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White House calls on states to close schools where virus is spreading


With help from Juan Perez Jr., Michael Stratford and Alexandra Levine

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— The White House ramped up its warnings for schools with new coronavirus guidelines, urging governors in states with evidence of community transmissions to close schools in affected and surrounding areas. Leaders of top teachers unions, meanwhile, are backing the closure of schools nationwide.

— Key primary states are voting today, but the coronavirus is restricting the National Education Association’s traditional get-out-the-vote efforts, days after the union endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden.

— Most Education Department employees are teleworking, following new federal guidance. All of the department’s “telework eligible” employees were told in an email they “should begin teleworking to the extent possible, through Friday, April 10.”

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NEW WARNINGS FOR SCHOOLS: President Donald Trump called on Americans to “engage in schooling from home when possible” while avoiding restaurants, bars and groups of more than 10 people for the next two weeks.

— State governors should close schools in areas near communities that see the virus spreading, the White House said Monday, and state and local officials should also close schools where the virus has been identified in the population associated with the school. Governors and school districts in dozens of states have already done just that, exerting their power in the face of a pandemic that’s led other countries to order nationwide shutdowns.

— The warnings came as the presidents of both the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association backed the nationwide closure of schools.

— “Closing schools is an agonizing decision, but, with caveats, it’s the inevitable and correct one in the midst of this unprecedented national emergency,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “The health and safety of the education community is paramount, so given the CDC guidance and the widespread unavailability of test kits, all schools must plan now for a shutdown.” More from Juan Perez Jr.

Sign up for POLITICO Nightly: Coronavirus Special Edition, your daily update on how the illness is affecting politics, markets, public health and more.

SCOTT PROPOSES EMERGENCY AID FOR SCHOOLS: A House bill that would deliver $3 billion in emergency coronavirus funding to schools and early childhood programs is in the works, Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) announced Monday.

— Scott said he’s introduced a companion bill, H.R. 6275 (116), to legislation sponsored in the Senate by Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on that body’s education committee. It aims to create new grant programs for elementary and high schools — plus colleges and universities — and emergency financial aid for college students. Some students could also qualify for waivers to get exempted from repaying student loans, Scott’s office said. More from Juan.

ROMNEY CALLS FOR DEFERRING STUDENT LOANS: Mitt Romney, a member of the Senate education committee, today called for deferring student loans and making it easier for students to receive more Pell Grant funding in an effort to ease the financial burden on students from the coronavirus pandemic.

— The proposals were part of the Utah Republican’s plan for “urgent action” by Congress to address the economic fallout from the virus. Also included was a proposal to provide a $1,000 check to each American adult.

NEA’S GOTV EFFORTS GO VIRTUAL: The 3-million-member union is trading traditional phone banks, meetings and canvassing for virtual GOTV efforts to protect the health and safety of members “while ensuring we can still put the weight of educators behind Joe Biden,” an NEA official wrote in an email.

— Arizona, Florida and Illinois are scheduled to have primaries today. Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said late Monday the state’s health department will shutter all polling places today to protect voters and poll workers from the coronavirus outbreak. His announcement came after a judge denied a last-minute attempt to postpone the election until later this year, raising questions about whether voters will be able to participate in the still-scheduled primary.

— After endorsing Biden on Saturday, NEA launched a digital outreach program, using emails, social media and digital ads to encourage members to vote.

— “And with 760,000 voters living in households with at least one NEA member in the four states voting on Tuesday, we are running a member-to-member text messaging program, where educators are directly moving to get out the vote for the Vice President,” the official wrote. “As we move forward in this election cycle, NEA will continue building out innovative GOTV efforts, which follow the guidance of public health officials and empower our members to have an impact on this election.”

— Biden has a sizeable polling advantage over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in each of the states. Ahead of their debate on Sunday night, he announced his support for making public colleges and universities free for some students, a shift from his earlier plan for making community colleges tuition-free and doubling the maximum Pell Grant.

EDUCATION DEPARTMENT EMPLOYEES TOLD TO TELEWORK: Telework-eligible employees — 98 percent of the staff — were told on Monday to gather their government-furnished equipment from the office and begin teleworking “to the extent possible,” through April 10. But the timing will be “assessed continually,” according to the email to all employees.

— The email instructs supervisors, “to the maximum extent possible,” to identify opportunities to shift work assignments of staff who are currently in non-telework-eligible positions to telework-eligible status “by identifying portable work for them to perform.” Those employees who are at high risk of complications were told to talk to their managers.

— The email also notes that the department’s telework program allows eligible employees to telework with children or elders at approved alternate work locations, “provided employees account for work and non-work hours (i.e., time spent providing care or carrying out other personal responsibilities) and take appropriate leave to account for time spent away from normal work-related duties due to dependent care.”

— If someone who had been in a department office were to test positive for the coronavirus, the department would notify employees in the affected area and that portion of the building would be cleaned and sanitized before employees would be allowed to enter the space again, said a department spokesperson in an email, adding that all HIPPA privacy protections would be maintained.

FIRST LOOK: The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights released a webinar on ensuring web accessibility for students with disabilities for schools using online learning during the coronavirus outbreak.

— The webinar reminds decisionmakers of their responsibility in making distance learning accessible to students with disabilities, unless equally effective alternate access is provided.

— “Students with disabilities must have access to educational technology utilized by schools, and OCR will continue to work to ensure that no student is excluded from utilizing these important tools,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus said in a statement.

— The office also published a fact sheet on the rights of students with disabilities during school closures. It includes tips for preventing incidents of discrimination and information on ensuring that no student is discriminated against based on race, color, or national origin.

— The information follows warning the department released on March 4 to thousands of education leaders across the nation about coronavirus-related bullying based on race and national origin.

POSTPONED: In light of the pandemic, the department postponed the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans’ “AfAmWomenLead: Student Summit to Advance Educational Excellence for Black Girls” event.

— The Education Commission of the States released its annual report tracking, analyzing and identifying trends in education policy proposals featured in governors’ State of the State addresses.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association launched the SETDA Coalition for eLearning “to provide best practices and a framework to ensure students can continue learning away from brick and mortar schools,” said the group’s executive director, Candice Dodson.

— House passes revised coronavirus package, paving way for Senate to take up: POLITICO

— Coronavirus closes schools for half of all kids In the U.S., now what? U.S. News & World Report

— College closures threaten towns counting on census returns: POLITICO Pro

— House eyes extended recess to combat spread of coronavirus: POLITICO Pro

— SAT, ACT college admissions exams canceled, delayed: POLITICO Pro

— Supreme Court halt delays hearing in school religious exemption case: POLITICO Pro

— The 9 ways coronavirus disrupted education on Monday: POLITICO Pro



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