Archives for category: Safety

John Ewing, president of Math for America, skewers the concept of “learning loss” in this article in Forbes.

I have been a fan of Dr. Ewing ever since I read his article “Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by the Data,” in which he eviscerated the idiotic idea of rating students by the test scores of their students. If you have not read it, you should.

In his latest essay, he shows how various interest groups, politicians, and pundits have used the idea of “learning loss” to promote reopening of schools, regardless of local conditions. The same concept is now used to promote the useless requirement of standardized testing in the midst of the pandemic.

You might say that he is the anti-Emily Oster; Oster is the Brown University economist who has written extensively about why schools should reopen and how young children are unlikely to catch or carry the coronavirus.

Ewing disagrees.

He writes:

With a mix of exasperation and despair, many writers (and quite a few politicians) have demanded that schools open for in person instruction during the pandemic. They are exasperated because they believe schools were closed unnecessarily, since children don’t get sick and schools don’t contribute to Covid’s spread. They despair because remote learning has led to disastrous “learning loss” for an entire generation of students. 

But they are wrong about the science— schools do contribute to community spread—and they are wrong about the disaster as well. While remote learning surely affects students, we don’t know yet exactly how or how much. Learning loss isn’t a meaningful answer.

Early in the pandemic, people observed that children didn’t get sick as readily as adults. Children were tested much less often than adults. Asymptomatic spread was unknown or uncertain. Studies focused on sickness in schools rather than transmission, and they suggested that keeping schools open had few costs. 

But this is wrong. A recent article in the German magazine Spiegel International details an Austrian study that shows schoolchildren are infected at the same rates as adults and quite efficiently spread Covid-19 to others. There are now many other studies that draw similar conclusions. A review of studies from a group of scientists and doctors in Sweden (disclosure: my brother is among them) links to 25 studies from around the world and provides summaries of each. The science is clear: Children become infected and spread covid-19 to their parents, grandparents, siblings, and next-door neighbors. Those infected get sick. Some have long-term complications. Some die. Opening schools costs lives. If you believe in science, you have to accept even uncomfortable truths.

Should we open them anyway? What about that disastrous learning loss? As the pandemic plays out, learning loss has become the focus of education policy. Research firms (McKinsey is the best known) publish reports that cite, with great precision, the number of months of learning loss; politicians and pundits hysterically lament a coming lost generation; parents and the public angrily demand a return to in person learning. Learning loss drives all this; it’s become the central educational feature of the pandemic.

But what’s it mean—”five months of learning loss”? What exactly is lost? Do students forget facts?  Skills? Are memories erased? Can they find what’s lost? And what does “five months” mean? Yes, I know, it’s calculated from a mathematical formula, but formulas are only as good as the data and assumptions that go into them. Mathematics is not magic. What are the assumptions? What’s the data? Where does it come from? When people discuss learning loss, they generally don’t know the answers to any of these questions. And if the notion is so vague, how can it be so easily and precisely measured? 

Of course, the term “learning loss” comes from the language of test enthusiasts. For them, learning is a substance that’s poured into students over time. One measures the accumulated substance by the number of correct answers on a test (standardized, usually multiple-choice). By administering two comparable tests at different moments in time, one measures success or failure for learning. An increase in correct responses is gain; a decrease is loss.

Learning loss is usually illustrated by the summer break. We are told that students experience about three months of loss each summer. Again, what’s this mean? If a student does more poorly on a test in September than in May, is learning really lost? Seems doubtful, or at least incomplete. Mathematicians know that stepping away from a topic for a while requires time to recollect the bits and pieces when you return. Those bits and pieces aren’t lost—they only require reassembling, and often the reassembling leads to greater understanding. Similar things occur in every subject, and in other areas of life as well, like riding a bike or playing the piano.

Learning is complicated. Plutarch famously wrote that minds are not vessels to be filled but fires to be kindled. Fires don’t leak. You don’t measure them in months. Learning loss is a calculation masquerading as a concept—a rather shallow, naïve, ridiculous concept.

Of course, those who talk about learning loss might mean the absence of (new) learning. Fair enough. In the spring, remote teaching and learning were novel to both teachers and students. They struggled because remote instruction was an unfamiliar skill. Mastering skills takes practice and requires dedication. In the spring, everyone planned in two-week intervals, hoping the pandemic would soon be over, and dedication was in short supply. But remote instruction improved this fall, and while it’s very far from ideal, remote teaching and remote learning are much, much better … and getting better still. Kids are resilient. We don’t yet know how resilient they will be in the pandemic.

