Texas, California governors take heat in battle over school reopenings

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Thursday sought to reassure parents he is doing all he can to keep students safe as most schools in the state prepare to reopen next week.

School bus drivers lead a caravan through downtown Los Angeles to demand that Congress and California legislators provide sufficient funding to ensure all students have the support they need for distance learning and the eventual safe return to in-person classes during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

But a top adviser to Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden’s campaign in Texas blasted Abbott, a Republican, for what he called a lack of planning and funding for safely reopening schools, especially with the statewide coronavirus positivity rate hitting a record 24.5% this week.

“What we learned from the reopening of the Texas economy is that if you don’t do it right, people are going to die,” said Mike Collier, senior adviser to the Biden campaign in Texas. “Parents and teachers are being forced to make life and death decisions.”

Polls show Biden in a dead heat with President Donald Trump in Texas, long a Republican stronghold but where the Democratic Party made significant gains in the 2018 midterm election. How Abbott handles the pandemic and the reopening of schools could have a big impact on how voters cast ballots in November.

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Abbott defended his mandate giving local school boards the right to determine if and when schools reopen, curbing the power of local health officials to intervene and order schools closed if COVID-19 outbreaks occur.

The Texas governor said schools are ready and argued that in-person classes would not be a significant spreader of the virus if schools follow basic safety precautions.

“The ways that COVID-19 will most likely spread in the school setting is in gatherings after school is over,” Abbott told a press conference after meeting with local authorities in Lubbock.

Abbott said a clear pattern has emerged across Texas in recent weeks, with people spreading the virus in smaller, informal gatherings with friends and family. He encouraged parents and teachers to curtail such gatherings of students and ensure they and their children wear masks.

Texas, like other states in the U.S. South, avoided severe outbreaks of coronavirus early on in the pandemic, but became hotspots in the second half of June after reopening their economies shortly after Memorial Day weekend.

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Abbott urged all Texans to remain vigilant on safety precautions as Labor Day weekend approaches. “It’s important people don’t let their guard down like they did during Memorial Day weekend,” which he said was a “big spreading” event in the state.

LEAVE IT TO LOCALS

While Texas moves ahead with in-person classes, a group of parents and Republican political operatives in California have gone to court to try and force Governor Gavin Newsom to reverse his order that schools in counties on the state’s coronavirus “watch list” – which encompasses 90% of the state’s population – stay shuttered this fall.

“What we’re seeking in the lawsuit is that the governor get out of the way and let local parents, local school boards and small schools make these decisions themselves,” Harmeet Dhillon, Republican National Committee member from California and lawyer who brought the lawsuit, said during a virtual press conference on Thursday.

Marianne Bema, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who lives in Los Angeles with her three school-aged sons, said at the press conference that online learning this past spring was disastrous for her children, and she does not make enough money to afford daycare if her children are not in school.

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Another plaintiff, Christine Ruiz of Santa Clarita, who also has three school-aged kids, said she was pleased with a hybrid model mixing in-person and online instruction that their school originally had planned to roll out.

“Now that choice has been taken away from us,” Ruiz said.

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