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Remarks by Vice President Pence in a Roundtable on Safely Reopening Schools

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Location: Apex, NC

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. Great to be back in North Carolina and great to be here at Thales Academy. I want to thank -- I want to thank the great team here. I just came from Mrs. Combs's fourth-grade class, and I almost skipped the roundtable. (Laughter.)

We were -- we had a great discussion, and I could sense the spirit in the room -- the enthusiasm the children feel for being back in school, which is where we want all of America's children to be. We think we can safely reopen our schools. And I'm here to listen and learn from your experience here at the forefront of reopening a school here in America to understand how Thales Academy is doing it and how North Carolina is making it happen.

And I want to -- I want to say thank you specifically to you. He's a -- he is a very modest man, but I've actually known Bob Luddy for many years. And the Secretary of Education and I were just reflecting on the fact there are -- there are very few Americans who have -- who have done more to expand educational opportunities, particularly for underprivileged children in this country. Bob Luddy, you have our admiration and our thanks.

MR. LUDDY: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Thank you very much.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I also want to thank the three congressmen who are here: Congressman Richard Hudson, Congressman David Rouzer, and Congressman Mark Walker.

I know we are currently in discussions on Capitol Hill to provide additional relief and support for families all across the country, but I know with your all's support, we're going to make sure that we have the resources to be able to safely reopen our schools.

And -- but I will tell the people of North Carolina, we are truly grateful every day for the integrity and the character and the commitment of the three congressmen who are gathered here. And I think the fact that they came here to be at Thales Academy to really celebrate opening up the schools here in North Carolina again says everything you need to know about their commitment to our kids and our families. And I just want to add my thanks to the three members of Congress who are with us today. We are truly grateful to each and every one of you. (Applause.)

And finally, I'm pleased to be joined by Secretary Betsy DeVos. She is the Secretary of Education and has a great passion for children. I only know one person in my life who is more devoted to kids. That's the school teacher I've been married to for 35 years. (Laughter.)

But Secretary DeVos and I have literally been traveling the country. And I -- in these challenging times in which we have passed over the last five months, all along the way, the Department of Education under Secretary DeVos's leadership has created the flexibility for distance learning, has been there to advocate relief for students from payments on interest on student loans. But in one way after another, the Department of Education, under her leadership, has made it possible for us to reach this day where we're able to walk together back into a classroom in America with children at their desks. And I want to thank you, Secretary DeVos, for your great leadership. (Applause.)

As I said, I want to say to the people of North Carolina, and especially to your incredible healthcare workers, on behalf of the President of the United States, on behalf of all of us on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, just thank you for what all of you have done in the challenging months through which we have passed. The healthcare workers in this state have done an extraordinary job coming alongside families, and our hearts are with the families in North Carolina who've lost loved ones. But I know that because of the professionalism and the care and the tireless efforts of doctors and nurses and healthcare workers across this state, that we've saved lives.

I also -- I also just want to commend the people of North Carolina for the steps that you took. We -- we asked the people of this state and this country to do hard things. Forty-five days we -- we asked Americans to take steps, and we slowed the spread and we flatten the curve.

But as we've seen in recent weeks we still have a ways to go. And while I'm pleased to report there are encouraging trends across the Sun Belt, I just want to urge everyone in North Carolina to continue to be vigilant and know that we, at the federal level, will continue to work with your members of Congress, with your healthcare community, and with state and local leaders to make sure that North Carolina has the resources and the support you need, whether that's testing, whether that's PPE equipment, or whether that's therapeutics to the hospitals in this state.

I would remind everyone that we all do have a role to play, and encourage people to heed and respect state and local guidance. But all of us should just practice good hygiene: wash your hands, wear a mask wherever it's indicated by state and local authorities or wherever social distancing is not possible.

I truly do believe that -- that as we all do our part, as we put the health of others first, that we're going to continue to do and North Carolina has been doing since those 45 days to slow the spread came to an end. You're opening up this state again. People have been going back to work again.

But we're here today because to open up America, we've got open up America schools. And Thales Academy is literally in the forefront, with your outstanding leadership here, your administrators, and your classroom teachers in doing just that. And I'm anxious to hear more about -- about the ways that you have implemented policies here that have really put the health of the children first, the health of your teachers and your faculty first, and also taken into account to make sure that we're protecting the health of families and the community as a whole.

