HHS Secretary Says ‘Presumption Should Be' How to Safely Reopen Schools

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The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar was in Dallas Tuesday discussing the efficiency of medical supply distributions. It was also a timely opportunity to ask Azar his thoughts on back-to-school plans in Texas. He’s been a proponent of bringing students back into the classroom.

Azar admits he’s not familiar with Attorney General Ken Paxton’s recent guidance on Texas schools. But he’s steadfast on this position.

“The presumption should be figure out how safely and sensibly kids can back to school in ways that are safe for the kids, safe for the school teachers and staff,” he said.

Azar argues children will miss out on mental and nutritional services if not physically present in a classroom.

“So many of our kids get healthcare services, mental healthcare, nutrition services in the physical school setting,” he said. “When they’re not in school, when they’re doing tele-learning, they aren’t getting that.”

However, when it comes to the specific circumstances in North Texas, and who ultimately has the upper hand in deciding what’s best, Azar said he’s rather not weigh in one way or the other.

“I’m not going to weigh into an issue of state constitutional authorities between state and local authorities. I’ve got to leave that to our local authorities to figure those out,” he said. “But we do believe that the situation has to be assessed on a community by community basis. Who makes those assessments? Not to say. But we do believe that it’s appropriate to look at what’s happening in a community and from that you make decisions what level of mitigation steps and safety steps should be taken.”

Ultimately, when questioned further, Azar would not say clearly or definitively whether he believed local health officials should have precedence when it comes to schools reopening.

“That is still something at the local level you’re going to assess the community circumstances, you’re going to assess the disease situation,” he said.

Azar referred to newly released safety guidelines that make a case for reopening schools in the Fall. Those guidelines include social distancing, face coverings heightened cleaning practices.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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