Washington, D.C. – PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, thank you very much. It’s an honor to be with everybody, and very importantly, we’re at the White House, and there’s no place like the White House. And for those of you that this is the first time, I know exactly what you’re thinking, because I was here a first time, and it was still something I’ll never forget.
So it’s great to have you. And our First Lady and I are pleased to welcome everybody to this wonderful place and discuss the vital importance of safety and reopening America’s schools. We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants it. The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it.
You know, our mortality rate is, right now, at a level that people don’t talk about, but it’s down tenfold. Tenfold. So if you look at — deaths are way down from this horrible China virus, and it’s a disgrace that it happened. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did.
And the economy is coming back, and it’s coming back strongly. Jobs are setting records for — two months ago, they set the record. And then again, almost 5 million new jobs last month, which is a record, and it broke our last record of a month before. So the numbers are happening much faster than anybody anticipated.
The stock market — NASDAQ just hit another record today, and the markets generally are just, really, a very small amount below where they were at the height of the market when we first had to do this about four and a half, five months ago.
And it’s incredible what’s happened. When you look at education, my administration has approved $13 billion for state and local education. We’ve approved over $6 billion to support colleges and another $6 billion in emergency grants to students, very importantly. We waived standardized testing requirements, deferred federal student loan and interest payments.
So you take a look at the student loan program — we’ve waived student loan and interest payments, and that is something that people haven’t been hearing about and nobody talks about it, but it’s a big deal.
We’ve pioneered new treatments that are dramatically improving the health outcomes. Vaccines are doing very well. Therapeutics are doing very well. The therapeutic research has been incredible. And I think you’re going to have a lot of big things happening long before the end of the year, on both vaccines and therapeutics. Therapeutics is, I guess, a little bit of a word we can use for “on the way to a cure.” But they make you better. I mean, to me, the therapeutic is even more important than the vaccine at this point because people will get better.
But the numbers are — the testing numbers are the highest they’ve ever been. We’re almost up to 40 million in testing and — 40 million people, which is unheard of. Far more than any other country. Many times what any other country is, and therefore we have more cases. Because we’re doing more testing, we have more cases. If we did half the testing, we would have far fewer cases. But people don’t view it that way. What they have to view, though, is: If you look at the chart — and maybe Mike has it, but we looked at it before — if you look at the chart of deaths, deaths are way down.
So what we want to do is we want to get our schools open. We want to get them open quickly, beautifully, in the fall. And the — as you know, this is a disease that’s a horrible disease, but young people do extraordinarily well. I was with the governor of New Jersey. We were talking, and he said, out of — and he mentioned a number which is a very high number, but it’s a — it’s a number nevertheless — thousands of people, there was only one person that died that was under 18 years old in the state of New Jersey, and that was somebody, I guess, had a problem with perhaps diabetes or something else. But one person out of thousands of people — one person died, who was under 18 years old. So that’s a pretty amazing stat, when you think of it.
But I’d like to now just give the mic to our First Lady. She’s going to say a few words, and then we’re going to go with Mike and Karen Pence. And then we’ll go around the room a little bit, say a few words. Kellyanne, you did a great job this morning. Thank you. Really great.
So, if I might, First Lady, please.
FIRST LADY MELANIA TRUMP: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. The first pillar of my BE BEST initiative is children’s well being. And taking care of children’s social, emotional, and physical health has never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The administration has worked around the clock to protect Americans from the coronavirus, but many challenges for children and families can be just as invisible as the virus and just as dangerous.
When children are out of school, they are missing more than just time in the classroom. They’re missing the laughter of their friends, learning from their teachers, and the joy of recess and play.
For children with disabilities, without access to technology or whose homes are not a safe place, the situation can be even worse.
As the start of the school year gets closer, I encourage parents, teachers, and school to teach children about the importance of CDC guidelines and to implement them when appropriate.
Children’s mental health and social development must be as much of a priority as physical health. The same is true for parents. Many will be forced to make stressful choices between caring for their children and going back to work. And we must address those needs as well, as their own mental health and well being.
As we continue to come together as Americans to tackle these challenges, I’m honored that you could all be here today to offer your thoughts. I look forward to working with you to make sure that America’s children and families can be healthy and thriving.
Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. And, Governor, thank you. I see you sitting over there. What a job you’re doing. Thank you very much for being here, Governor. Appreciate it.
GOVERNOR PARSON: Thank you. Proud to be here.
THE PRESIDENT: And thank you, Melania, very much.
We just heard — Mike was telling me that Governor Santis — DeSantis of Florida is doing a terrific job. He just announced that the schools will be open in the fall, and we hope that most schools are going to be open. We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons. They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed. No way.
So we’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open. And it’s very important. It’s very important for our country. It’s very important for the well being of the student and the parents. So we’re going to be putting a lot of pressure on: Open your schools in the fall.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for your leadership; I have seen it day in and day out since you asked me to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
And today is just one more installment in your commitment to make sure that our states and our families have all the resources they need to meet this moment, our healthcare workers are provided for, but also understanding that we’ve got to reopen America and reopen America safely.
But we convene all of these great leaders from around the country today, Mr. President, because you know that to open up America again, we need to open up our schools again. And I want to thank all those gathered here for their efforts, as well.
I know I speak on behalf of my wife Karen when I also want to express our profound gratitude to the First Lady throughout this pandemic. Her regard for families, for children, for the emotional impact that this has had on every American is so admirable. And I’d like to invite everyone to show your appreciation for our First Lady and the work she’s done for American families. (Applause.)
Mr. President, since the moment that we asked the American people to step up to take efforts to slow the spread, and we — in that 15 days that would become 45 days, we encouraged — we encouraged people to refrain from attending school, if possible; to engage in school from home whenever it was possible, there were two categories of heroes that emerged.
One was the parents around America who stepped up as never before. And those that are looking on, those that are represented here should know: Your President, the First Family, your Vice President, and our Second Family are grateful for the families in this country and everything you’ve done to be the teachers for your children, to create the structure at home where they could continue to learn even in a challenging time.
I also want to say how grateful we are to the teachers, Mr. President. And I’m actually sitting next to one who I’ve been married to for 35 years. As you know, she actually teaches in a local school in the Washington area a few days a week, and I watched her go in and pack up crates of art materials that children could come by and pick up and take home to continue their learning.
And so, I’d like to invite everybody to show your appreciation for the parents and all the great teachers who have done the work of continuing to educate our children throughout this panel. It’s truly been inspiring. (Applause.)
And, Mr. President, the American people deserve to know that while we are seeing rising cases across the Sun Belt, at your direction, we’re ensuring that states have the resources, the support, the supplies, and personnel that are actually arriving as we speak in states like Texas and Florida and elsewhere to relieve healthcare workers.
And to your point, I hope the American people appreciate the point that you made yesterday on the national stage and did so again today that because of what our healthcare workers have done, because the innovation and the medicines that we’ve been able to make available, literally we have seen fatalities decline by 90 percent from some of the worst moments of this pandemic, and we’re going to continue to work each and every day to continue to keep those losses low and steady. We’re going to save lives as we reopen our country.
