White House blames Trump for COVID school closures despite teachers unions, Dems fighting to keep them shut

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The White House on Thursday appeared to blame former President Trump and Republicans for a decline in children’s reading and math scores during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The comments came during Thursday’s White House briefing. A reporter cited statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showing that 9-year-olds in the U.S. had lost ground in math and reading due to the pandemic.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

According to the report, average scores for 9-year-old students in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in mathematics compared to 2020 – the largest average score decline in reading since 1990 and the first ever score decline in mathematics.

The reporter asked White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre what the Biden administration planned to do to address this “severe learning loss” and whether it shouldered “any blame for not pushing schools to reopen sooner.”


Jean-Pierre suggested that the Trump administration and Republicans were to blame for how they “mismanaged” the pandemic, arguing that “nearly all schools” were open six months into Biden’s presidency.

“That was the work of this president and that was the work of Democrats in spite of Republicans not voting for the American Rescue Plan (of) which $130 billion dollars went to schools to have the ventilation to be able to have the tutoring and the teachers and being able to hire more teachers,” Jean-Pierre said, again crediting the Biden administration.

She argued that the economy being shut down, as well as schools and business showed “how mismanaged the pandemic was and how the impact of that mismanagement had on the kids’ progress and academic well-being.”

In-person learning advocate Bethany Mandel feels the COVID pandemic and school closures that coincide with it have “completely destroyed the idea of a meritocracy in America” because children aren’t all receiving the same opportunities.

She pledged that the money from the American Rescue Plan would be directed to students who are most behind and the Biden administration would “repair the damage that was done by the last administration.”

Jean-Pierre did not acknowledge that President Trump and Republicans, throughout the pandemic, were pushing for schools to resume in-person learning. Democratic leaders and, particularly, teachers unions, fought such efforts at every step of the way, arguing – contrary to guidance from the Centrals for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – that returning to school would put teachers and students in harms way.

Earlier this year, the Chicago Teachers Union – the third-largest school district in the nation – defied the city’s order for school children to return to in-person learning.

After a winter break, 73% of the CTU said they wanted to return to remote classes until the current spike in COVID cases “substantially subsides” – earning them bipartisan scorn for a time.

Throughout the pandemic, the California Teachers Association, a heavy backer of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, also slow walked the return to in-person learning.


Last year a group of parents started a petition to get rid of the CTA, arguing “the teachers unions have been holding us all hostage, refusing to teach our children.”