Archives for category: Health

Justin Parmenter, an NBCT teacher in North Carolina, published this article in the Charlotte Observer.

As COVID-19 rates skyrocket in North Carolina and more educators lose their lives to the virus, an unmistakable trend is starting to emerge: school districts falling all over themselves to claim the infected employee didn’t get the virus at work.

When Stanly County teacher Julie Davis died last month, superintendent Vicki Calvert quickly issued a statement saying, “there is no information from the local health department indicating Mrs. Davis contracted the COVID-19 virus from any staff member or student on campus.” 

Davis’s family spoke of her extreme vigilance in avoiding situations where infections could occur, wearing a mask whenever out of the house and doing all of her shopping by curbside and drive-through. She was apprehensive about returning to school because of the increased risk but did so anyway.

Julie Davis got sick at the end of September and passed away on October 4. Her brother said Davis was convinced she got the virus at school. A student who attended the school (not one of hers) had tested positive, and she was unaware of any other time she would have been in the same space with someone who had COVID-19.

Just a week after Davis passed away, Stanly County Schools was forced to close to in-person instruction due to out-of-control COVID-19 infections in the community and in the schools.

The school’s superintendent said school officials didn’t believe Ward contracted the virus at work. However, her daughter said, “We don’t really know [where she got the virus] because she never really went out. She definitely wore her mask, she definitely hand sanitized. She did everything the CDC told us to.”

On Monday, Winston-Salem teacher assistant Teresa Gaither passed away after serving students at Easton Elementary for 23 years. A school spokesman wouldn’t confirm the cause but was eager to explain that she didn’t get it at work, saying, “At this time, the Forsyth County Department of Public Health has given WS/FCS no indication that Ms. Gaither’s cause of death was related to her employment.” Her colleagues confirmed that Gaither died of COVID-19.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, where the district has just begun reporting COVID-19 infections by school, a WBTV report this week said school officials “do not believe students and staff are testing positive because they are back inside the classroom. They say students (and) staff and getting sick from circumstances outside of the school.” 

Here’s what public relations-minded school districts are implying when they claim that a COVID-19 infection had nothing to do with school: Somewhere, somehow that individual made a careless error which led to their illness. It had nothing to do with insufficient safety protocols, asymptomatic carriers, or a lack of resources.

There’s nothing to see here, folks. Mask up and wash your hands, everyone. Just lean in and we’ll be fine.

Could we please have the decency to admit that, in many of these cases, we have no idea where they got it? While it is possible these educators contracted the virus outside of school, it’s just as likely that they didn’t. We simply don’t know.

What we do know about this virus is that the only way to truly stay safe from it is to avoid crowded public places, perform regular disinfection and ensure proper ventilation and clean air flow when we must share space with others. Those conditions are hard to come by in a public school.

These educators who have lost their lives during the pandemic have been forced to choose between increasing their risk of infection by returning to in-person instruction and not being able to feed their kids or pay their mortgage.

Many of our educators have been vocal in calling for a return to school only when we can be reasonably certain it’s safe, with maximum social distancing, effective contact tracing, safe HVAC systems and sufficient staff. In far too many cases they’ve been forced back to the classrooms they love with none of those things.

In light of their dedication to serving our children despite a raging pandemic, it’s the least we can do to stop blaming our educators for getting COVID-19.

Read more here:

John Ogozalek teaches in rural upstate New York. He wrote to tell me what’s happening during the pandemic:

You can’t make this stuff up….

Schools in Western New York are facing shut downs.

They’re in a “microcluster yellow zone” which requires 20% percent of the faculty and staff to be COVID tested each week.  Otherwise, in-person instruction is out the window.

The catch is: they don’t have the money to do the COVID tests!  And, no cavalry is riding over the hill to help them.

Earth to David Coleman, Arne Duncan, John B. King, and all the idiot school “reformers”.  We could sure use those billions of dollars you blew away on mountains of  fill-in-the-bubble, where’s your #2 pencil “common core” tests.

BTW….”microcluster yellow zones”?

Does anyone other than people making these rules even have a clue what the hell is going on at this point?

I try to explain the constantly shifting “plans” to my students. Fat chance.

Mayor de Blasio has wavered about when and how to open the schools since the pandemic began. Now he has drawn a line in the sand and threatens to close all the city’s schools if the city reaches a certain level of infections. Some schools are in danger zones. Others are not. Some parents—and the New York Daily News editorial board—think the mayor should recognize that some schools are safe and allow them to remain open.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, is concerned about the lackadaisical responses of elected officials in his state and reliance on Big Data, not science.

