The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tried to offer some guidance to parents and educators about how best to safely open schools during a pandemic, but given the complexity of the problem, the recommendations are predictably difficult. The CDC envisions, among other things, distancing kids within classrooms, physical barriers, and staggered scheduling to minimize interactions.
Donald Trump, however, has a different vision in mind: the president insisted yesterday that he simply wants schools to re-open. Those looking for the White House's plan on how communities should do this responsibly will be looking for a very long time -- because there is no plan.
Trump, giving a boost to the thesis of my book, wants to simply bark an order. He expects others to figure out the governing details later.
But at this point, we're left with an administration divided against itself. Should parents and educators listen to the CDC or the White House? This morning, the president sought to resolve the apparent contradiction via Twitter.
"I disagree with [CDC] on their very tough [and] expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!"
Yes, there really were three exclamation points.
In a separate tweet, Trump suggested he's prepared to cut off funding for schools that resist his re-opening directive.
So, let's take stock of where things stand on a key national issue that has sweeping consequences related to public health and the U.S. economy.
* The president wants schools to re-open, but he doesn't have a plan. He also doesn't have a plan to come up with a plan.
* The CDC has something that looks like a plan, but Trump has decided he doesn't like it. In fact, he's prepared to "meet with" his own administration's public-health experts to tell them how unimpressed he is with their science-based work.
* School districts that hope to soon start the school year safely are going to need considerable resources, but (a) state and local governments are severely short on funds as a result of the recession; (b) most Republican policymakers at the federal level are opposed to investments in state and local governments; and (c) Trump is now threatening to give schools even less money if they dare to balk at his post-policy posture.
As of this morning, this complex issue was a mess. The president just made it worse.