Gov. Jay Inslee pushed back against statements from President Donald Trump regarding education in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling pressure to reopen schools nationally a bullying tactic that the governor said was indicative of the president’s tenure.
During a press conference Thursday, July 9, Inslee spoke out against a decision by the Trump administration not to allow international university students to take courses online in the country in the fall, as well as recent comments from the president suggesting his administration would put pressure on K-12 schools to reopen in the fall by potentially withholding federal funding. Inslee felt those demands were against Washington state’s interests, calling the apparent threats “hogwash” and saying they were an attempt to “bully” the state into making decisions he felt were contrary to what was best for the state.
“Decisions about school and how to have it on-site or otherwise will remain with the state of Washington,” Inslee asserted. He said Trump’s statements followed a pattern of using children as political “pawns,” pointing to child separation and threats on Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) youth.
“We have not been bullied. We are not going to be bullied, and his bullying will fail yet again,” Inslee said, “and if necessary, of course, we have the courts available.”
Inslee spoke positively of the majority of Washingtonians who he said were taking the ongoing crisis seriously, despite “bluster” from Trump and other elected officials, pointing to other states that had not had the level of measures in place to prevent COVID-19 spread as Washington has.
“Washingtonians are stepping up to the plate,” Inslee said.
Since closing in-building education for K-12 schools in March, Inslee said that school districts and universities had been “working diligently” on plans for the fall, adding he was in favor of schools opening in a way “that maximizes learning while simultaneously is safe for our students in the wider community.”
Inslee said he would be meeting with Washington State Superintendent for Public Instruction Chris Reykdal next week to hear the status on plans for schools statewide regarding how to reopen their buildings safely.
“We’ve got to give the local districts some time to really think about what works for them, rather than dictating to them a one-size fits all solution,” Inslee said. He added he has met with his staff to look at potential ways to finance adjustments needed to be put in place in order to safely reopen schools, though there was not a definitive answer as of yet.
The governor added a desire to have multiple options for families based on preference for how reopening would look like .
Also related to more general reopening, Inslee addressed whether or not the two-week pause on counties moving through “Safe Start Washington” phases would be extended, as currently the pause is set to end July 16.
“The jury is out, and I really wouldn’t want to make any predictions about this,” Inslee remarked regarding potential extension of the pause. Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman added that following precautions on mask-wearing, hygiene and social distancing would help in not prolonging the pause.
“If we do those things, we can move forward,” Wiesman remarked.