There remains an enormous problem of equity. Students who live in poverty are at a severe disadvantage in remote instruction. No internet, no computer, sometimes little parental support. But while the pandemic exacerbates this problem, it’s not the cause. We need to solve the equity problem permanently, not just in the pandemic. We had an opportunity to do so in the spring by providing free internet access and computing devices to every student in need. It would have been roundoff error in the stimulus package. It would have entailed massive logistical issues, but that’s what responsive governments do in times of crisis. Our politicians chose not to do so.

Should schools open for in person learning? Maybe. But not because of some ridiculous idea of learning loss. If schools choose to return to in person instruction, it’s because, like bars and restaurants, they serve a vital social and economic function. For younger children especially, the socialization afforded by schools is crucial for a child’s development. For parents, the childcare provided by schools allows them to work (or just to take a soul-saving break). The societal cost of eliminating these functions has been substantial. 

We have to balance that cost against the sickness and death that will be caused by the opening of schools. Balancing livelihoods against lives can be agonizingly complicated. It requires clear, precise thinking. Above all, it requires putting the right things on each side of the scale … and learning loss isn’t one of them.

The New York Times published an editorial correctly blasting Betsy DeVos as the worst Secretary of Education in the 40-year history of the Department of Education. Unfortunately, the balance of the editorial was a plea to administer tests to find out how far the nation’s children had fallen behind because of the pandemic.

This is a misguided proposal, as I have explained many times on this blog. See here.

The Times wrote in this editorial:

Given a shortage of testing data for Black, Hispanic and poor children, it could well be that these groups have fared worse in the pandemic than their white or more affluent peers. The country needs specific information on how these subgroups are doing so that it can allocate educational resources strategically.

Beyond that, parents need to know where their children stand after such a sustained period without much face-to-face instruction. Given these realities, the new education secretary — whoever he or she turns out to be — should resist calls to put off annual student testing.

The annual federally mandated testing will not answer these questions, at a cost of $1 billion or more.

The information the Times wants could have been efficiently collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests scientific samples of students in reading and mathematics every other year. The cost would have been substantially less than testing every single student in grades 3-8.

But DeVos canceled the 2021 administration of NAEP. NAEP would have provided voluminous amounts of data about student progress, disaggregated by race, gender, English learner status, and disability status. Everything the Times’ editorial board wants to know would have been reported by NAEP, with no stakes for students, teachers, and schools. No student takes the entire test. The sampling is designed to establish an accurate snapshot of every defined group, and there is a timeline stretching back over decades.

So now, as the editorial demonstrates, the pressure is on to give the annual tests to every single student. The results will be useless. The teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions, never allowed to discuss them, and never allowed to learn how individual students performed on specific questions. The results will be reported 4-6 months after students take the test. The students will have a new teacher. The students will get a score, but no one will get any information about what students do or don’t know.

The tests will show that students in affluent districts have higher scores than students who live in poor districts. Students who are English language learners and students with disabilities, on a average, will have lower scores than students who are fluent in English and those without disabilities. This is not a surprise. This is what the tests show every year.

If Secretary-designate Cardona needs to know how to allocate resources, he doesn’t need the annual tests for direction. He already knows what the tests will tell him. Federal funds should go where the needs are greatest, where low-income students are concentrated, where the numbers of English learners and students with disabilities are concentrated. The nation doesn’t need to spend $1 billion, more or less, to confirm the obvious.

Anyone who thinks that it is necessary or fair to give standardized tests this spring is out of touch with the realities of schooling. More important than test scores right now is the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff.

Advice to the New York Times editorial board: Talk to teachers.


John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, followed the debate about what to do “after COVID,” and he shares his wisdom here.


I’ve been wrestling with two quandaries regarding post-COVID schools. Yes, in the short-run, the tactical use of digital technology has been prioritized, but the longer term priority must be human-to-human relationships. The last thing we want are 21th century schools driven by screen time. So, what can we do to recover from the pandemic which came on the heels of the corporate school reform disaster that was imposed on teachers and students?