Today, Mr. President, as you know, we spoke to the nation’s governors on the topic of this summit. And we reflected on the fact, as now 47 governors and the governors of 2 territories have announced plans to reopen schools across America, that — that it’s important to do so for a variety of reasons. The First Lady just spoke of this. We ought to well be concerned about children falling behind academically, and there’s no substitute for in-classroom learning, for in-person learning — and that’s been much discussed at the summit today.
But as the American Academy of Pediatrics so well represented here today recently reflected, there are — there are social costs, emotional costs, and even physical costs to our children across this country that we spoke with the governors today.
It’s important that we reopen our schools, as you’ve directed, for the academic and the intellectual development of our children, but it’s also vitally important that we remember, as Dr. McCance-Katz told the governors today, that 7 million American children suffer from either mental illness or emotional disturbance, and they principally receive the care from health and mental services at their school. And so making sure that we’re — we’re meeting the mental and emotional needs of our children, as well as making advances academically, is what is what brings us here today.
The last thing I’ll say to all those gathered here, Mr. President, is: From early on, you have directed our task force and the CDC to equip families and schools and states with the resources to operate. It was as early as March 12th that CDC issued its first guidance for strategies for school and childcare services. We issued decision trees in the middle of May. And just last week, I’m pleased to report the CDC published new guidance for K-12 schools and higher education, regarding the type of testing that is appropriate and other strategies.
Mr. President, we can bring our schools back. And next week, the CDC is going to issue five new documents: how to prepare communities to return safely, decision-making tools for parents and caregivers, symptom screening, cloth face-coverings in school settings, guidance, and the rest.
We’re going to continue to flow these resources in this guidance, but as Dr. Redfield told all the nation’s governors today — and I want to acknowledge Governor Parson’s leadership and his presence here today; we’re truly grateful — is that what you’ve instructed our task force to do and the CDC to do in this moment is to say to states around the country in the local communities, “We’re here to help.” The CDC has issued guidance, but that guidance is meant to supplement and not replace state, local, territorial, or tribal guidance.
In a word, Mr. President, you’ve made it clear to us: We don’t want to be the reason any school doesn’t reopen. And so our word to the parents that are looking on, to teachers that are looking on, administrators, leaders in your community is that we are ready to work with the leaders in your school system and in your state to find a safe and responsible way to reopen your schools. That’s our commitment.
Mr. President, we’re continuing to move out on that, on the — on the belief that to open up America again, we got to open up America’s schools. And the American people are taking important steps every day, including this summit today, to do just that. And I’m truly grateful for all of those represented here for being a part of this important work.
With that, I’d be happy to recognize Mrs. Pence for a few comments.
THE PRESIDENT: Good. Please.
SECOND LADY KAREN PENCE: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mike and Melania. I had the privilege of addressing this group earlier today in, kind of, opening up your summit, but I do want to say thank you to all the teachers. I know, at my school, everybody quickly learned how to do online teaching. It wasn’t something that our teachers across America were familiar with, and I just applaud them. They have worked so hard.
And the parents really are the unsung heroes. They really had to quickly get up to speed, and it was not easy to do.
So I applaud what you’re doing here today, Mr. President, because our kids, for their mental health and their academic health, they need to be back in school. So, thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Karen. I appreciate it. And I see Dr. Redfield over in the audience, and I appreciate it. And I know you’d like to see everybody coming back and getting back to school in the fall. And I’ve read everything you’ve written, and I appreciate that very much, Doctor. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
I thought we’d maybe — we’ll go around the room real quickly. We’ll go quickly, and we’ll get everybody to say a few words and we’ll start with our Governor.
GOVERNOR PARSON: Thank you, Mr. President. As you said, when you come here, I’m just honored and humbled to be here sitting with you, the Vice President, the First Lady, and the Second Lady.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s our honor.
GOVERNOR PARSON: Those dreams you think about someday, I never imagined them being reality, but here we are.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s great.
GOVERNOR PARSON: And so it’s an honor to be here today.
Let me — let me first start off by just saying thanks to the President, the Vice President for what they’ve done over the last — well, since they’ve been in office, to say the least — but over the last 17, 18 weeks, they’ve been on the phone every week. The President himself has been. And I don’t mean for five minutes to say, “Hello, governors” and “see you later.” In-depth conversation with governors across this state. The Vice President has been there for almost 17 to 18 weeks. I know that I’ve been following with them. And the one thing they’ve stressed every day on those phone calls, every week, they’re trying to do the best thing for this country and for the everyday people out there, and they were trying to make their full support to the governors across this state.
And I just want to thank you for doing that —
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
GOVERNOR PARSON: — for leading, as what good leaders do at times of crisis. And I just want to thank you for that.
When the President said he was going to put a little pressure on governors to open these schools up, I will tell you this: On a few phone calls I’ve had with him, he can put a little pressure on you if he tells you — if he decides to do that, I will say that, on that. So sometimes, we all need a little push to get things going.
What the First Lady said when she talked about the kids was so important to me as a grandparent, as a father. I said to her and I think of all the kids that need to be in school: There’s ones that have the privilege of going every day, that’s almost common that we go to school for most of school kids, but a lot of school kids, it’s a safety blanket. It’s a way to get nutrition. It’s a way to get counseling. It’s a way for somebody to help them when they cry out for help. And that’s also why getting schools back open is so important.
And then, if you want to take that one step further, it’s about making sure people are going to be qualified for the workforce of tomorrow. This virus cannot shut our country down or our states down. We have to deal with it, as we would anything else that we’ve dealt with in this country, and we have to move forward.
And economy and life goes on, and education is part of who we are, and kids need to get back in school. Parents need to get more involved in their schools and be back involved in their schools, as I heard speakers today speak. It’s part of — it’s part of who we are. It’s how we build a future, and I think that’s so important.
I also want to thank the Second Lady for giving me a little inspiration on a couple of key bills we signed in Missouri. And I want to give you a little credit today. We did full reciprocity in the state of Missouri yesterday. I signed that bill and full military reciprocity. And the Second Lady kind of gave me a little inspiration for that.
And also, my daughter is a school teacher. They do that. Most of the time, we have a father-daughter relationship, except when it comes to teaching and she becomes a senior advisor to the governor — (laughter) — when we talk about those issues on that.
But again, I just want to thank the President for his support for our state. People appreciate it, Mr. President — I want you to know that — for the First Lady, and for where we’re headed in this country, because we’ve went through hard times before, and we’ll continue to get through hard times. And we’ll be better off for it will be stronger than ever.
So, thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: And you won’t be changing the name “St. Louis,” will you? Huh?
GOVERNOR PARSON: No, we will not be doing that. (Laughs.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. That’s very important. Thank you very much. Please.
DR. GOZA: Good afternoon, Mr. President. I’m delighted to join you, the First Lady, the Vice President, and the Second Lady here today to talk about why it’s important for children to be in school.
My name is Dr. Sally Goza. I’m a pediatrician from Georgia, and I’m president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Children get much more than an education at school. Being away from peers, teachers, and school services has lasting effects for children. Although this will not be easy, pediatricians strongly advocate that we start with the goal of having students physically present in school this fall.
