U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on Tuesday signed on to a letter with 32 other members of the Democratic caucus asking U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to outline the contingency plans her department will make with school districts and colleges in case widespread shutdowns occur in the name of preventing the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.
The senators were particularly alarmed about the provision of free and reduced-price lunches to students in low-income families if they could not eat at school as usual.
“In K-12 schools, many families rely on the Federal School Lunch Program and may experience food insecurity if they can no longer access meals at school,” the letter reads.
Also raising concern about the inability of every student to adapt to online classes, the senators continued, “Few school districts have experience providing wide-scale educational services online for all students, and not all families have access to home computers and high-speed internet to take advantage of such online options. Online learning cannot substitute for a number of services provided in the school setting, and it raises particular challenges to ensuring equity in access to education for all students.”
Among the questions asked of DeVos, senators wanted to know if the U.S. Department of Education would help students without computers access online class materials, how it would monitor whether students received meaningful interactions with instructors, and whether it would provide relief to students with loans who potentially incur penalties for “leaving” school mid-semester.
University of Colorado campuses have announced that they will move classes online and suspend study abroad programs. Colorado State University, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the Colorado School of Mines are among the other institutions putting in-person classes on hiatus until early April. Gov. Jared Polis advised schools to close for 72 hours if any student or faculty member tested positive for COVID-19.
In a Tweet on Wednesday, DeVos did not address the educational logistics of coronavirus, but rather praised President Donald Trump after he announced from the Oval Office that he would suspend certain travel between the U.S. and Europe.
“From day one, @realDonaldTrump has taken an aggressive, unprecedented approach to combating coronavirus,” DeVos wrote. “His decisive actions, including the additional steps announced tonight, will help prevent the spread of this virus and keep more students, parents and communities safe.”
The department did not immediately return a request for comment.