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McConnell says next phase of coronavirus relief to help schools reopen in the fall

The Trump administration has launched an aggressive push to reopen schools even as the pandemic worsens in parts of the country.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday the next phase of coronavirus relief will focus on education as lawmakers, educators and parents grapple with reopening schools amid fears of a COVID-19 surge in the fall.

"There's going to be a heavy emphasis in the bill I'm going to unfold next week on education. I know it will be costly," the Kentucky Republican told reporters. "We need to find a way to safely get back to work, and we feel, I feel, like the federal government will have to play a financial role in helping to make that possible."

McConnell added that even though some school districts are going on-line only in the fall, such as in Los Angeles and San Diego, two of California’s largest districts, such learning is "not as good" as in-classroom learning. In a new report released Wednesday, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommended that school districts prioritize reopening schools full-time in the fall, particularly for kindergarten through fifth grade and for students with special needs.

"We can't have a normal country unless kids are in school," McConnell said. "And of course, that has an impact on jobs because kids and school and jobs are interconnected in every single way. Because it affects both parents to get back to work if the kids are home."

McConnell said he spoke to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Wednesday morning and laid out the outline of his proposal, which includes liability protections for hospitals and health care workers, businesses, colleges, universities, and kindergarten through 12th grade.

"Unless you're grossly negligent or intentionally get engaged in harmful activity, we’re not going to let an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of a pandemic health care crisis," he said.

President Donald Trump has also been urging schools to reopen in the fall and is preparing to release guidelines for schools. This week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended the Trump administration's aggressive push to reopen schools in the fall amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic, saying Sunday that a hybrid of virtual and in-person learning is "not a valid choice for families."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say children meeting in groups "can put everyone at risk," adding that children "can pass this virus onto others who have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19." The guidelines also call for 6 feet of social distancing and other measures to decrease the risk of spreading the virus.

McConnell said there is not going to be a vaccine for a while and as COVID-19 cases surge throughout the country, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing are some of the best ways to prevent the spread.

"The best way to work our way through this until we get a vaccine is you're looking at it right here," he said, holding up a mask.