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Alexander on NPR: The Question Is Not Whether We Go Back To School, But How We Go Back To School Safely

“And I think we'll have the tools to do it. …Admiral Giroir said we will likely have four to five times the number of diagnostic tests that we have today. And that ought to be sufficient to allow the principal of a middle school to test every student if she wants to. So that is the key.”— Senator Lamar Alexander

MARYVILLE, Tenn., May 14, 2020 — U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today spoke to National Public Radio’s (NPR) Mary Louise Kelly to discuss efforts to ramp up COVID-19 testing to allow students to go back to school this fall and his work as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think any principal, any chancellor of a university can say, ‘We will take testing. We'll take pneumonia shots. We'll try to keep people as separate as possible. We'll keep administrative staff at home. We'll develop a strategy for going back to school and to college that is safe,’” Alexander said. “That may take staggered weeks of schooling, and they'll take more flexible days. A number of changes. But I think the question is not do we go, I think it's how we go. 

“There are a hundred thousand public schools—50 million children—there are 6,000 colleges—20 million students,” Alexander continued. “We have to think about the impact on those children of not going to school for a year. I think part of our leadership responsibility is to not just throw up our hands and say, ‘No, we can't do it.’ It’s to say, ‘We're going to make every effort to do it safely.’ A pediatrician on your program this morning talked about the damage that could be caused to children if they have to miss a whole year of school.

“I think it's unnecessary to do that, in most cases,” Alexander concluded. “It will have to be watched carefully, and it'll vary by school. New York City may be different than Nashville. Maryville, where I'm from, may be different than Sacramento.”

Alexander served as the governor of Tennessee, the U.S. Secretary of Education for President George H.W. Bush and the president of the University of Tennessee.

The full interview will air today on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Listeners can go to to find the station serving their area. Click here for a transcript of the full interview.