RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Air Force Two touched down at RDU International Airport just after noon Wednesday bringing Vice President Mike Pence to the area to tour a private school and biotech facility.
Pence, along with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, visited Thales Academy in Apex. The private school’s campuses reopened last week with in-person learning. The Raleigh campus closed again temporarily days later when a case of COVID-19 was detected at the school.
The two participated in a round table event at Thales focused on reopening schools.
“To open up America, we’ve got to open up America’s schools,” Pence said. “We’re going to continue to provide the guidance for you to safely operate the school, but we also want to make sure the resources are there. The costs of missing education are well-known.”
DeVos called for greater flexibility at the local level for school district leaders to determine how to reopen.
She pointed out there is no national superintendent of schools and said that’s why there’s “not a national plan for reopening.”
School leaders at Thales say they implemented additional safety guidelines for the academic year which include staggered class change times, social distancing, prohibiting mass gatherings and sharing school supplies.
The CDC released updated guidance last week on reopening schools, which acknowledged the risk of spreading COVID-19, but said re-opening them is key for children’s overall wellbeing.
People gathered outside Thales Academy, some of them protesting the Trump administration while others came to show their support.
Catherine Woyee said her daughter attended Thales previously before transferring to a public school. She said she’s concerned schools will not have the resources they need to operate safely amid the pandemic.
“I’m standing here in tears because our education system is failing us. We put Betsy DeVos in office to run our education system for our children,” she said. “It’s not fair! If you care about our children, you will care about our public schools.”
Lana Witt has a son at the Raleigh campus of Thales Academy and said parents should have a choice about being about being able to send their kids back in person.
“We just want to be supportive of the educators that are being brave and the families that have chosen to go back to school,” she said “For (my son), specifically being there in person, he’s been joyful every day. And every educator that he’s encountered that we’ve experienced loves being back at school.”
Pence then went to the NCBiotech Center in Research Triangle Park to meet with leaders of Wake Research, which is participating in phase III clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine and working to develop treatments.
Trump was in Morrisville Monday talking about Operation Warp Speed, which is an effort to produce millions of doses of a potential vaccine on an accelerated timeline so that once a vaccine is deemed safe and effective it will be ready to be administered to people.