March 11, 2020

Reed, Whitehouse to DeVos: Issue Clear Guidance for Schools and Families Dealing with Coronavirus Closures

School lunches, online learning, and federal financial aid and student loans must be prioritized

 Washington, D.C. – As schools in Rhode Island and across the country mull closures due to the coronavirus, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) joined Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and 30 Democratic Senators in urging Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to provide guidance for school districts and institutions of higher education, as well as families and students.  In a letter to Secretary DeVos, the senators stressed that it is crucial that the Department of Education provide direction as schools prepare to make difficult decisions about closures.

“Increasing numbers of K-12 schools and institutions of higher education are considering school closures in order to mitigate the spread of the virus.  We urge the U.S. Department of Education to consider several serious issues related to school closure as it works with school districts, state education agencies, educators, and institutions of higher education, as well as with the President’s Task Force and public health officials,” wrote the senators.

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the country, many schools have already closed and more are likely to follow suit in the coming weeks.  Already, large school districts in the Seattle- and Sacramento-areas have closed temporarily, as well as individual schools in Rhode Island.  Many institutions of higher education have suspended classroom learning, including Roger Williams University.  School closures particularly affect students who are food or housing insecure, students who cannot access online learning because they do not have a computer or internet access, and students with disabilities.  Students on federal financial aid and student loan borrowers may also be affected by school closures.

Specifically, the Senators urged the Department of Education to provide guidance on a number of issues including:

  • How K-12 schools should ensure students can access school lunch programs;
  • How schools using online learning should meet the needs of students without computers or access to internet and students with disabilities;
  • How schools should ensure students receive a high-quality education online;
  • How schools should provide mental health services remotely;
  • How colleges and universities should help students enrolled in programs of study abroad affected by the spread of the virus;
  • How colleges and universities should help students avoid using up their federal financial aid if they have to leave school due to the spread of the virus;
  • How the Department of Education will help federal student loan borrowers if they cannot work due to the spread of the virus;
  • How the Department of Education will adjust financial aid for families affecting by the spread of the virus (including job losses or closures).

The full text of the letter is HERE.





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