Of course, returning to school must be done safely. We must take measures to keep students, teachers, and staff safe and with flexibility to adapt as needed to the community’s prevalence of COVID-19 Coronavirus. The evidence we have so far indicates that children are less likely to have symptoms or severe disease resulting from coronavirus. Children are less likely to become infected, and they are less likely to spread infection.
We know, however, that missing school can have serious consequences for child health and well being, particularly for students with disabilities or with special healthcare needs. Students who are in school learn more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also learn social and emotional skills, get healthy meals and exercise, and mental health support. Schools help identify and address learning deficits, physical abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. These are all critical reasons to get children back to school.
Reopening schools in a way that maximizes safety, learning, and the well being of children will clearly require new investments in our schools. We urge you to ensure that schools receive the resources necessary so that funding does not stand in the way of keeping our children safe or present at school.
Thank you, Mr. President. We look forward to working with you and all the people around this room.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please.
DR. SCHWINN: Thank you, Mr. President. I’m Penny Schwinn from the great state of Tennessee. I appreciate the invitation on behalf of our superintendents, our districts, our families, our teachers, and our public officials.
Opening up Tennessee, we know that reopening schools reopens our economy. We’ve got great examples of where superintendents have come together and thought through scheduling to make sure that parents can get back to work for companies who support multiple regions.
We’ve done an incredible job with resources: 20-plus tool kits. We’ve opened up free professional development for teachers and principals for free statewide and online tools.
And I’d also like to just thank the First Lady for her support on child well being. We had a wonderful conversation a couple of weeks ago under the taskforce that we’ve launched statewide, covering the entire state and making sure that all of our children receive a high-quality public education, as well as being served in terms of nutrition, transportation, et cetera.
And I’ll just end by saying, as the proud daughter of a police officer and a teacher, I was raised with safety and high-quality education being two fundamentals in my home. And it’s a great honor to be able to reinforce that with the schools in Tennessee today.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
DR. SCHWINN: Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Great job. Thank you. Alex?
SECRETARY AZAR: Well, thank you, Mr. President. Really, thanks to the historic response that the President has led to this unprecedented pandemic, we have the tools where we can reopen our workplace, we can reopen our schools, and we can reopen healthcare. We’ve got the tools.
When we think about kids and schools, the school for our children is a center of so much of their life. It is where they get healthcare, it is where they get mental healthcare, it is where they can — many of them get nutrition. It is — it is where mandatory reporting of child abuse and sexual abuse happens most often because of the nature of mandatory reporting requirements, in addition to the social, physical, intellectual development that the kids needs from a physical setting in schools.
We’re at a very different place now than we were two or three months ago. We have the world’s most robust testing system, with close to 40 million tests having been done. We have health system capacity and personal protective equipment to enable us to work through these outbreaks that we’ve got.
We’re advancing on therapeutics, as the President said. We now have remdesivir for hospitalized patients, steroids for lung illness. We have convalescent plasma to treat individuals. And just this morning, the President made a major half-billion-dollar investment in a monoclonal antibody that will be a treatment that could, if approved — if successful and if approved, could deliver hundreds of thousands of doses as early as late summer, early fall.
We have three vaccine candidates, and just this morning, invested $1.6 billion in a fourth vaccine candidate that could deliver hundreds of millions of doses this fall and into early next year.
So it’s just a very different circumstance than we ever had before. We know more about this virus. The fatality rate is going down because we’re better at taking care of patients with the virus. Our fatality case rate in the United States is among the lowest, if not the lowest, in the developed world right now.
And we can reopen our school safely with what we know. And it’s really simple practices of common sense. It’s social distancing. It’s wearing face coverings when you’re in a setting that you can’t social distance. And it’s practicing good, personal hygiene. The tools are there to bring our kids back safely, to protect our teachers and our staff, and it’s time to do it now.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Alex. And good luck with all of the therapeutics. I know you’re getting very close. Very close. That would be incredible. What are your chances early, like in September?
SECRETARY AZAR: So, Regeneron, which is the one that we funded at almost half a billion dollars this morning, they are one of the most advanced. We have several very advanced monoclonal antibody products. This basically takes that convalescent plasma that recovered patients would donate, and bio-engineers that in, effectively, unlimited supply that we can do. And so it’s a cocktail of multiple antibodies to give your immune system an immediate defense. And we’re studying it both for preventing disease, as well as stopping the progression of the disease. So it’s really very exciting.
THE PRESIDENT: And it seems to be just working. It’s basically — it’s sort of the ABCs of what we’re doing.
SECRETARY AZAR: It is.
THE PRESIDENT: And it seems to be working. Do you have tests —
SECRETARY AZAR: Well, we’ve got —
THE PRESIDENT: Do you have tests right now that says — say, “It does work”?
SECRETARY AZAR: Well, you’ve got the initial trial work that Regeneron did, and that’s why we’re investing in the late-stage development of it. But then we have these other three therapies that, thanks to your leadership, we now — we have so many more tools than we had three months ago in terms of therapeutics.
THE PRESIDENT: Good. And that’s exciting. Very exciting. All right, we’ll hold you to it: September. (Laughter.) You too, Doctor. You too, Doctor.
Please, thank you.
MR. DALY: Good afternoon, Mr. President, I’m Patrick Daly, the principal of St. Vincent de Paul High School in Petaluma, California. We’re in Sonoma County. I just want to tell you what an honor this is to be here this afternoon. I want to thank you —
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you for that.
MR. DALY: — thank the First Lady, Vice President Pence, and the Second Lady for your leadership of our country, really during a very difficult time, for the First Lady’s love and protection of children is very, very important to me. And being a father of four kids — three daughters and a son — it is very important.
We plan on opening on
April [August] 10th. That is our focus. I think that we have put a plan together that is a working document with all the safety precautions and policies in place to ensure that St. Vincent de Paul opens following all the guidelines that are recommended.
I think that, as you stated earlier, this should never be political. And I think it, at times, it has become very political in many school systems throughout our United States, and I think, probably, particularly in California.
So we were very excited about the possibilities of the fall. And we have three plans: One would be the reopening, which we plan on August 10th; and then a hybrid plan, which is two days on, one day off, two days back in; and then, as I mentioned earlier, God forbid if we had to go back to the distance learning. I just don’t think it’s beneficial to boys and girls 14 to 18 years of age.
And particularly, I really feel for the parents of elementary school children who are trying to work and provide for their families, and at the same time having to stay at home and teach. It’s very difficult. And I hear that a lot from our own elementary school.
But I can’t thank you enough for your leadership of our country. And thank you for this honor.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, good luck with your plan and getting them open. And hopefully you can do five days, instead of the two and back and forth. I know you want to be able to do that, so you’ll try.
MR. DALY: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Great job.
Please. Good-looking —
MR. VAUGHN: Hello, Mr. Pres- —
THE PRESIDENT: Good-looking person this is. Huh? (Laughter.)
MR. VAUGHN: Hello, Mr. President. (Swaps microphone.) There we go.
Hello, Mr. President, I’m a student at St. Vincent de Paul High School. My name is Cameron Vaughn. And I personally just want to thank you for both inviting me and helping to reopen schools.
