Pence urges in-person school during Apex visit

Vice President Mike Pence takes questions from fourth grade students at Thales Academy which reopened to students in Apex, N.C., Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

APEX – Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Thales Academy in Apex, a private school that has been open for in-person instruction since July 20. The trip, just two days after President Donald Trump came to the area, was part of a push to encourage more K-12 schools to reopen with in-person instruction.

“We’re all gonna make sure schools across America have the support to open up and stay open,” Pence said in the classroom. He added that he was there “to help states be able to have the resources and the guidance they need to reopen schools safely.”

Seated in front of a whiteboard that said “Welcome Vice President Pence,” Pence and DeVos took several questions from students.

Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, right, visit with teacher Allison Combs, left, and her fourth grade students at Thales Academy which reopened to students in Apex, N.C., Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Asked, on a scale of 1-10, of how much he likes being Vice President, he said “11.” He told the students, “Study hard, pray harder. Sky’s the limit.”

After visiting the classroom, Pence participated in a roundtable discussion at the campus that welcomed back 300 students in July. The vice president stressed that “online learning is no substitute for in-person learning” and said data indicate that COVID-19 poses a low risk to most children.

“The one thing we know studying the data from around America and around the world is the risk the coronavirus poses to healthy children is very low,” he said.

The CDC says school closures cause “well-known and significant harm” to children in the areas of “social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement.” In particular, low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities will be hardest hit and disproportionally impacted.

During the roundtable, DeVos said students in North Carolina and around the country need to return to classrooms. “There’s too many schools in this state and others that are ignoring parents and leaving schools closed,” she said.

“We are thrilled to have the Vice President back in North Carolina to highlight the strong commitment that all Republicans share in making sure children have access to quality education,” said NCGOP spokesman Tim Wigginton. “Republicans remain committed to putting children and parents first while the Democrats led by Gov. Roy Cooper continue to play politics with our schools at the behest of union bosses.”

Gov. Roy Cooper announced earlier this month that public schools may offer a mix of both online and in-person instruction, though districts can choose to offer fully remote learning. Following that announcement, dozens of school districts voted to move to fully remote learning, often at the behest of organized opposition from the North Carolina Association of Educators.

After his visit to Thales Academy, Pence was scheduled to tour NCBiotech, which is conducting Phase 3 clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine. Pence’s appearance comes two days after Trump visited Morrisville to tout the country’s progress in developing a COVID-19 vaccine under his Operation Warp Speed initiative.

“The Trump Administration continues to exhibit bold leadership as President Trump and Vice President Pence work aggressively to develop a coronavirus vaccine, reopen our economy and safely return North Carolina’s students to the classroom, said Trump Victory spokesperson Danielle Alvarez following Pence’s visit. “Meanwhile, Joe Biden and the extremist Democrat party continue to play political games in their efforts to keep schools closed, defund the police, and enact a socialist agenda. North Carolinians know that the Trump Administration will always put the health and safety of the American people first.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.