The headlines could not be clearer; we’re headed for a disastrous surge in COVID-19. But many of the same public health experts who previously called for shutdowns and, recently, some top journalists are pushing the position that we should continue to reopen schools, even as they warn that community transmission of the virus continues. I am becoming more worried that some of those data-driven public health experts, who I respect, are stepping out of their lanes and giving advice to institutions, urban schools, that they may not understand, and the result could be disastrous.

The motivation is the sincere concern for children, especially the most vulnerable, who suffer from school closures.  A common meme in this debate, however, involves noneducators describing their children’s experiences while rarely indicating how affluent schools are very different than high-poverty urban schools. And I see little evidence that these researchers fully consider the harm that can be done by becoming less cautious.

I hope we are not seeing a repeat of the mess that was made so much worse by Big Data scholars who contributed to the data-driven, competition-driven school reform fiasco. While their skills with numbers were outstanding, they and the corporate school reformers who hired them, refused to listen to educators, and they added more evidence in support of the truism, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Due to their lack of curiosity about the complicated politics that drove education policy, then and (perhaps) now, the truism about metrics, “garbage in, garbage out” has been ignored.

A prime example of a researcher “going viral” when arguing that educators’ fears are “overblown” is Emily Oster. In May, Oster argued that “infection among kids is simply very unlikely.” Oster argued in October that:

Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19…. Our data on almost 200,000 kids in 47 states from the last two weeks of September revealed an infection rate of 0.13 percent among students and 0.24 percent among staff. That’s about 1.3 infections over two weeks in a school of 1,000 kids, or 2.2 infections over two weeks in a group of 1,000 staff.”

Oster even cited Florida and Texas as evidence that schools aren’t super spreaders, raising the question of why she would trust numbers published in those states. Moreover, a key to the first surge in those states was young people infecting members of their multigenerational homes. And as Rachel Cohen explained, Oster’s data “reflected an extremely small and unrepresentative sample of schools.” There was not a single urban traditional public school reporting data across 27 states in her dataset, including from Florida [and] Texas…”  Then, in November as more public health advocates pushed for more rapid reopenings, Texas became the first state to have a million infections.

I hope I’m wrong, but the data experts hired by the Billionaires Boys Club set out to prove that the reformers’ hypotheses about school improvement – which focused on classrooms, while ignoring the broader community – “can” work and transform schools. Now, data-driven analysis says that schools “can” be reopened more quickly. But in both cases, the question should have been about what “would” be the most likely results. Today, the evidence seems to say that a number of schools can be reopened safely, but the issue should be what would most likely happen in communities where public health recommendations are ignored.   

For instance, The New York Times published an analysis in early July with the theme, “We Have to Focus on Opening Schools, Not Bars.”  Since then, however, the focus was distorted by Trumpian ideology. For example, Oklahoma’s major metropolitan areas had taken a science-based, team approach to the coronavirus which kept infections down. But, the Trump-supporting Gov. Kevin Stitt pushed for a premature opening for businesses. On June 1, when the full reopening of public and private institutions began, the state only had 67 new infections.  On July 1, there was 355 new infections.  By August 1, daily infections jumped  to 1,000, and stayed around that level for three months. That number quickly doubled in November.

The Oklahoma City Public Schools had been professional when wrestling with the issue of reopening in-person classes. It started with pre-k and early elementary students, with the plan calling for the complete reopening of schools on Nov. 10. For reasons beyond the district’s control, it couldn’t have found itself in a worse situation, reopening at a time when all trends, national and local, seemed to foreshadow a tragedy. But the OKCPS was not only under pressure from ideology-driven Republicans, but it also faced a series of calls for reopening by many parents, and some journalists and medical professionals.

Given the national super spread, it’s likely that each city faced its own challenges, but here’s what drove community transmission in Oklahoma City: public gatherings ranging from the Tulsa Trump rally to the Weedstock festival to back-to-college parties; the complete reopening of most public school systems; the reopening of universities; high school and college football; the failure to enforce masks and social distancing policies or limit bars and indoor dining; holiday get-togethers; and then an unexpected blast of ice and rain which shut down electricity for hundreds of thousands of households for up to two weeks.  This sent thousands of households to stay in hotels, with family members, and hurriedly-made public spaces to escape the freezing weather.