Coming on behalf of the students, it really means a lot just to be able to get back out. And it means a lot to our emotional health and our mental health just to be out there with our friends, because a lot of us don’t have that opportunity. And it helps reopen our schedules so we have something to look forward to. Me, I’m a person that schedules. I run by a schedule — make a schedule for myself. So I just want to thank you very much for getting us back to that.
THE PRESIDENT: Great job. Really great. Thank you very much. We’ll get you back. Okay? We’ll get you back soon. Thank you.
MS. CONWAY: Mr. President, Mrs. Trump, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, thank you very much. I listen to Cameron Vaughn and I’m reminded why we’re here, why we’re here in this room today on this very important topic, but why we’re here in this administration.
I believe a hallmark of the Trump-Pence administration has been the success and looking out for and expanding opportunities, safety, and well being for the forgotten child. And the forgotten child took on a new meaning during this global pandemic. Between the first and third weeks of March of this year, just about 100 percent of our schoolchildren across this country of all ages were taken out of their schools and stuck at home.
We saw a few things happen, many of which have been spoken about today, but I’ll add one more: The digital divide was laid bare in that so many of our school students could not access basic digital assets to allow them to confidently and competently complete their schoolwork, and to learn and to thrive.
The schools are our essential nervous system because our students are the heart and soul of our nation. And so, today, your message is, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, that all children matter. And our mission is to make sure that all children can safely and securely reenter their places of learning, very soon.
This has also impacted our economy. And I have a soft spot for single moms, having been raised by one. And our single moms have been disproportionately impacted through their job security, their wage earning, and most of them are not in jobs that they — for which they can telecommute. So we’re creating pandemics within this pandemic.
The good news is that our children are at low risk for transmission, even as they are at high risk for maladies, visible and invisible. The great news is that we safely — as we safely reopen our schools, we are in keeping with so much of your agenda, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Trump and Mrs. Pence, which is to preserve and expand educational opportunities, to respect the dignity of all students, but to respond to the individual needs of all of those students by expanding school choice and charters and educational freedom and opportunity scholarships, allowing them to have more options as they go through their lives, beginning with a quality and solid education.
The President has said, if we as a nation can win two World Wars, dig out the Panama Canal, put a man on the Moon, then we certainly ought to be able to deliver a quality education to each child. And that begins with reopening our schools and making good on that promise to each and every one of them.
Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much, Kellyanne.
MS. MARTIN: Hi, Mr. President. I’m Jenny Beth Martin with Tea Party Patriots. Thank you. And thank you, Mrs. Trump and Mr. Vice President and Mrs. Pence, for having me here today. While I am with Tea Party Patriots, I’m also a mom, and my children are sitting right over there. So thank you for having — having us here today.
Mr. President, you were right, and I hope you will trust your instincts: America is not meant to be shut down. And we have to reopen schools this fall.
I’ve been in touch with almost a thousand doctors from around the country. I helped Dr. Simone Gold spearhead a letter to you signed by 800 physicians and surgeons who talked about the side effects of the lockdowns. I’ve done a second letter with over 150 doctors, 240 nurses, 330 educators, 70 national groups, and thousands of parents and concerned Americans who want to see schools reopened.
Open- — reopening schools is going to stabilize our society. I think it’s the number one most important thing we can do to stabilize our society from top to bottom. Whether it is in a local community, just reestablishing calendars — which churches, nonprofit groups, traffic patterns, people who don’t have children care about the calendar for schools.
Kindergarteners and elementary school students simply cannot learn looking at a Zoom screen. If they could, we wouldn’t need schools in the first place; we could just plop them in front of a television. The last place in the world a middle school student needs to be is online, unsupervised by adults. They bully each other when they’re in front of teachers. You can’t even imagine what’s going on with social media right now.
Young — young adults and high school students are losing hope and optimism for the future. And in February, they had so much. And now we look — we turn on the television and we can see the destruction that that lack of hope and optimism is causing.
Employers have to rebuild their companies. They need employees at 110 percent to be able to do that. We did everything we could to flatten this curve, and we have to roll up our sleeves now and rebuild our companies. But we can’t do that when employees are dividing their time between taking care of their children indefinitely, for who knows how long,
and trying to get their job done.
I have one employee who has five children. His wife is a dental hygienist. I’m granting him as much grace as I possibly can, which is easy to do. He’s a wonderful employee. But I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have five children, and all of a sudden have to homeschool them all.
And it’s not even homeschooling; it’s helping them with digital learning. Homeschool parents have asked that we’re careful about not conflating the two.
For me, I’m a single mom now. In 2007, ’08, and ’09, I went through a financial crisis. My then-husband’s business failed. We lost our house. We lost our cars. We lost everything. I cleaned houses to help make ends meet. I’ve done everything possible to rebuild.
I know what those families who are now unemployed are facing: trying to divide their time between taking care of their children, not knowing if their children are going to be educated. And figuring out what they’re going to do with their life is the hardest — it’s incredibly difficult.
And for people who think, “Oh, we can just work at home,” or “We’re essential — you’re an essential employ- — essential employee,” it sends the wrong message. Every single person in this country is essential. We are the United States of America. Every one of us is essential. Every one of us is important.
And we — not every single family can afford a computer so that their children can be online at the same time, or Wi-Fi — as Kellyanne was just talking about — to be able to do Zoom, all at the same time.
So families are suffering, and the education is suffering as well. And as a single mom, this situation is ripping me in two. You cannot be in two places at once, physically or mentally. And I’m doing the very best I can to take care of my children.
Their father — when they’re living with their father, he does a great job taking care of them. But when they’re with me, I’m doing everything I can to take care of them, help them prepare for their senior year of high school, make-up prom, dealing with whatever else we have to deal with from the shutdowns, and run a company and work.
And it’s impossible. It’s impossible to do what we need to do. So the schools must be reopened. It will stabilize our country. I cannot thank you enough for doing this today and sending this message. And the doctors who I’ve been working with, they want to do anything they can to help calm the fear that is permeating our country. They understand we have to have a healthy respect for the virus, and we have to be able to live our lives. And they and I will do anything we can to help you with that. Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Great job. Looks like you’re doing a good job. Is your mother doing a good job? (Laughter.) Is she good? Right? (Laughter.) You said the right thing. Okay, great job. Thank you very much.
DR. PIERCEY: Mr. President, First Lady, Mr. Vice President, Second Lady, on behalf of the great state of Tennessee and Governor Bill Lee, I want to thank you for all of the help and resources and support that you and your administration have provided us.
You guys have been accessible, you’ve been responsible, and that means the world to us in the states when we’re trying to do our jobs.
I’m Dr. Lisa Piercey. I’m the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health. I’m also a pediatrician and a mother of four. And I know very clearly that education and economic prosperity are key drivers of health.
We know in Tennessee that kids have to get back to school, and parents have to get back to work. It’s paramount for our economy, and it’s paramount for the health of our nation. And we’re doing our part in Tennessee for that effort. And thank you again.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. And say hello to Bill, please.
DR. PIERCEY: I will.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Doctor?
