Arne Duncan served as secretary of education under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2015. Today Duncan is advocating for #BackToSchoolSolutions, a new community-oriented campaign founded by Arianna Huffington aimed at sourcing first-hand stories and ideas for how communities can help U.S. children this back-to-school season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duncan tells Yahoo Finance that the burden of finding solutions for schools amid the pandemic is falling to those at the local level as a result of a “lack of leadership” from the federal government.
“I think the innovation, the creativity, the solutions, or the answers are all going to come at the local level, and it shouldn’t have to be that way. Frankly, this pandemic doesn’t know school districts; it doesn’t know states. It doesn’t know ... red versus blue. It doesn’t know any of that stuff. But in the absence of any federal leadership or honesty, all the good thinking, the honesty, that has to come at the local level,” he said.
“We have 15,000 school districts across the country, and what you don’t want is everybody trying to figure that out in isolation,” he said.
Duncan believes that students, parents, and teachers need to be heard, which is one of the main objectives of #BackToSchoolSolutions. He’s personally spent time speaking with school superintendents who are also taking on public health officials’ roles by getting testing and contact tracing off the ground in their districts.
“When things aren’t working, let’s try to fix it as quick as we can, but we have to really give an honest voice to those who are living this every single day. I think that’s really the goal of this effort. This movement is to share those stories, to learn valuable lessons together, to replicate what’s working. And then when things aren’t working, try to solve it together.”
When asked about President Trump's and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s handing of the pandemic and back-to-school efforts, Duncan questioned not only their leadership skills but also their morality.
"The dishonesty, the misinformation, the coverup by Trump, I mean, I don't have any way to put it. It's caused people to die. It's just stunning. It's unimaginable, and it's just such a dark time; this has become a man-made catastrophe ... I don't know how they sleep at night. That's all I can say. I truly don't know how they sleep at night."
Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.