On the weekend before the promised reopening of the OKCPS, a daily high of 4,507 new cases was reported. Granted, some of those numbers were due to delays in reporting due to ice. But the state’s three-day average was over 3,000 and since then the numbers have consistently been over 2,000.  (For comparisons sake, Oklahoma’s population is about 1.2% of the nation’s.) The worst increase was in Oklahoma County where according to the latest New York Times database, the seven day increase reached 58.8 per 100,000. And since the biggest public school dangers were in secondary schools, it was noteworthy that more than 5% of the state’s active cases were in the seven zip codes where all but three of the OKCPS middle and high schools were located.

At the Nov. 9 School Board meeting, when the state’s seven day average daily increase was 2,197, the American Federation of Teachers and other educators voiced their concerns about the reopening. After all, the White House Coronavirus Task Force put the metro area and Oklahoma County in the Red Zone. But, believe it or not, a state rating of Orange was used as the rationale for reopening all schools and extracurricular activities.

Moreover, some argue that schools don’t contribute as much as bars or indoor dining to the spread, but that misses the point. The question is whether school policies make conditions better or worse.   

Understanding the pressures that administrators and board members were under, when we got our electricity back, I sought to quietly urge caution, as opposed to writing about the need to close schools so they do not add to the spread which will get worse over Thanksgiving and that will make Christmas more dangerous.

I’d planned to send an email to OKCPS decision-makers with the link to the New York Times’ Are School Reopenings Over? School leaders may have felt trapped by political pressure from multiple sides, and this might encourage them to resist the pressure. But then I got my weekly email, The Grade,  from Alexander Russo, who has repeatedly attacked educators for failing to go back to in-person instruction. As in previous weeks, it included a series of journalists’ criticisms of supposedly over-cautious educators. At that, I knew I had to write a post to help counter that sort of public pressure.

But, guess what? As I went through the painful process of writing a piece explaining why we shouldn’t dare reopen the OKCPS at this time, it was announced that the district would pause the return to in-person instruction after four days! The Oklahoman reported that on Monday, the OKCPS will return to remote learning for the rest of the semester. It explained, “Rates of COVID-19 infections reached record highs this week while hospital space is at an all-time low for the pandemic. Other school districts in the metro area, which have taught in person for months, report hundreds of positive tests and quarantines every week among students and staff.”

 So, Superintendent Sean McDaniel reported that Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) indicates that “cases per 100,000 for Oklahoma County are 67.3 for this week, as compared to 30.4 last week.” He explained:

As the number of COVID-19 cases has steadily risen over the last several weeks, we reached a significant turning point for Oklahoma County…The increase in positive cases for Oklahoma County has moved us into the OSDE’s (Oklahoma State Department of Education’s) Red Alert Level.

… Although our health officials have continuously supported our Return to Campus plan, they now recommend that we transition to Red Alert Level protocols.I would add that during the four days of in-person instruction, the state’s seven day average daily infections increased by 15%.
But, focusing on the positive, several suburban schools are following the OKCPS and returning to virtual learning.

The public health evidence regarding this fall’s debate about school closures is just as persuasive as it was this March when Oklahoma City schools quickly shut down. But, as Oklahoma and the nation face an even greater surge of Covid-19 infections, today’s complicated politics make it so much harder to engage in evidence-based decisions.

I know many or most Oklahomans will recoil from our governor ducking responsibility, refusing to even order masks, while saying the key is personal responsibility. But, I also understand that many parents will be upset by the return to online instruction only. And plenty of educators are frustrated by researchers like Oster who seem to have a simplistic view of the challenges faced by high-poverty schools, as opposed to the affluent classrooms that their children attend.

But we should remember that the OKCPS, like systems across the nation, was under great pressure to keep schools open. So, we need to stand up for our districts when they make these painful but necessary choices.

I wrote the other day that I am in quarantine. This was because my grandson was in a class where another student tested positive.

The students in the class were masked and socially distant.

My grandson tested negative. He will test again but it’s thus far looking good.

All this is a reminder to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and be vigilant.

Stay safe.

Benjamin P. Linas, an epidemiologist, writes in VOX that both blue and red states are doing the wrong things about the pandemic. The blue states are too quick to close down schools and the red states are too quick to keep them open without proper safety measures. The Trump administration has provided no guidance at all and left it to states to craft their own responses, which mostly fall along partisan lines.

He describes a plan that he hopes the new Biden administration will adopt that will both contain the pandemic and enable schools to be open for in-person instruction.

Linas offers a plan that he hopes will be the basis for a new approach:

Our current political leaders are failing to provide a clear, national plan for reopening America’s schools. The incoming Biden-Harris administration has announced that it will provide new funds and guidance, but details have not yet emerged. Below are four essential elements for such a plan. 

