Senate Democrats Ask Education Secretary About Plans to Protect Students & Educators During Spread of Coronavirus

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The following is a media release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office. She was elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. She is a DemocratShe is also running to be the Democratic nominee for president.

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WASHINGTON DC – Today, March 2, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and eight other Democratic senators in requesting U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos provide details about the Department’s coronavirus preparedness and response efforts and how the Department plans to protect students, teachers, and other school staff in the event of an outbreak.

In addition to Senators Warren and Murray, the letter was signed by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Last week, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged schools to prepare for the spread of coronavirus and advised families to begin planning for how they will provide care for their children in the event of school closures.

Following that announcement, Secretary DeVos announced that she had created a coronavirus task force at the Department of Education. 

The senators asked Secretary DeVos to provide more information regarding the role and responsibilities of the Department’s COVID-19 task force, how the Department is communicating with federal public health officials, what information the Department has provided to school districts and institutions of higher education, how the Department is working with teachers and other frontline stakeholders, if the Department has considered the impact of coronavirus on students with disabilities, students from food-insecure families, and students experiencing homelessness.

The senators also expressed their concern about media reports of bullying, harassment and discrimination of students of Asian descent, and urged the Department to issue specific guidance to remind schools of their legal obligation to protect the civil rights of students and staff and responsibility to prevent and address discrimination.

“As public health officials warn about the likely spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States, we write to understand how the U.S. Department of Education (the Department) is preparing for the possible spread of the virus and communicating with frontline stakeholders, school districts, state educational agencies, and institutions of higher education about how to best protect students, teachers, and other staff,” wrote the senators. 

“It is essential that experts across the federal government work together to disseminate science and fact-based information to the public as decisions are made,” added the senators.

In order to understand the Department’s role in this process and how the Department’s task force will work with other federal agencies and stakeholders, the senators requested answers to their questions no later than March 9. 

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