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Betsy DeVos tells Georgia group in-class school instruction necessary

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (left) answers questions from Kyle Wingfield during a July 15, 2020 virtual question-and-answer session held by Wingfield's group, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. ERIC STIRGUS/ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (left) answers questions from Kyle Wingfield during a July 15, 2020 virtual question-and-answer session held by Wingfield's group, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. ERIC STIRGUS/ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM

Credit: Eric Stirgus

Credit: Eric Stirgus

The nation’s top education official told a Georgia group Wednesday that America’s schools should find ways to offer in-person instruction, even as some plan to teach students remotely this upcoming school year amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a 30-minute online question-and-answer session with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a fiscally-conservative, nonprofit organization, that students — particularly those from low-income households who don’t have the same resources to learn — need a routine that includes interacting with classmates and teachers.

“We know that there are many kids today who are suffering because of the isolation and distance from their peers and teachers,” DeVos said.

She added: “It is imperative students get back into a routine and into a forward-leaning learning posture to continue to develop themselves.”

Desks are seen socially distanced in Northbrook Middle School in Suwanee, Georgia, on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Schools in Georgia have been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (REBECCA WRIGHT / FOR THE AJC)
Desks are seen socially distanced in Northbrook Middle School in Suwanee, Georgia, on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Schools in Georgia have been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (REBECCA WRIGHT / FOR THE AJC)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Schools ended in-person classes in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 130,000 Americans, including 3,000 Georgians, according to state and federal estimates.

DeVos has pushed for schools at all levels to reopen, and President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that do not reopen this semester. However, many school districts nationally and locally — including Atlanta, DeKalb and Clayton — have announced plans in recent days to begin the fall semester teaching students virtually. Several others in metro Atlanta are offering families the option of starting the school year attending virtual classes or with in-person instruction.

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DeVos did not provide specifics about ways the federal government can assist schools to offer in-person instruction. She did talk about schools being flexible in teaching, online if necessary.

“Our kids are counting on us to figure it out,” she said.

In response to a question about Georgia’s request last month to waive the public school testing requirement for another school year, DeVos said she would like to see some “snapshot” form of assessment, particularly on the elementary school level, which experts say are the critical years to measure student proficiency in reading and math. DeVos said she doesn’t support frequent testing, but “there’s a balance to be struck there, and it’s an important one.”

Georgia requested and received a waiver in the spring from the testing requirement for the school year that ended in May.