1) Clear guidance for when and how to open (and close) schools

Such guidance includes two components. One is reasonable, evidence-based thresholds for opening and closing our schools. The CDC has such guidance, but it is not clear how the thresholds were chosen. Further, the guidance has no bite. 

At no time has the CDC said that districts may not open above a given threshold. They simply “advise caution” or “reconsideration” of current policy. We need strong federal action to prevent schools from opening when Covid-19 is not yet controlled in their communities. We also need clear and effective guidance for when schools should be open. 

Second is making new strategy that envisions schools as one part of a larger public health policy. No district should employ school closures as the first intervention when Covid-19 cases rise. In a Covid-19 crisis, it may be necessary to close schools, but if so, then the school closures must be one component of a larger strategy that seeks to generally reduce mobility and social interaction, including restrictions on activities such as indoor dining, bars, gyms, and other places that we know Covid-19 is being transmitted.

2) Clear guidance for distancing in schools 

While 6 feet has become the default stance on appropriate distancing from others in most of the US, 6-foot distance requirements greatly limit the ability of public schools to bring all students back full-time. The reality is, in many public school districts, if we insist on all students being 6 feet apart at all times, many districts simply will not have the space (and thus not really be able to bring all kids back to school full-time until there is an effective, widely distributed vaccine). That means that there is a very realistic scenario in which even in 2021 schools will need to use a hybrid instructional model. 

Globally, the WHO identifies 1 meter (about 3.3 feet) as a minimum for distance from others. We need data-driven guidance for situations in which it is acceptable to distance less than 6 feet in educational settings. 

Fortunately, data does exist to help us gauge the risk of Covid-19 transmission with contact of various distances. Perhaps, with quiet activity and good air flow and all students reliably in masks, a 4-foot distance might be acceptable. Covid-19 is always a question of risk and benefit. The benefit of being back in school full-time is clear. What are the real risks of occasionally being 4 to 5 feet apart during the school day if everyone is wearing masks?

3) Strong mask mandates at the federal, state, district, and school levels 

Every message from every person of authority needs to reiterate the civic duty to wear a mask in public. Currently, many states leave masking mandates up to districts. This needs to change. People do not have a right to walk down the street naked, and almost every school district has a definition of clothing that is not appropriate to wear in school. Likewise, people do not have a right to have a naked face in school during this viral pandemic, and not wearing a mask is at least as inappropriate as wearing short shorts.

4) Robust testing and contact tracing 

It’s critical that whenever any child develops symptoms consistent with Covid-19, it is fast, easy, and free to obtain testing. It is not possible for parents to keep their child out of school for many days every time that child develops a new runny nose, or winter cough. Symptomatic testing is important to make it possible to stay in school. 

The role for asymptomatic screening is more complex. Routinely screening all members of the community holds promise as a strategy to identify and quarantine asymptomatic cases that may otherwise come to school. But we do not currently have the infrastructure or resources to make this happen. And in any case, the real pillars of safe school operation are community control, masks, and distancing. We cannot make asymptomatic screening a prerequisite to opening schools, because if we do, we will not be able to reopen.

This is what a plan to reopen looks like, but implementing it requires courageous leadership at the federal and state levels. With this plan in place, however, America can open its schools, keep students and teachers healthy, and contribute to a larger public health strategy to end the Covid-19 epidemic.

We went to dinner last night at my son’s house, especially to see the grandsons ages 7 and 14. I sat next to the older boy during dinner. The boys are tested regularly at their schools, which both are half in-person and half-remote. As we finished dinner, my son opened his email and found a message from the older boy’s school that he had been in class with a student who tested positive.

Consequently, I will be quarantining for two weeks and hoping to dodge this bullet. My lungs are compromised by a previous very serious hospitalization for pulmonary embolism. I will be careful.

With the upsurge in the coronavirus, the U.S. and Europe are facing new shutdowns to stop the disease. But there is one big difference. European nations are keeping their schools open, as schools in the U.S. close.

London (CNN) Late last month, Ireland entered a strict, six-week lockdown against the spread of Covid-19, under which social gatherings are prohibited, exercise permitted only within five kilometers of the home, and bars and restaurants closed.

But as he announced the new restrictions, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin emphasized that schools and childcare facilities should stay open. “This is necessary because we cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of his disease. They need their education,” Martin said.

