Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and 30 Democratic colleagues in the Senate in urging Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to provide clarity and guidance for school districts and institutions of higher education, as well as families and students, following widespread school closures across the country due to the spread of the coronavirus. In a letter to Secretary DeVos, the senators stressed that it is crucial that the Department of Education provide direction as schools prepare to make difficult decisions about closures.
“Increasing numbers of K-12 schools and institutions of higher education are considering school closures in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. We urge the U.S. Department of Education to consider several serious issues related to school closure as it works with school districts, state education agencies, educators, and institutions of higher education, as well as with the President’s Task Force and public health officials,” wrote the senators.
As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the country, many schools have already closed and more are likely to follow suit in the coming weeks. Already, large school districts in the Seattle– and Sacramento-areas have closed temporarily, as well as institutions of higher education including the University of Washington, Stanford University, and Columbia University. School closures particularly affect students who are food or housing insecure, students who cannot access online learning because they do not have a computer or internet access, and students with disabilities. Students on federal financial aid and student loan borrowers may also be affected by school closures.
Specifically, the Senators urged the Department of Education to provide guidance on a number of issues including:
- How K-12 schools should ensure students can access school lunch programs;
- How schools using online learning should meet the needs of students without computers or access to internet and students with disabilities;
- How schools should ensure students receive a high-quality education online;
- How schools should provide mental health services remotely;
- How colleges and universities should help students enrolled in programs of study abroad affected by the spread of the virus;
- How colleges and universities should help students avoid using up their federal financial aid if they have to leave school due to the spread of the virus;
- How the Department of Education will help federal student loan borrowers if they cannot work due to the spread of the virus;
- How the Department of Education will adjust financial aid for families affecting by the spread of the virus (including job losses or closures).
Considering the urgency of the crisis, the senators asked for a response no later than March 24.
In addition to Senators Cortez Masto and Murray, the letter was signed by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Gary Peters (D-M.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.).
Democrats in the Senate have already pushed for answers from the Department of Education will work to protect students, teachers and staff during the coronavirus crisis.
Full text of the letter is available here.