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Even where Trump is popular, some leaders reject his push to reopen schools

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By Moriah Balingit, The Washington Post

July 22, 2020

The school year for Greenville County Schools, in South Carolina, starts a little more than a month from now, and officials are still scrambling to figure out what school will look like for the district’s nearly 77,000 students. Will students return to school full time? Or part time? Or will they even open school buildings?

Whatever the plan is, said Superintendent W. Burke Royster, it will be driven by the pandemic — not politics. Royster helped craft a matrix that will guide the school’s reopening plan based on the spread of the coronavirus, and so far, things are not looking good: Greenville County now has more than 1,600 cases per 100,000 people.

“We try to make our decisions and base it on what’s in the best interest of our students and our employees and our community, and try to do that at all times on objective factual information and not on the winds of the political discourse,” said Royster. “And right now, obviously, I think everyone knows they’re extremely strong.”

 

President Donald Trump this month launched an aggressive campaign to return children to school full time, threatening to withhold federal funding from schools that do not comply — which he does not have the power to do — and lashing out against his own public health agency’s school guidelines. Reopening schools is seen as a linchpin to restarting the economy, making it a crucial part of his reelection bid.

But he’s encountering pushback even in places like Greenville County, where Trump won by 25 points in 2016, by school officials who worry that reopening schools could accelerate the spread of the virus. In interviews, some expressed frustration that the president was pushing schools to reopen but offering little in the way of help, financial or otherwise. Congress allocated $13.5 billion in pandemic relief to K-12 schools, compared with the $100 billion they got in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

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