President Donald Trump is pushing U.S. schools to open classroom doors wide. In some districts that have followed his instructions, they're slamming shut again.
Schools that reopened fully and early are seeing hundreds of students, staff and teachers put into quarantine as COVID-19 spreads. Some are closing buildings opened just days ago. Others are frantically looking for workarounds -- and for the money to pay for them. In Memphis, Tennessee and Irvine, California, teachers must sign liability waivers in case they get sick.
Nationally, most districts are ignoring Trump's full-speed-ahead advice. New Jersey on Wednesday reversed course on mandatory in-person classes, and Boston won't attempt them.
Still, too many insist on putting educators and communities at risk, said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association and a sixth-grade teacher in Salt Lake City.
"There is no one, maybe besides parents, who wants kids back in school as much as teachers do," Eskelsen Garcia said. "We hate online learning, too. We're throwing our computers against the wall, too. But we want to do it when and where we can do it without killing anybody."
Trump has been demanding schools reopen so that parents are able to work -- part of a bid to restart the economy and create the impression the U.S. is returning to normal ahead of the November election. Yet the virus is continuing to rage across parts of the U.S., with the country's death toll at about 165,000.
The president has tried to force reopenings by saying that half the money for schools in the next round of stimulus legislation should be reserved for those that open their doors. On Wednesday, at an event with parents and educators, he criticized districts trying to use halfway measures to bring students back to class, like combining virtual learning with class time, and having fewer kids in the school at a time.
At a later briefing, the White House released simple advice for reopening: Students and staff should assess their own health, understand the symptoms of COVID-19, wash their hands, socially distance around vulnerable people, and maintain good ventilation. The guidelines also said schools should "encourage" wearing masks.
Trump said there's no substitute for traditional schooling.
"When you have students sitting at home playing with a computer, it's not the same," he said at the briefing. "When you sit at home in a basement looking at a computer, your brain starts to wither away."