There has been a similar story in many European countries including Germany, France and England, which made it their mission to keep in-person learning going, even as they imposed strict measures to combat the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

 In contrast, major cities in the United States, including Detroit, Boston and Philadelphia, are shutting schools and moving classes online in a bid to stave off rising infection rates.

New York City schools may close as soon as Monday.

“There are rates of infection at which is too dangerous to keep schools open, and that has happened in a number of places in Europe,” Anthony Staines, professor of Health Systems at Dublin City University, told CNN.But he said that the major response should be “effective, highly resourced public health.”

“Schools do spread this virus, but they’re not a major route of spread,” he added.

Staines said it was appropriate for different places to employ different measures “because their economic situation is different, the spread of the virus is different.” Israel, for example, faced major outbreaks linked to schools.

School closures “may be part of a response for a period of time” but “with appropriate knowledge, information and understanding, closing schools is not required,” he added.”European countries have made a choice, I suppose, that trying to keep schools open is very important…”

France and England entered month-long second national lockdowns on October 28 and November 4 respectively. In both countries, non-essential businesses, restaurants and bars have closed, with residents only allowed to leave home for work, medical reasons, exercise or grocery shopping.

One key difference from the spring lockdowns in these two countries is that they have chosen to keep schools open.

Amanda Spielman, chief education inspector at UK education watchdog Ofsted, said in a report published this week that the decision to keep schools open during England’s second lockdown was “very good news indeed.” 

“The impact of school closures in the summer will be felt for some time to come — and not just in terms of education, but in all the ways they impact on the lives of young people,” she said.

The Ofsted report, published on Tuesday, found that some children had seriously regressed because of school closures earlier in the year and restricted movement.

It found that younsters without good support structures had in some cases lost key skills in numeracy, reading and writing. Some had even forgotten how to use a knife and fork, the report said. Some older children had lost physical fitness or were displaying signs of mental distress, with an increase in self-harm and eating disorders, while younger children had lapsed back into using diapers, it found.

Some children in Europe, the US and across the world have been missing schooling during the pandemic because of a lack of access to technology — and it’s hitting low-income students much harder.

Peter Greene thought his small school district could somehow escape the pandemic. He was wrong.

He wrote:

It has been just about two months since I told you that if anyone had a shot of starting school up without major Covid consequences, it would be my little corner of the world. I’m here to report that things are not going well.

Back on September 7, the number of cases for the whole county, since March, was 70. People were not panicked, but cautious, with the usual outlying groups of deniers and total freak-outers. Okay, lots of deniers–this is Trump country, and at this point locals know that there are some stores you avoid if you take masking seriously. Our four school districts went ahead and opened, with two choosing a sort of gradual “soft” opening, and the other two just going for it. 

By October 15, the number of cases had doubled. Two of the four high schools had had two cases each. One shut down to clean for 48 hours; the other sent forty students to isolation. Everyone’s sports are still going on, but with limited audiences. 

Yesterday, the state said we had our highest single day total–46 confirmed cases. I’m sure that’s nothing in major cities, but we’ve got fewer than 50K in the whole county. And our totals are probably lagging because there is no place to go get tested in this county. 

That brings our grand total to 359. As you can see, we’re escalating quickly. 

In schools, things are going poorly. At my former district, somehow, they managed to expose the entire administration team, so all administrators and most of the main office staff have been in isolation. This week the district has gone to virtual school. Two weeks back, an entire fifth grade team was sent into isolation. In another district, three teachers have just tested positive. The state has met with several local superintendents, and schools are going to the hybrid model next week; one administrator has already told his people that after a week of hybrid, they’ll be going virtual. 

Please open the link and read the rest of this interesting post.

NYC Schools: A Double Crisis! A Forum on Thursday  Nov. 12 at 6:30 PM

How have pandemic and policy exacerbated the inequity in NYC public schools? What can be done? 

Thursday Nov. 12 at 6:30 PM

Join us at our next virtual event as we discuss these issues with our excellent panelists.

Speakers: (list to date; parent panelist will be announced)
Kevin Bryant — Principal at NYC DOE High Schools and current candidate for a PhD in Education at Harvard
Leonie Haimson — Executive Director of Class Size Matters
Jonathan Halabi –High School Teacher, DOE, & Chapter Leader, UFT
Tracey Willacey –Teacher for the NYC DOE for over 25 years

Gloria Brandman, Retired Teacher, activist with Move the Money/NYC;
Natasha Santos, Program Coordinator, Brooklyn For Peace

See it on Facebook. Please RSVP and invite your friends!

Register now