Last spring, I timidly made suggestions but I knew that educators were overwhelmed, and it wasn’t time to be pushy about future visions of schooling. It’s unlikely that many of today’s teachers would be allowed to do so, but I used to start my inner city high school classes’ orientation week with music, poetry, and film clips like Amiri Baraka’s “The X is Black,” Bruce Springsteen’s “American Skin,” and Denzel Washington in Cry Freedom, playing Steve Biko, explaining colonialism.

So, if I were still teaching high school, I’d have used much of the spring semester for one-on-one digital and telephone conversations, discussing what each student loves and what each one would love, and get each kid hooked on a genre, artist, musician, or whatever. Surely, it would be easy to sell many kids on great Nature programs, such as the Smithsonian’s new David Attenborough series, or PBS documentaries about the race to the Moon. I’d then focus on each kid learning in depth about the things that enthralled them.

I’d have also started by showing and discussing, and borrowing from great musical and artistic events. I’ve been stunned, and often been left in tears by “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” which also featured President Barack Obama; Jason Alexander’s Passover Seder; One World: Together at Home; and 300 singers from 15 countries singing You’ll Never Walk Alone

We also should have learned from Jill Lepore’s history of education during the Great Depression in the New Yorker. Lepore’s “The Last Time Democracy Almost Died” described School Superintendent John Studebaker’s “ambitious plan to get Americans to show up in the same room and argue with one another in the nineteen-thirties.” Starting in Des Moines, Iowa, his idea spread to schools across the nation. We saw what works in our democracy; discussions where “the people of the community of every political affiliation, creed, and economic view have an opportunity to participate freely.”

I’ve also agreed with Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel about the need for outdoor learning. Moreover, we need a 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps where kids learn about global warming, and solutions and career options for battling it.

Similarly, early in the pandemic, John Merrow reminded us, “Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it will take the support of the village to open its public schools.” Merrow recommended two priorities that could not be compromised or negotiated: 1) Keep everyone safe, with frequent testing, social distancing, and adequate PPE; and 2) Create genuine learning opportunities, rather than simply replicating semesters, work sheets, 50-minute periods, and everything else that schools routinely do. He also urged innovation in terms of developing new, safer, and more educationally beneficial learning spaces. Sadly, those conversations, and the timely reopening of in-person instruction were undermined as the reopening of schools was politicized, first by Trumpism, and then by smart and sincere public health experts and journalists who knew little about actual schools. I must emphasize that the overwhelming harm was done by Trump, politicians like Oklahoma’s Gov. Kevin Stitt, and their COVID denialism, mixed with Social Darwinism. But the demand that in-person learning be quickly restored in urban schools also bore a sad resemblance to the corporate school reforms wars. Both were launched by rightwingers seeking to demonize unions and educators. And just as the attacks on public education worsened after Big Data scholars joined the fray, recently attacks on educators for being too cautious in reopening schools haven’t been helpful.

Researchers working for the Billionaires Boys Club often claimed that their statistical models showed that top-down mandates on teachers can improve student performance while, today, some public health experts argued that their data shows that schools can be reopened safely. The question, then and now, is what will likely happen if schools hurriedly follow their advice.

Below are just two examples. An October New York Times report by Apoorva Mandavilli may or may not have been tilted towards a less cautious approach to reopenings. It led with the fact that “so far there is little evidence” community transmission was high. But, the article distinguished between the evidence that in-person instruction of young students can be safe, and the greater possible dangers regarding high school, citing super-spreads in American and Israeli high schools. And the public health expert the Times quoted, Dr. David Rubin, advised, “Rather than closing schools where community transmission is high, businesses like restaurants, bars or other indoor spaces where adults congregate should be shuttered.” But he didn’t take a stand on the question of what schools could safely do in cities where that public health wisdom was ignored.

The real problem was with the article’s title and subtitle which went far beyond the evidence in it presented:

Schoolchildren Seem Unlikely to Fuel Coronavirus Surges, Scientists Say:

Researchers once feared that school reopenings might spread the virus through communities. But so far there is little evidence that it’s happening.

After those sorts of optimistic assertions before Thanksgiving, it would have been nice if experts and newspapers would have acknowledged how much the situations have changed as holidays dramatically increased the super-spread. I also believe educators deserved an apology for those over-simplified commentaries. If anything, however, many commentators have doubled down on their criticisms of urban educators’ caution.

