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DeVos did not say ‘only 0.02%’ of children will die returning to school

July 15, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that “only 0.02%” of children will die when returning to school during the pandemic. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. DeVos did not say that students would die if they return to school. A spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Education confirmed to the AP that the statement was falsely attributed to DeVos, who supports the reopening of schools and the return of children to classrooms.  

THE FACTS: A claim that nearly 15,000 children will die if they return to school during the pandemic circulated on social media this week, falsely attributed to DeVos. 

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“So, Betsy Devos today said “only” .02% of kids are likely to die when they go back to school. That’s 14,740 children. Welcome back!,” a Twitter user posted on July 11. 

“Betsy DeVos says that ‘only’ 0.02% of children will probably die as a result of schools re-opening. That’s 14,740 children. That’s about 40 times the number of school shooting victims from the last 10 years,” another Twitter user falsely stated on July 12. The false tweet had nearly 70,000 retweets. 

The false claim was also posted on Facebook and was shared over 5,000 times. 

“The Secretary has never and would never say such a thing,” Angela Morabito, press secretary for the U.S. Department of  Education, confirmed to the AP in an email. “This is a total lie.”

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 mortality rate for children under four is 0.2 percent and 0.1 for people from five to 17. 

With a little more than a month before U.S. school children are scheduled to begin returning to the classroom, President Donald Trump is pushing for schools to reopen for classes despite coronavirus worries.

On July 7, Trump demanded schools reopen, arguing that some are keeping schools closed not because of the risks from the pandemic but for political reasons, the AP reported.

DeVos has urged schools to provide full-time, in-person learning amid the pandemic. She called plans by some schools to hold classes only a few days a week unacceptable.

“There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous,” she told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” on July 12. 

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Last week, Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, said officials don’t have evidence that children are driving COVID-19 infections. But Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, also noted that kids under 10 are the least tested age group. 

The CDC has drafted guidelines for students to return to the classroom. According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, the agency says there are steps for schools to safely reopen but it “cannot provide one-size-fits-all criteria for opening and closing schools or changing the way schools are run.” 

Across the country, many school districts are offering parents the option to choose a form of learning, whether that be in-person or virtual. New York City said that students will only return part-time in the fall. “Decisions about how to open and run schools safely should be made based on local needs and conditions,” according to the documents. 

Trump rejected CDC guidelines on reopening schools last week, calling them “very tough and expensive.” Federal health officials will not revise the guidelines despite Trump’s criticism. 

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536