But the people of this state deserve to know that it is -- it's not just the President and our White House Coronavirus Task Force that believes we should be back in school, but literally, the CDC, just last week, issued additional recommendations for operating schools. But before all of that, the CDC took a position that children should be back in the classroom, that it is best for the children's academic wellbeing.

But also, there are so many other aspects of a child's health and wellbeing that are dealt with at our schools that we really do believe it's in the best interest of our children to be back in the classroom. And heeding to the guidance issued from CDC and state and local authorities, we believe we can safely reopen our schools. We don't want our kids to fall behind academically or to miss other key services.

And let's be very clear: The one thing that we know, studying the data from around America and around the world, is the risk the coronavirus poses to healthy children is very low. And we believe that with the right measures in place, we can safely operate our schools, just as you're doing here at this great private school in North Carolina.

But my pledge to everyone here is that we're going to continue to provide the guidance for you to safely operate the school, but we're also going to make sure that the resources are there.

But the cost of missing education are well known. Even the National Education Association recently stated that online learning is no substitute for in-person learning. And in Mrs. Combs's class, I just heard from the kids that they felt exactly the same way. They said that they missed their friends when they were doing Zoom learning here during the difficult months through which we've passed. And all -- every one of the children we heard from talked about the importance of being with their friends.

And my schoolteacher wife reminds me that learning social skills, being around other children is a key element in education. And that shouldn't be lost on any of us. So we don't want our kids to fall behind academically. And the McKinsey report was recently issued that said the average student could fall seven months behind academically if we -- if we miss another season of education in this country. That's falling behind in reading; that's falling behind in mathematics.

And as we were traveling recently to South Carolina, we heard one principal, who is opening up his school system in Anderson, South Carolina, reflect on his deep concern for children in early elementary school who fail to learn to read at that critical juncture in first, second, and third grade. And his concern was that those would be the children who would never catch up and would be vulnerable to actually dropping out of school in frustration 10 years from now. So there's real cost, academically, to students.

But the President and I are also very aware of the fact that there are also real costs beyond academics for our kids. Most Americans know that whether it's learning disabilities or special needs, those services are delivered at our schools: the counseling that's made available, special -- really, special education structures for children in unique circumstances.

And beyond that, we also recognize that millions of American children receive supplemental nutritional support at their school. And while we've worked to continue to make that available through this pandemic in communities around the country, the reality is there's just real costs that go beyond that, but academically and for children with special needs, learning disabilities, nutrition.

President Trump and I believe that we got to get our kids back to school. We got to get them back to school this fall. And that's why I'm pleased to be here at Thales Academy. And I want to thank all of you for leading by example not only here in North Carolina, but I expect people around the country will see your example here and be inspired to know that we can safely reopen our schools. It's best for our kids. It's best for working families. It's best for North Carolina and best for all of America.

And finally, my promise to each and every one of you is we'll continue to provide not just the guidance, but the resources to safely reopen our schools. And I pledge to you that we'll spare no expense to support the families and to support your efforts here and making sure that we get our kids back in the classroom.

So let me thank you, Bob Luddy, and the great team here at Thales Academy. Thank you again for the hospitality. Thank you for your example. Thank you for proving that even through all the days through which we passed and the sacrifices that all of us have made, that we can continue to open up North Carolina again and also open up North Carolina's schools in a safe and responsible way.

So thank you all very much. It's an honor to be with you.

With that, I'd be happy to turn it over to the Secretary of Education for her remarks, and then I'd love to hear more about the great, great efforts here at Thales Academy.

Thank you all.

(The roundtable discussion begins.)

(The roundtable discussion concludes.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I want to thank Thales Academy again for -- just for leading by example. It's really inspiring to be here and very moving to hear the personal accounts of the education leaders here and teachers and parents. We're truly grateful.

We'll carry back some issues that you've raised and see how we can be helpful. I know that the members of Congress who are here will do likewise. I can assure you none of these congressmen are shy with either me or the President, and we're going to work our hearts out.

And, Senator Ballard, thank you for your leadership on education here in North Carolina. I just -- I want to pledge to you that we're going to -- we're going to continue to work hard to make sure that North Carolina has all the guidance and the resources to get our kids back to school five days a week. It's where they belong.

So, thank you all very much. And God bless you, and God bless (inaudible).

END


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