DR. BIRX: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President, First Lady, Vice President, Second Lady. I want to really — today was a really terrific day because it took America’s children, put them in the center and said: This is not going to be a unilateral and unifocal, one-dimensional discussion about COVID-19 Coronavirus, but a discussion that transcended that single moment and brought in the other issues of mental health, academic health, emotional health, and really said that it’s important to the whole child to have the availability of schooling.
And I think having that discussion that was multi-dimensional, having teachers here and students here and the health commissioners here was — and the Secretaries here was really very helpful because I think it not only put the child at the center, but also made it clear about how important these other issues are that are beyond COVID-19 Coronavirus, and the health and welfare of our children.
And so the discussion was terrific, and I think we have a way forward.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thanks, Deb.
DR. SLUSHER: Thank you, Mr. President, so much for including me in today’s event. (Microphone turns on.) I think I’m on now. Thank you for including me so much in today’s event.
I want to thank you, I want to thank the Vice President, the First Lady and the Second Lady for your comments, and for all the concern you’ve had for the education of our children.
I come today as a parent, as an OB-GYN physician, and as the managing partner of my practice. This has been a very scary but also a very enlightening experience to have walked through. It’s been quite the challenge. And I will say, quite the challenge.
I also saw the anxiety of my youngest child who’s here today with me, Macie, back on that side. I saw her anxiety when she came home from college, the anxiety of not knowing how her education would continue, of then trying to set up the Zoom meetings and make it happen. But more importantly, not having the opportunity for those in-person tutorials or that in- –personal relationship with a professor to complete her courses. And I think her courses did suffer because of it. She’s a good student and it wasn’t dramatic, but I can only imagine what it was like for other students.
My eldest child had a learning disability. To try to bring him home and do this education online without that in-person benefit, without the tutors being there, present, would have been a disaster to his now very good career in Richmond. And I just fear for that student, especially.
As we go back to school, I think it’s very important that we also educate these kids because they sometimes do rise above it and feel as though they don’t have the mortality or the morbidities or that problem of interaction with each other. They will have new family units. My daughter will be in an apartment with three other girls; they will be the new family unit. And it’s important that we educate them for that — for when they come home, that they realize that their elders, their grandparents and all, are now vulnerable too, and that family unit has changed. But we can do this, and we can teach them.
And masking, they’ve learned this. It’s important, but we have to reinforce this at the college level to keep it ongoing as a priority, and I know that we can do it.
The other thing that I, as a physician, am a strong believer in is herd immunity. And what I’m not proposing is that we put all of our students in a big vat and only the survival of the fittest come out antibody-positive. I’m not saying that.
I do think it’s important to stop this tremendous isolation that keeps the virus as the winner. We need to get out; we need to have the vaccines to help us. We need to have the interaction that helps to get that immunity so that we can protect our vulnerable, and we can protect our elderly, and we can protect those younger folks with comorbidities because we’ve got a society that is immune to the virus and we can put the virus back in its place.
And finally, I just want to, again, thank you for being here. Thank you for hearing me out. And thank you for putting education of our children in the utmost, and for putting our economy in that place too — because, as a business owner, when I have parents who have to come late or leave early in order to educate their children and yet run a business at the same time, as this lady stated, it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. And we want to maintain their jobs. We want to maintain their work ethic, but we also want to maintain the intelligence of their children and of our future.
And so, I thank you again —
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
DR. SLUSHER: — for your interest in this and for letting us be here. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I think it’s very important to note that we’ve done it right. We closed up. We were amazing the way our great citizens adhered to what we wanted to do. And we saved, I think, millions of lives. Now we want to be open. We understand the disease much better. Nobody knew what this was; nobody had ever seen it before. There’s been nothing like this since 1917; that’s more than 100 years ago.
But we saved — we saved tens of thousands of lives, hundreds of thousands of lives. And now we’re open, and we want to stay open and we will stay open. We’re not closing. We’ll put out the fires as they come out. I call them “embers” and “fires,” and whatever you want to call them.
But I think it’s very important to note what we’ve done: We’ve saved literally hundreds of thousands of lives. I was going over numbers before with the Vice President, and if you looked at a million, two million, two and a half million, those are all reasonable numbers to what we could have had. Right now we’re at a number, as you know, far lower than that. And where would you say we are today, Mike?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: A hundred and thirty thousand.
THE PRESIDENT: About 130 [thousand]. So we’re at 130, and we could be at — we could be at — way over a million right now. And I think it could have been 2.5 or 3 million people.
So — but now we’re open. And now we understand the vulnerable; we understand who has the biggest problem with it. And we watch that group and that age group, and also people that aren’t feeling so well with respect to, in particular, Deborah, certain diseases. Diabetes is bad. The heart is bad. And we watch very closely, and we’ve done it right.
When you look at what happened with Sweden — I kept hearing about Sweden with the herd — you know, with the pure herd. The herd concept of opening up and keeping open — all of a sudden, it exploded. You look at what’s going on in Brazil and a couple of other places.
So we’ve really done it right, but now it’s time to be open, it’s time to stay open. And we will put out the fires as they come up, but we have to open our schools. It’s so important to open our schools. And when you said, from a psychological standpoint, with respect to staying home any longer, you can’t do it. You can’t do it. That has great dangers also.
So that’s where we are. We’re not closing. We’ll never close. You’ll have certain areas that will have difficulty and they’ll do what they have to do and that’ll be up largely to the governors, but it’s also — they’re in very strong consultation with us. We’re supplying them with tremendous materials and gowns and masks and anything else they need. And they should be doing it themselves, but we’ve made a lot of governors look very, very good.
We’ve made a lot of governors look very smart that weren’t so smart. And some have just done a good job right from the beginning. I could give you a list; I could grade them. I could grade them out from 1 to 50 and — (laughter) — you’d be amazed. You might be surprised at some of them — both good and bad.
But I thank you very much for your remarks. I think it’s very important. What you said I think is very important.
DR. ELLSPERMANN: Mr. President, First Lady, Mr. Vice President, Karen: It’s great to be here and to represent the great state of Indiana, as president of Ivy Tech Community College. We are Indiana’s community college, so 160,000 students across our great state. And I just maybe want to remind you, as we talk about higher education, the true workforce engine that community colleges are for our nation and how important they are, and the students that we serve. So let me just speak a little bit.
We don’t serve as much the 16- or 18-year old, though we have many traditional students. It’s often the single mother that we heard about — 29-, 30-year-olds and beyond — coming back part time, and how important it is that they have access to community college. They’re also typically the lower income, our first-generation students, our students of color, those that really do need to have the opportunity for the American Dream.
So this has been incredibly important that we continue to run, and so we have. We’ve been virtual. We’re — we were virtual this summer. And, as of Monday, Vice President, we are doing completion academies on campus to ensure that those nurses and welders and all that need the hands-on and lab courses, that they can be out there joining America’s new jobs that are coming, and being part of a strong economy.
So we’ve appreciated the great support, the CARES Act, all that’s gone on. We will operate. We will be face to face. We will be hybrid. We will be online. We will be virtual. And for our single moms, we’ll even be “Learn Anywhere,” which means that they can decide week to week if they can come on campus or be virtual or be asynchronous.
