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Under pressure, colleges face risks of reopening or financial ruin


With help from Juan Perez, Jr. and Bianca Quilantan

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— Public colleges and universities are under intense pressure to throw open classroom doors even as health officials warn of potential spikes in coronavirus cases come the fall.

President Donald Trump said on Sunday night that he’s urging universities and schools to open their doors in September, but he’s worried about the safety of teachers who are 65 and older in classrooms while there is no coronavirus vaccine.

— Georgia schools are closed for the academic year, but the state’s largest school district is pushing forward with a controversial plan for employees and teachers to return to work in phases, beginning this week.

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BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: College presidents and their boards have a seemingly impossible task: Protect school finances without putting student and faculty lives in danger. Colleges could be sued if schools reopen dorms and dining halls as a second wave of infections strikes. But financial woes in the billions loom if campuses stay shut, especially at small, historically black colleges.

— Flagship universities in GOP-led states like Texas and Georgia say they plan to welcome students back this fall as well as Purdue University in Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana.

— After Purdue President Mitch Daniels said his mammoth school with an enrollment of more than 30,000 undergraduates expects to reopen, he earned praise from Trump. “I noticed where Purdue University, a great school and a great state, wants to open and have students come in. I think that’s correct,” said Trump, who also pointed out that Harvard “wants to have students come back in the fall.”

Harvard, often viewed as a leader among colleges, said in a statement last week: “Harvard will be open for fall 2020,” though not all activities may resume.

— But there is nothing uniform about decision-making: Indiana University President Michael McRobbie says a full return to in-person teaching and research this fall is “highly unlikely” though no decision has yet been made for his campuses. More from Bianca Quilantan and Juan Perez Jr.

‘WE HAVE TO GET OUR SCHOOLS BACK’: Speaking during a Fox News town hall, Trump said he worries about teachers at “a certain age” returning to the classroom.

— “If you have a teacher that’s 65 or 70 years old and has diabetes, that one I think they’re going to have to sit it out for a little while unless we come up with the vaccine sooner,” he said.

— Trump’s comments came in response to questions from a younger teacher in Virginia, who said she wants to be back in the classroom, and a rising high school freshman from Minneapolis who asked how she would feel safe in school if a second wave of the virus hits.

— That teacher and student may wear masks for a while and be separated more than usual but they’ll be “in great shape,” Trump said.

— “We have to get our schools back. This virtual teaching is wonderful and frankly it’s taken a very positive step,” he said, but he later added that “there’s nothing like having a meeting.” More from your host.

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GEORGIA DISTRICT STAFF HEADING BACK TO SCHOOL: Leaders of the Gwinnett County School District, which is about 30 minutes northeast of downtown Atlanta, are calling back all staff and teachers over the next three weeks, prompting concerns for their safety, the news station 11Alive reported.

— The story triggered more than 100 comments on the station’s Facebook page. “That is ridiculous!” one woman wrote. “These teachers have given so much these last couple weeks and now you’re going to put their lives in jeopardy by making them come in to a school filled with germs (no matter how clean you say it is).”

— The return-to-work plan calls for some Instructional Support Center staff to return on Wednesday and more ISC staff and other school-based employees to return on May 11. Teachers return on May 18 for the last three days of school, to finish instruction, assist students and close out their classrooms, 11Alive reports.

IN NEW YORK: Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that schools across the state will remain closed through June. A decision on summer school will be made by the end of May, POLITICO’s Nick Niedzwiadek and Anna Gronewold report.

SCHOOLS TASK FORCE MEETS TODAY: School superintendents from across the country will talk today about how to effectively reopen schools during the first virtual meeting of a recovery task force launched by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, to help district leaders deal with challenges caused by the coronavirus.

TRUMP WANTS PRIVATE K-12 SCHOOLS TO RETURN LOANS: A White House official said Friday that Trump believes elite K-12 private schools should return federal funds received under an emergency small business loan program, in response to questions about a loan received by a school Trump’s son attends.

— But the school, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Md., appeared to be keeping the loan, as of Friday. “If the terms of the program change, we will review to make sure we are in compliance and adjust accordingly,” said Richard Coco, spokesperson for St. Andrew’s.

— The White House comments came after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier in the day called on elite private schools to return loans they received under the program, amid reports Mnuchin’s children attend a Los Angeles school that received a loan. “It has come to our attention that some private schools with significant endowments have taken #PPP loans,” Mnuchin said in a tweet. “They should return them.” More from Michael Stratford and your host.

A PHASED-IN RETURN TO SPORTS: The NCAA is beginning to spell out how college sports can make a slow, phased-in return, including discouraging large gatherings in favor of virtual meetings and keeping gyms or common areas in athletics facilities closed unless schools adopt “strict distancing and sanitation protocols.”

— College sports will see an uneven return after the ongoing pandemic, the NCAA suggested on Friday as its medical experts published initial guidelines for how schools can ease athletes back into practice and competition. For now, all group competitions and practices have ended.

— Restarting sports “must be grounded” on the return of students and staff to campus, according to a brief NCAA document. “In the end, institutional and governmental leadership determine who can participate in; assist with; and watch student-athlete practices and competition,” the document said.

— It’s not clear when that process will begin. Several universities have warned that it’s unlikely packed lecture halls will be allowed in the fall — much less sold-out football stadiums on Saturdays. More from Juan.

The American Enterprise Institute is out with a new plan on what it will take to reopen America’s schools.

The Council of Chief State School Officers released a “Restart & Recovery” framework outlining the decisions state chiefs will have to make before students can re-enter school buildings, “with an emphasis on physical safety, mental health and academic success for all students and especially the most vulnerable student populations.”

— Backlash to the backlash: Governors, medical officials wary of rush to reopen: POLITICO

— Kudlow: Administration is on ‘pause’ before deciding on additional virus relief: POLITICO

— Harvard review shows Jeffrey Epstein’s deep ties and big donations: POLITICO Pro

— Nevada forms panel to help develop plan to reopen schools: Associated Press

— Principals find novel ways to honor seniors during shutdown: New York Times



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