Education Secretary Betsy DeVos kept up the administration's push to reopen US schools in the fall on Sunday, but failed to embrace any blueprint - including federal health guidelines - for how that could be done safely.
"We know that children get the virus at a far lower rate than any other part of the population. There is nothing in the data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them," DeVos told CNN's "State of the Union."
She did not offer any details on how her department would advise or help school districts and states with their reopenings amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases across the country.
DeVos also downplayed the risk of children bringing the virus home to parents, grandparents or caregivers.
Asked if schools should follow the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which Republican President Donald Trump criticized last week as too stringent, DeVos said every school building is different, as is every population.
Her comments drew an immediate rebuke from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said the Trump administration's approach to schools reopening was dangerous.
"What we heard from the secretary was malfeasance and dereliction of duty," Pelosi said on CNN. "Going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus. If there are CDC guidelines, they should be requirements."
"They should be mandates, not requirements"
Facing a battered economy as he seeks re-election in November, Trump has pressured states to reopen shuttered businesses and schools. On Friday he said the Treasury Department would re-examine schools' tax-exempt status and their federal funding if they did not resume in-person classes.
But since many states relaxed coronavirus restrictions, the virus has found a new toehold. So far in July, 24 states have reported record increases in cases of Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a Reuters tally.
While acknowledging that the Education Department did not have its own safe reopening plans to promote, DeVos repeatedly stressed that each school district and state must devise their own plans based on their local coronavirus infection rates.