So we know we have to change to meet the needs, but we appreciate the great support of this administration.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
DR. ELLSPERMANN: And we will continue to work on behalf of ensuring that this economy has the workforce and success that it needs going forward.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you.
MR. ST. JOHN: Thank you, Mr. President. I’m Finis St. John. I’m the chancellor of the University of Alabama System, which includes the University of Alabama —
THE PRESIDENT: Good.
MR. ST. JOHN: — UAB, UAH, and the academic medical center at UAB. It’s an honor to be here. I appreciate your hosting this.
When this pandemic started and we had to send all of our students home from our universities, many of us were afraid that this would be the disruption of higher education for all time; that they would learn that they could learn as well on their computer from home as they would on their campuses.
One thing this has told us is: We’re not worried about that anymore. Our students are yearning to come back to campus. They want to be there. It has reaffirmed the value of on-campus instruction at our institutions of higher learning.
So, last month, our board of trustees committed to returning this fall —
THE PRESIDENT: Good.
MR. ST. JOHN: — on all three of our campuses to in-person instruction, realizing that we could not eliminate all risk but that we can reduce risk and manage risk in a way that allows us to go forward.
So, early on, we looked to the medical experts at UAB — the researchers and scientists and doctors there — to try to come up with a plan to make our campuses as safe as possible and as safe as any in the country. And we’ve got a four-part pillared program that allows us to do that.
The first — and we believe this is important — is to try to have all of our students tested before they return to campus.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
MR. ST. JOHN: Not after they return, but before they return, so that those who need isolation can do that at home, and we can begin the school year.
Second, our UAB folks and our people on all three of our campuses have developed a symptom-tracking app that’s used on the phone. It takes 20 seconds to sign up for and 10 seconds, every two or three days, to follow up on to track symptoms. We also have a program to trace contacts that will allow us to manage student outbreaks during the year.
And then, last, a sentinel testing or a sample testing program throughout the — throughout the rest of the school year.
What this does is not only, we hope, allow us to reopen our schools but to keep them open, which is going to be the hardest — the hardest part.
I want to thank you and the Vice President for the assistance that we have received through these federal programs. Without this — without those, it would have been very difficult for our medical center to continue, for our campuses to make it through these difficult times, and to allow us to have testing in place for our students this fall.
So we promise to do our best to provide this essential service to our students and our citizens. And we greatly appreciate the assistance that you’ve given us.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. It’s a great place, a great state. And you’re right about one thing: There’s nothing like the campus. If we’ve learned anything, it’s the computer will never replace the campus. They thought it would for a while, didn’t they? But it didn’t — after about two weeks —
MR. ST. JOHN: We’ve earned it.
THE PRESIDENT: — we figured out that it’s much better to have it the old-fashioned way, right?
MR. ST. JOHN: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s great. Great statement, actually. Thank you.
MS. ALBERTSON: Thank you, Mrs. — thank you, Mr. President, Mrs. Trump, Mr. Vice President, and Mrs. Pence. I’m a third grade teacher at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, right here in Washington.
I believe, Mr. Vice President, you mentioned some heroes, shortly ago. I certainly agree with you: the parents. I couldn’t have done this for the past few months at home without the community of parents that we have at Blessed Sacrament School. And I guess the teachers are heroes in their own way.
I really believe that the real heroes here are the students — the students that plugged along, that rose to the occasion. In fact, one of my students is here today.
Lilly, stand up. (Laughs.) And that’s why I’m here.
They — they showed incredible resilience and spirit, and all of the gifts that God has given them. I really believe that the children are our future, as I know that you do. And I think that they are what is truly going to make America great again. So I want them to be back in school in the fall.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Great. We agree. Thank you.
MS. AICHHOLZ: Mr. Trump — Mr. President and First Lady, Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence: First, I just would like you to know that I personally pray for you daily, all four of you. I cannot imagine the burdens on your shoulders. And I know that it’s only through God that you can handle that. And I’m so —
THE PRESIDENT: It’s not easy — (laughter) — that I can tell you.
MS. AICHHOLZ: I so, so appreciate what —
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. That’s very nice of you, Nancy.
MS. AICHHOLZ: — all that you’ve done.
I am the president of our school board in the great state of Ohio, in Cincinnati, in Dean Hill. And we are very actively working to get our children back in school full-time, all together, as safe as possible. We are fortunate that we have a lot of resources and we’re able to do that.
My biggest concern — and I hope, through your leadership, we will not have over-regulation at the local level that would keep us from being able to accomplish that goal.
My biggest fear is that we will get everybody back, we’ll get into a routine, and then because of regulations and mandates, that we would have to close back down or to send children home. And that is a very big concern. That would be just such a disruption on top of a disruption. So, that is probably my biggest concern.
I’m also very happy to hear that University of Alabama has made the statement to go back to school. I have two college athletes, and we’ve been waiting all summer to know what’s happening at that higher-education level. And it’s disruptive; they’re going into their senior years, and internships were canceled, and it’s a scary time. That’s a scary time anyway, on a good day, for a young person. So I really hope that our higher education institutes will make some decisions soon.
And really, I’m just honored to be here. Appreciate so much what all of you have done. And, however we can help, please don’t ever hesitate to reach out.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. And will Alabama be playing some great football? What’s going on with Alabama?
MR. ST. JOHN: Mr. President, that’s not the first time we’ve heard that question, I can promise you. (Laughter.) We are planning to play the season at the University of Alabama.
THE PRESIDENT: Good.
MR. ST. JOHN: Understand that creates great difficulties and complexities. And we’re hoping for that; it’s important to a lot of people, but we’re doing our best on that one, too.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s true. And say hello to the coach. Great coach. Thank you.
MR. ST. JOHN: Yes, sir. Thank you.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. President, well, I — I don’t know about Alabama, but the University of Miami is going to be playing. (Laughter.) The U is in the house. Yes, it’s a hurricane in the building.
I’m Johnny Taylor, as you know, and I’m your appointee. And I want to start by saying thank you. I remember being right across the hallway in 2017, when you appointed me to be your advisor — chairman of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities — HBCUs.
And frankly, there were people who questioned whether or not anything would really come of that and if you were really committed. I remember visiting with Vice President — Vice President in the room just across the hall actually, and you met with 60, almost 70 of our historically black colleges and university presidents. They came to visit, and you all welcomed us.
I remember meeting with Secretary DeVos early on, and there was all of this commitment to HBCUs. And frankly, the naysayers didn’t think you would make good on it — the three of you — and you did. So let me start by thanking you — thanking you for remaining committed to the country’s 101 historically black colleges and universities and allowing me to be the chairman of the board that advises you all, collectively, on HBCUs. So thank you.
Listen, you’ve done great by us so far. I mean, since 2017, every year, our budgets have increased — but not just financially, but the true support of our institutions. And this today is yet another example of your advocacy, your support of historically black colleges and universities that is giving us the safe space to return safely to campus. We need to bring our students back because, frankly, without these institutions — these great institutions — many of our communities, our fragile communities, will suffer in ways that people just can’t quite put their arms around.
