Biden vs Trump: How to Reopen Schools

Graphic via Tania Lili for COURIER

By Keya Vakil

July 23, 2020

Biden’s campaign has explicitly criticized Trump’s efforts to force schools to reopen, saying the president “blew it” and missed the window to develop a plan to reopen schools safely. 

Last week, Joe Biden released his plan to safely reopen schools, an effort that would leave decisions to local leaders while simultaneously providing the federal funding necessary for districts to implement adequate safety measures. 

Biden’s proposal represents a distinct contrast with President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign to force schools to hold in-person classes in order to revive the collapsing economy. Reopening America’s schools, which would allow more parents to return to work, is widely seen as critical to any economic recovery, and for Trump, a path to re-election must include getting more Americans back to work.

Trump, who has not introduced any sort of comprehensive plan geared toward school reopenings, has found allies in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and some Republicans. But teachers, parents, health officials, and lawmakers of both parties have criticized the president’s efforts, arguing that reopening amid a spiraling pandemic without proper funding puts the health of teachers, staff,and students at risk. 

Teachers unions have made it clear they will resist efforts to force them back into classrooms without protections and clear guidance. Some educators are so worried about returning to the classroom that they have prepared wills, while others are strongly considering quitting their jobs altogether.

“Trump is concerned more with election dynamics than the lives of students and their educators, and the White House’s pressure campaign presents a false choice between the health of our students and the health of our economy,” Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teacher’s union in the country, told COURIER.

RELATED: Parents and Teachers Are Terrified of Schools Reopening as COVID-19 Cases Surge: ‘I Just Don’t Know If It’s Safe’

Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has taken a different approach, issuing a proposal that prioritizes public health while simultaneously taking the importance of in-person learning into account. 

His campaign has explicitly criticized the president’s efforts to force schools to reopen as well as his overall response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying Trump “blew it” and missed the window to develop a plan to reopen schools safely. 

“His administration failed to heed the experts and take the steps required to reduce infections in our communities. As a result, cases have exploded,” his campaign said in a recent press email. “Now our window before the new school year is closing rapidly, and we are forced to grapple with reopening our schools in an environment of much greater risk to educators, students, and their families than there would have been if America had competent leadership.”

With less than a month to go before the academic year begins in some states, the clock is ticking on a safe reopening. Here’s how Biden’s five-point strategy compares to Trump’s approach thus far:

Get the Virus Under Control Safely


  • Establish a nationwide testing-and-tracing program, including doubling the number of drive-through testing sites;
  • Establish a sustainable supply chain for personal protective equipment and invoke the Defense Production Act more broadly to ensure there are enough masks for every school in America every day;
  • Protect older Americans and others at high risk.


  • Has repeatedly tried to pass the buck on testing to the states, and the White House has reportedly blocked $25 million in funds for states to conduct testing and contact tracing;
  • Has only used the Defense Production Act sparingly and has instead forced states to compete with each other to obtain PPE.
  • Has yet to provide any protections for high-risk Americans and has instead repeatedly downplayed the dangers of COVID-19, most recently telling Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday that the virus would soon “disappear.”
Biden vs Trump: How to Reopen Schools

Set National Safety Guidelines, Empower Local Decision-Making


  • Leave decisions about reopening to local school and health officials, especially for areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread;
  • Provide emergency funding for schools to reconfigure classrooms, improve ventilation, and take other critical steps to allow students and staff to physically distance and reduce the risk of virus transmission;
  • Ensure schools take necessary precautions to protect educators and students, including reducing class sizes and limiting large gatherings;
  • Guarantee schools have access to enough masks and other PPE for every student and educator every day, if they need it;
  • Provide accommodations for at-risk educators and students—a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 1.5 million teachers (24% of the total number of teachers)in the U.S. have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness if infected with the coronavirus;
  • Ensure state and local officials have a plan to communicate regularly about school decisions and resources with parents, caregivers, teachers, and the community;
  • Establish greater clarity about federal guidelines and provide clear answers about how schools should prepare to reopen, how they should respond to confirmed cases, etc. 


  • Has left the decision of whether schools can reopen up to state and local officials, but has also ignored expert advice and simultaneously wants to force all schools to resume in-person instruction, without exceptions;
  • Has threatened to withhold federal funding for schools (which he technically can’t do);
  • Has not presented a plan for precautions, PPE, accommodations for high-risk individuals, or for how state and local officials should communicate with parents and other members of the community;
  • Criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 62-page guidance on how to safely reopen schools, calling them “impractical” and “very tough and expensive.” 

RELATED: Biden Releases $775 Billion Plan to ‘Ease the Squeeze’ on the Caregiving Crisis

Provide Emergency Funding for Public Schools and Child Care Providers


  • Call on Senate Republicans to pass the HEROES Act, which the House approved in May and includes roughly $58 billion for local school districts;
  • Encourage Congress to pass another emergency bill to provide schools with at least $30 billion in additional resources to implement changes to safely reopen, including money for child care providers and personal protective equipment, public health and sanitation products, and modifications to building ventilation systems, classrooms, schedules, class size, and transportation;
  • Request $4 billion in funding to expand broadband access and upgrade technology.


  • Has all but ignored the HEROES Act, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring to the floor for a vote;
  • Wants funding tied to schools reopening and has proposed few specifics; the White House tentatively agreed to a Senate GOP plan offering $70 billion to K-12 schools, with half of the money going to covering costs for schools that reopen;
  • Has not addressed broadband or technological upgrades for schools during COVID-19.

Ensuring High-Quality Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic


  • Provide “high-quality remote and hybrid learning” for students who need additional assistance or do not have access to specific technology;
  • Share tools and resources with parents and other caregivers to help them decide whether to send their children back to school, assist them with their children’s online learning, and help their children deal with the stress brought on by the pandemic;
  • Guarantee tailored remote teaching curriculums and educational plans for high-risk students and educators;
  • Work with the CDC and the National Institutes of Health to help inform educators and families about the latest scientific discoveries regarding how COVID-19 impacts children.


  • Has suggested nothing beyond schools reopening.

Closing the COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap 


  • Create a White House-led initiative to identify proven strategies to address gaps in learning, mental health, the social and emotional well-being of children, and rectify the systemic racial and socioeconomic disparities in education that have only grown due to COVID-19. This plan would solicit input from health experts, educators, civil rights advocates, technology experts, tribal education experts, families, and students.
  • Launch a COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap Challenge Grant to incentivize states and tribal governments to provide students the resources they need to succeed during COVID-19. 
  • Support and dedicate more resources to community schools, which work with families, students, teachers and community organizations to “identify families’ unmet needs” and then form a plan to use community resources to address these needs—such as food shortages and mental health issues—at school. 


  • Has not addressed the equity gap or community schools.


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.



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