President Donald Trump hosted an event at the White House on Wednesday featuring parents, educators and researchers who argued for in-person learning.
Trump criticized as "a little ridiculous" some school districts' plans to have students attend in person some days and online on other days so they have enough space to socially distance in classrooms.
"One thing we've learned during this horror show of the China plague is that virtual is not as good as being there," Trump said Wednesday.
Trump has been pushing toward schools reopening so parents are able to work -- part of a bid to restart the economy.
At a briefing with reporters later Wednesday, Trump said his administration will provide up to 125 million reusable masks to schools around the country. The administration is ready to deploy teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help support schools in safely reopening, Trump said.
He also outlined eight steps for how to reopen schools safely, including encouraging masks when social distancing isn't possible.
Those steps also include ensuring that students, teachers and staff members understand the symptoms of covid-19 and that everyone check how they feel every morning before entering school. They also encourage frequent handwashing and sanitizing as well as maintaining "high standards of hygiene and ventilation" during the school day.
Instructions regarding hygiene and social distancing should be posted "liberally" around schools, and large indoor group gatherings should be minimized. When high-risk individuals are present, students, teachers and staff members should socially distance.
"All schools should be making plans to resume in-person classes as soon as possible," Trump said.
Advocates for reopening schools often point to regions that have already done so successfully, or that never closed schools to begin with, such as several nations in Northern Europe.
"We believe that we can safely reopen our schools," Vice President Mike Pence said at the White House event.
Paul Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, appeared at the event, warning that students who miss school likely will earn less money when they're older. He added, "The most important element in social growth is being with your peers."
Melanie McGraw Piasecki, a mother of three and former neonatologist, said the "science is so clear" that the risk to children of death is "so, so low."
Janie Neeley, a mother from South Carolina, said the structure and routine of the school day is critical for her special-needs child. Her school district adopted a virtual-only plan, she said.
"This style of learning will cause my son to regress and fall behind," she said.