavirus, and that keeping children home from school is more detrimental to their health than going to school with safety precautions. 

The governors, teachers, parents, and pediatricians who participated in the summit emphasized the social, emotional and physical learning that needs to take place at school for students of all ages to succeed, the services provided at schools, from meals to mental health, that students are missing out on, and the digital divide that will leave millions of students behind if school does not start in-person as the top reasons for schools to re-open in the fall. Many also emphasized that parents cannot go back to work if their children are not in school. 

Secretary DeVos touted the CARES Act funds that have been made available to states, schools, colleges and students, and intimated that future funds could be limited only to schools that open. 

President Trump participated in the round table discussion that closed the summit, saying he did not think opening school should be political, but that he would “put pressure on governors and everyone to open schools.” 

U.S. Senate

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held its fourth hearing examining how to reopen schools and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. At the hearing, Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announced the release of new considerations regarding coronavirus testing at institutions of higher education. 

Notably, the new CDC guidance does not endorse entry testing of all returning students, faculty, and staff. Instead, the CDC recommends that institutions focus testing efforts on individuals with symptoms of COVID-19, as well as individuals who have come in close contact with an infected person or had contact with an infected person in settings where infection can spread rapidly. 

In addition, the CDC continues to encourage colleges and universities to work with their local and state public health officials in designing a testing strategy. The agency also notes that its recommendations should be tailored to the needs of each institution.

In his opening statement, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated that although there are health risks associated with reopening schools, there is greater risk if students do not return to school in the fall. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, also indicated that he is supportive of reopening schools, as did several other participants, including Redfield.

U.S. House of Representatives

The House Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment held a hearing to examine the impact of COVID-19 on the future of higher education.  Witnesses emphasized the need for increased federal investment in students and institutions to ensure current students stay on track to degree completion, and to ensure that new students have high quality alternative learning opportunities if colleges cannot open for in-person instruction in the fall. 

Knight Commission

The Knight Commission has released a set of guidelines and considerations to help colleges and universities determine how best to restarting their athletic programs.

The guidelines consist of seven considerations to take into account when deciding on restarting sports programs: health and safety risks; on-boarding protocols prior to the restart; being mindful of Title IX concerns as decisions are made regarding which programs to restart; equitable treatment of all athletes, with special consideration for African American athletes in football and basketball; and preserving the quality of the college athletic experience.

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