For instance, I respect Nick Kristof, and I loved Tightrope, which he and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn recently published. And he no longer claims to be “infatuated” with Bill Gates, and to trust the teacher bashing “quick fixes” pushed by edu-philanthropists and their data-driven researchers. But Kristof went from his recommendation in May that we “cautiously open some schools” to arguing that we have been “too willing to close schools” in an article entitled, “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong.”

So, now we may need to be more blunt in presenting the educators’ case, as Erika Christakes was in her Atlantic article, “School Wasn’t So Great Before COVID, Either.” (I must emphasize that she isn’t making the Nation at Risk or No Child Left Behind case that schools are broken; on the contrary, she wants to fix the damage done by those “Reforms.”)

Christakes begins with the truth that I haven’t wanted to bring up, “Yes, remote schooling has been a misery—but it’s offering a rare chance to rethink early education entirely.”

She writes:

All of the challenges of educating young children that we have minimized for years have suddenly appeared like flotsam on a beach at low tide, reeking and impossible to ignore.” But, she reminds us that beginning with No Child Left Behind, Schools have—quite irrationally—abandoned this breadth [holistic instruction] in favor of stripped-down programs focused on narrow testing metrics.

So, Christakes writes:

A good start would be to include a broader and deeper curriculum with more chances for children to explore, play, and build relationships with peers and teachers. Schools should also be in the business of fostering curiosity and a love of learning in all children, or at a minimum not impeding the development of those traits. This is a low educational bar but one that is too often not cleared, as the millions of American adults who are functionally illiterate might suggest.

Like Emanuel and Merrow implied, Christakes says, “The most obvious demand should be for more time outside.” She draws on the history of the early 20th century, when “tuberculosis outbreaks led many American schools to successfully adopt outdoor teaching.”

As we should have realized before winter, outdoor transmission of COVID‑19 is far less likely than indoor spread, and it offers an alternative to the drill-and-kill that corporate reforms revitalized. Moreover, “Years of accumulating evidence reveal concretely measurable benefits of nature-based learning and outdoor time for young children.” It can be more effective than instruction in the classroom, and it builds on what “we know about nature’s positive impact on mental health, attention span, academic outcomes, physical fitness, and self-regulation.

And that leads to Merrow’s recent advice to “please please please, do not try to ‘get back to normal.’” He suggests the making of “institution more democratic (small d),” and giving students “more agency over their own learning.” Since “social and emotional learning may matter more than book-learning for these first weeks and months,” we must “give kids time and space to get accustomed to being with peers, even socially distanced, for the first time in many months,” as well as “lots of free play.” Merrow would also move away from age segregation and group children instead according to the interests and their level of accomplishment, and “Finally, NO hand-wringing about ‘remediation’ or ‘learning loss,’ because that’s blaming the victim, big time.”

As 2021 begins, I hope the Biden administration can foster the unity that our schools need. I hope we won’t see the revival of corporate reformers’ “blame game.” Regardless, we need a more humane vision of post-pandemic schools and, I’m afraid, we may need to fight for it once again.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher, writes often about what is happening in Oklahoma. It is often not good for public schools and teachers because of the state’s awful legislature, controlled by oil-and-gas billionaire Harold Hamm, and its Republican Governor Kevin Stitt. The best education leader in the state is state Commissioner Joy Hofmeister, who continues to protect students and teachers from political shenanigans.

Here is the latest from Thompson:

As the COVID pandemic began in Oklahoma City, before Trumpian-style pressure to reopen bars, in-person restaurants and large gatherings, and before the resistance to masks and other public health tools sparked a super-spread, it looked like the public and nonprofit sectors were uniting in a team effort to protect public health. Clearly, online charter schools had advantages over traditional public schools in providing virtual and hybrid instruction, but there was reason to hope that the corporate reform wars could be put behind us (at least in terms of local charter leaders.)

The for-profit EPIC Charter Schools wasn’t likely to change its financial and political misbehavior, but its years of experience in delivering online instruction gave it a head start in providing virtual learning during the shutdown. Sure enough, its enrollment soared to around 30,000.

On the other hand, due to years of financial shenanigans, it was inevitable that multiple investigations would prompt penalties, headlines, and other bad news for EPIC, and it seemed certain that it would continue to fight back bitterly, as opposed to making a good faith effort to improve instruction. And there was no chance that its allies – state, and national corporate reformers and politicians committed to uncontrolled competition – would slow their privatization campaigns.  

