INDIANAPOLIS – Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met with higher education leaders about safely reopening schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on Friday at Marian University.
Pence stressed the need to reopen schools.
“Opening up our schools again is the best thing for our kids,” he said. “It’s also the best thing for working families and it’s the best thing to move America forward.”
The vice president said the Trump administration will support Indiana, and all states, with the resources needed to open schools, and said that he doesn’t want a lack of resources to stop schools from opening.
Also in attendance were Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, and administrators from Marian University, Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana and Indiana University.
The roundtable comes as Indiana’s K-12 schools and higher education institutions prepare for the coming school year. Most of Indiana’s colleges and universities have plans to resume in-person instruction, though many have amended their schedules to limit student travel and are developing robust protocols to test students for the novel coronavirus.
At Indiana’s K-12 schools, districts have started to amend their reopening plans in the last week or so as cases of the coronavirus began to surge. Several school districts in Central Indiana decided to start the year virtually and more of them have pushed back the start of the school year by a week or more.
The roundtable on reopening was part of a daylong trip to Indiana for the vice president and second lady Karen Pence.
While the event was at a university with a roundtable of largely higher education people, Pence, DeVos and Birx started with more general education remarks, stressing the need to reopen schools and the impact on families.
Pence and Birx called on Hoosiers to do their part to open up the state and wear a mask.
“It’s not asking a lot of people to wear a mask, it really isn’t,” Birx said. “It’s not asking a lot of people to not go to a bar for a few months.”
About 35 people were in the audience, in chairs spaced about 6 feet apart.
Marion administrators spoke about plans to reopen the campus, including mask requirements, social distancing and more. And two students present shared what being in an on-campus setting means for their classes and for athletics.
Pence said that it was the students’ words that were his biggest takeaway from the comments. He said he was struck by how the in-person connection impacts them both personally and academically.
“I’m going to carry that back as one more argument,” he said, “about how important it is to get students back on campus.”
In Indiana, Purdue University President Mitch Daniels was an early advocate for bringing students back to college campuses and has pushed forward with plans to return 40,000 students to West Lafayette.
About 500 students arrived on campus for Purdue’s Summer Start and Early Start programs earlier this month. Of those, only three tested positive for COVID-19. Purdue has made a negative test mandatory to attend classes or move into a residence hall.
Indiana University will require all on-campus students to be tested. The university shut down voluntary football workouts last week after a number of players tested positive.
Two football players at the University of Notre Dame have also tested positive since returning to the South Bend campus this summer.
The White House has been urging K-12 and higher education institutions to reopen for in-person instruction, with President Donald Trump going so far as to call for the withholding of federal funds for those that don’t reopen. He also recently accused schools of “radical left indoctrination” and called for an examination into their tax-exempt status.
During a visit to South Carolina on Tuesday, Pence said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to send his own children back to the classroom if they were still school-aged, despite the rise in coronavirus cases in many parts of the country.
“We know to open up America again we need to open up America’s schools, but it’s also right on the facts,” Pence said during a discussion with state leaders about reopening.
Contributing: Arika Herron of The Indianapolis Star, Chris Sikich of USA TODAY
Follow MJ Slaby on Twitter: @mjslaby
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