There are three things that I will point out very quickly. First of all, online education — the virtual education — while it’s wonderful, it’s not as good as in-person education in the higher education space. And our students — many of them who come from the most fragile of communities and many of them didn’t get high-quality secondary education — when they get to the post-secondary space, they need their teachers. They need to look across. They need to come to office hours. They need the assistance.
And so we need to encourage these colleges to open so that their students can get the best education and truly experience the American Dream.
Secondly, HBCUs are economic drivers in many of their communities. In many of these communities, they are the largest employer. And you were for- — kind enough to create Opportunity Zones, but, you know, when the schools are shut down, there’s not much opportunity going on.
So we need these schools to be open, Mr. Vice President, Mr. President, Secretary DeVos, so that we can get the — the surrounding community can go back to work. A lot of those businesses are struggling if we shut these campuses down, and they’ve been struggling for a significant period of time. So it’s also just smart business. Small businesses need this.
And then finally, the entire country right now is engaged in a discussion around, you know, racial tension and the need for diversity. And corporate America, in particular, wants us to do something about it. Well, HBCUs play an outsized role in helping solve for that problem. Historically, we’ve created the over- — disproportionately black leaders, teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges, et cetera — far more than 101 schools should be punching. They’re actually punching above their weight.
And therefore, if we’re going to commit long-term to addressing the racial inequities and issues of discrimination in our country, HBCUs have to be a part of that. And you do that by getting these kids and these faculty members and these administrators back to work.
So on behalf of the country’s 101 HBCUs, as an American, as a father of a 10-year-old little girl, thank you for the commitment to get our schools back and our children back safely so that they can learn and, as I said, experience the American Dream.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Johnny, and you’re doing a great job. The only thing is I don’t think people know how much we’ve done for historically black colleges and universities. Nobody knows that we’ve done more than any administration in history, and nobody knows that. But maybe they’ll find out eventually, yeah. They’ll find out.
But thank you very much. Appreciate it.
MR. WELLER: I’m Brad Weller from Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Seventh-grade science teacher. Thank you very much, President, for being here and doing all this. First Lady, Mr. Pence — and I really, really want to thank Karen Pence for stealing all of my information I had written down this morning, and then she did it again after I wrote new stuff down just here this afternoon. (Laughter.) So, appreciate it.
No, I’m going to keep this short and sweet: We’re ready to go back. We literally are ready to go back. I know our students, I know — I have three kids at home — they want to go back. It’s — it’s time. It’s time. Just like your economy, which is the greatest economy ever in the history of the world, I appreciate that you had to slow it down. The momentum was gone.
We did the same thing to our students last year. Their momentum was — I mean, they were rolling. They were a well-oiled machine. And then all of a sudden, just — you had to throw it in — you had to throw it in park. If we just have to change gears a little bit this year, you know, that’s one thing we can do. But to throw it in park again, I don’t — I don’t like that option.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well said.
THE PRESIDENT: You’re right. Thank you very much.
MS. ROLLINS: Thank you, Mr. President. I’m Brooke Rollins, the President’s Domestic Policy Chief. And — and while I sit here and listen to everyone, I’m struck — I don’t know that the world understands, but I think it’s so important:
We have a President who was arguably one of the most successful businessmen in the history of our country; the First Lady, who has spent her time and her talent and her extraordinary skill on focusing on the well being of children; we have a Vice President who is one of the most successful governors in the history of our country; and we have a Second Lady who has a career and is focused on being a teacher and an educator. This is the dream team. I don’t know that there will ever be another leadership team like the four of you to lead this country back to even greater heights than it was ever before.
The good news — I’m so glad that the — Dr. Goza is here from the American Pediatrics Society Association — because we are now understanding that — I think an analysis of 45 studies recently showed that the preponderance of evidence indicates that children — children are less likely to be symptomatic, have the severe disease, or be really susceptible and transmit COVID-19. And for the week ending June 27th, school-aged children accounted for only 1.3 percent of COVID-19-related hospitalizations.
The evidence is showing that it really is time for these kids to get back to school. But it really is about the mental health, the wellbeing, and the emotional wellbeing of these kids, but also focusing on, as this President has done — this is the last thing I’ll say — the forgotten Americans, the vulnerable Americans who are most susceptible to the ravages of what happens when we don’t get kids back to school and we don’t get kids and lives back to normal.
As the mother of a fifth grader, seventh grader, eighth grader, and tenth grader, there is no doubt in my mind — representing all the moms in this country — that we’d really love for our kids to get back to school. But it’s about so much more than that; it’s about the wellbeing and safety and economic prosperity of this country.
And having this dream team — along with Kellyanne, and Secretary DeVos, Secretary Azar, and our teams here — this country needs to know that we are fighting every single day for every American — and to ensure that we can reopen safely and make sure that it’s done in the proper way.
So, thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Brooke. Thank you very much. Please.
MR. BEARDEN: Mr. President, Mrs. Trump, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence: It’s an honor to be here representing Forsyth County Schools in Forsyth County, Georgia.
We’re about 30 miles north of Atlanta, sir. Fifty-two thousand students in our school system. We’re ready to go. We’re going to open our doors —
THE PRESIDENT: Good.
MR. BEARDEN: — on August 6th. We’ve been planning and preparing all summer. We will have guidelines in place. I’m really proud of our teachers and our students — how well they perform last spring. But as everyone has said this morning, this afternoon, our students need to be back in school, and we will be prepared on August 6th; I will assure you of that.
THE PRESIDENT: Good, that’s great. That’s great. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY DEVOS: Thank you, Mr. President, Mrs. Trump, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence. Mr. President, thank you for your bold leadership and for convening us here today for this vital conversation.
It’s clear our nation’s schools must fully reopen and fully operate this school year. Anything short of that robs students, not to mention taxpayers, of their futures — and their futures represent our nation’s future. So it’s not a question of “if”; it’s just a question of “how.”
We had a good discussion today on how to ensure schools reopen and education continues in ways that keeps students and teachers healthy and safe. Under the President’s strong leadership, our economy is roaring back; our schools must do the same.
This is the moment for American educators to rise to meet the needs of every student. Students can’t afford to fall further behind. Even before the virus, too many were trapped in schools that don’t meet their needs. So this is the time to reopen schools; to rethink school; to be more nimble, more agile, more responsive to students’ needs in a 21st-century, changing world.
This moment demands actions, not excuse making or fear mongering. We’ve done whatever it takes before. And as Kellyanne said earlier — and as you’ve often said, Mr. President — we’ve dug out the Panama Canal; we’ve won World Wars; we’ve reduced the Berlin Wall to rubble; and, thanks to you, we’ve defeated ISIS.
With grit, determination, and grace, we can do what’s right for all students and ensure they are back in school. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Betsy. Appreciate it. Very nice. Please.
MS. WASHINGTON: Good afternoon. Thank you, Mr. President, First Lady Trump, Vice President Pence, and Second Lady Pence.
It’s an honor to be here. My name is Nicole Washington. I am a trustee at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, as well as Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida.
As you both well know, our stu- — our schools didn’t close. In many ways, the pandemic accelerated trajectory that we were already on to use technology to expand services and programs to students.
It’s not been easy. I actually had the pleasure of teaching a class in — a synchronous class — this summer at the University of Miami. And I applaud all of the faculty and the staff who have had to pivot on a dime and provide these services to students.
Florida A&M is actually going to — to open. We are going to invite all of our students back in the fall. The board made this decision based on a McKinsey survey that found that only a third of our students would likely stay if we chose to remain remote online the fall. Students would choose either better online options or options closer to home or more cost-effective measures.
And so, we do want to — we are going to reopen. We do want to reopen. I think there are obviously concerns either way. If we remain virtual, we have enrollment concerns, student engagement concerns, as well as budgetary concerns. And then if we open, we have to be very cognizant and vigilant about health and safety, liability concerns, as well as the cost associated with reopening.
We’re very thankful for the CARES Act additional allocation for testing, tracing, sanitation. That will be a recurring cost going forward.
What I would like to close on is: The pandemic dispelled the myth that higher education can change on a dime. Our institutions are printing PPE. We’ve expanded student services virtually online that we didn’t think we could do. Our students are creating apps. And I hope that we encourage those innovations to continue after — after we return to the new normal and provide high quality just-in-time services to accommodate our students’ preferences and their schedules.
So thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you.
MS. MCDONALD: Thank you, Mr. President, First Lady, Mr. Vice President, and Mrs. Pence for the honor of being here today.
My name is Delanie McDonald and I’m a student trustee at Middle Tennessee State University. I was actually homeschooled all my life by choice, not because of a pandemic. So I really understand what people have been going through.
And I was honored to receive the Buchanan Fellowship at MTSU, which is the highest academic scholarship given to incoming freshmen. I was heavily involved on campus. I actually served as the student body president as well, so I know the extreme importance that the campus environment has on student success.
My fellow students across the nation have lost a lot this year, and it is important to all of us to safely return to campus this fall. My university has done an exceptional job of updating the students, of reassuring them that they are tirelessly working for our safe return to campus. And I’m honored to be here today, included in this discussion, and I’m really excited to take back what I learned to my fellow student body. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
DR. MCPHEE: Good afternoon, Mr. President, First Lady, Mr. Vice President, Second Lady. I will brag on her. She is an MTSU student. I’m the president of Middle Tennessee State University. (Laughter.) We track — we attract the best and the brightest not only in the state of Tennessee, but from around the United States.
Like all the participants here this afternoon, I am honored to be a part of this very important conversation regarding the reopening of schools, colleges, and universities.
For the past 20 years, I have served as president of this great institution. We are 37 miles southeast of Nashville. Our university was established in 1911, and we were — are, right now, one of the largest undergraduate universities in the state of Tennessee. We have grown tremendously over the years, and we are proud to be one of the Princeton Review 2020 300-plus best universities in the United States of America.
We are doing some incredible things there at that university. We have 22,000 students. A very diverse student body. Thirty-eight percent of our freshmen class is first generation, and we are proud of that. Forty percent are low-income. Our average ACT score is one of the highest in the state of Tennessee.
We are a major comprehensive university. And each year, for the state of Tennessee, we produce more degrees than any university — 5,000 degrees, each year, MTSU produces for the state.
Now some highlights of our decision to reopen. We stepped out; we were the very first university in the state of Tennessee to announce that we are going to reopen for the fall in-person classes. But in reality, Mr. President, we never closed. Because of the nature of our student population, many of our students had nowhere to go in March when a lot of schools closed down. And so we kept our residence halls open, we kept our cafeteria, and we provided the same service — obviously taking consideration of the virus.
And so we feel that we’ve — we have the experience of actually operating our university in a pandemic. We regard the health and the safety of our students and our employees as priorities.
And it was really interesting, as we were making this decision — we have a very active parents Facebook page; sometimes too active. (Laughter.) We have a very active student body Facebook page. And so we surveyed them. We surveyed our parents and our students, and we asked them their feelings about returning and would they return. The vast majority of both our parents and our students from that survey indicated to us that they would want our university to be opened.
So, my executive team that made these decisions, including the doctor of our health center — we decided that we were going to put together a plan that would make our parents and our students confident. We can’t guarantee anything with regard to virus, but we found that if we communicate with them and put a mitigation plan together — and I have two of my colleagues here from the state of Tennessee you’ve met already. And my university had a meeting — was it last week, Commissioner?
MS. SCHWINN: Yes.
DR. MCPHEE: She brought her staff down. We put together a very strong mitigation plan that deals with testing, contact tracing, and isolation, and quarantine, if needed, for our students.
I want to just give a brief overview of how the CARES money really helped our university, Mr. President. As we look at pivoting from in-person to online and remote, we always had a strong technology operation, but we needed to build a stronger one that would provide the quality education. So we invested $6.9. million — 3.4 of the 6.9 came from the CARES Act — and this investment allowed us to purchase the newest instructional technology to facilitate teaching and learning at the university.
What does this mean is that regardless of where a student is, each and every single class at our university is going to be captured electronically, and it’s going to be archived, and students would be able to access those lectures at anytime, anywhere — which means, if a student gets sick or they have to attend to a sick parent and they can’t make it to class or they’re — they are not going to be disadvantaged as a result of this technology.
And so, we believe that it is in the best interest of our students to open up, to provide that top-quality education. We feel that, for our students, our university provided 459 laptops — free laptops for our students; 673 Internet hotspots — free. For our faculty: 101 laptops, 235 Internet hotspots.
And so I close with this: that we must understand the demographics. We must understand our community. And indeed, we must understand some of the challenges that we are going to face in higher education. And because of the demographics of our student population, we’ve worked very hard to address the issue of the desperate and disappropriate amount of minorities and people of color and low-income that are being affected by this virus.
And so we’ve partnered with one of the sororities — the AKAs — and they have put together an incredible package of information that will be given out to our students as they return.
Thank you so much for having us, and we look forward to this conversation. I learned quite a bit today. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. Thank you very much. Great job, too.
So I want to thank everybody, and I want to just say: Get open in the fall. We want your schools open. It’s going to be a much better climate than it is right now. We’re on the right side of things — Deborah, I think we can say that. A lot of work has been done, and we understand what we’re doing very, very well. Again, mortality rate: the lowest anywhere in the world. And we want to get this done, and we want to get our country going again.
Economically, we’re doing well. We want to do well with the education. I see where Harvard announced that they’re closing for the season or for the year. I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s an easy way out. And I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, you want to know the truth. But I noticed that today, and probably others are doing that. That’s called the easy way out.
I don’t know if people are helping them. I guess their endowment is plenty big; they don’t have a problem with that. But that’s not what we want to do.
Because it’s very important — as so many of the parents and instructors said today, it’s so important that the children — at this age, especially — that they’re together, they’re together on campus. And that’s what we’re striving for, and we’re going to be very strong on that. We’re going to be very, very powerful on that view. We want our schools open in the fall.
Tomorrow, I’m meeting with the President of Mexico. I say that to the media because it’s going to be quite a meeting. He’s a good man. He’s a friend of mine. And we have a great relationship with Mexico. So we’ll be meeting tomorrow.
Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Congratulations, everybody. Thank you.