The bad news for EPIC et. al came as predicted. A state audit showed that EPIC improperly classified $8.9 million, and a follow-up report found an additional $800,000 in misclassified administrative spending. The state Board of Education demanded the return of $11 million. The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board moved to terminate its contract with Epic One-on-One. Governor Kevin Stitt apparently retaliated by removing members of two state boards for votes that didn’t conform to his education agenda.  

And the initial good news overshadowed a new set of problems for EPIC. A five-month investigation by Oklahoma Watch and Frontline revealed that many EPIC graduates’ are unprepared for college. The investigation found that students “described a system that made it easy to speed through classes and little or no structured counseling.”  (The data was released at the beginning of the pandemic, but it describes a dynamic that could become more crucial to EPIC’s effort to retain its new influx of online students.) 

In 2015, the 35% of Epic students met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks – in English, math, reading and science. As enrollment increased, just 4% of 2019 students met the benchmarks, compared to 15% statewide. Perhaps prophetically, EPIC’s graduating class’ average ACT score dropped from 20.5 in 2018 to 16.5 in 2019.

Similarly, Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier have reported more bad news for competition-driven reformers. For instance, the Oklahoma City Public Schools had twice rejected Sovereign Charter School’s charter, but in 2018 it was sponsored by Rose State community college. Rose State is also reported to be considering the charter sponsorships of Santa Fe South charter schools, and W.K. Jackson Leadership Academy, now a private religious school.

By the summer of 2020, Sovereign was down to 40 students after Oklahoma City Public Schools rejected it twice. Sovereign took out a $700,000 loan, but its enrollment didn’t increase enough. So, the State Department of Education put it on probation.

Then, what State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister characterized as a “rickety structure” was proposed. Sovereign would merge with Santa Fe South, which would assume its facility’s lease, as well as its debt. Ironically, that building complex had been the home of the once-influential Seeworth Academy charter school which was taken over after a financial scandal.

At this point, the privatizers’ big, remaining weapon is an attack on urban schools and teachers unions for not reopening in-person instruction.  ChoiceMatters, the rightwing the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA),  Governor Stitt and Secretary of Education Ryan Walters, and a new organization, Oklahoma Parent Voice, pushed the agenda that “Enough is Enough,” and schools must immediately reopen. But their rally at the Capitol only attracted about two dozen parents.

The campaign to immediately reopen urban schools is clearly an anti-union, anti-public school tactic. But it may be undercut by the fact that almost all Oklahoma City charters closed their in-person instruction around the time the November super-spread forced the OKCPS to limit itself to virtual instruction.

A recent survey of teachers by the Oklahoma Education Association found that teachers are “stressed,” “overwhelmed,” and “scared.” About 12% of respondents had contracted COVID-19,  the teachers’ estimated average stress level was 7.7 on a scale of 10. 

When charters reopen, are their teachers likely to be less scared?

But maybe the rightwing won’t need to invest so much political capital in attacking teachers and unions. After all, Gov. Stitt may have found a new way to stimulate the economy. He made “a direct pitch to boost tourism in the state. Stitt stars in a 30-second promotional video encouraging those in neighboring states to visit Oklahoma. The video conveys a message that Oklahoma is open for business, and underscores the business friendly approach Stitt has taken to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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.

Chicago Public Schools are ready to open, according to officials.

CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools said classrooms are ready for students and teachers to safely return Wednesday after the district installed air purifiers and took other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Last month, the Chicago Teachers Union said neither teachers nor students should return to class because school buildings are old and not designed to sufficiently ventilate and purify air during a pandemic.

CPS said it addressed those concerns by spending $8.5 million to put a HEPA air purifier in every classroom. District officials said the 20,000 purifiers are capable of removing “99.9% of ultrafine particles,” including airborne mold, bacteria and viruses like COVID-19. 

Additionally, CPS officials said the district implemented the top five COVID-19 mitigation efforts recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to keep schools safe, and hired independent industrial hygienists to produce a school-by-school analysis of air quality and ventilation systems.

Now the district says classrooms are ready for students and staff so long as they have either a HEPA filter or an operating mechanical ventilation system which includes both an air supply and an exhaust. By those standards, CPS says 99% of its classrooms are ready and the ones that are not will be prioritized for repairs. 

Anya Kamenetz, education reporter for NPR, writes here about research findings that suggest the risk of reopening schools during the pandemic have been exaggerated.

Of course, there is good reason to be concerned because the U.S. Congress has not passed the funding needed by schools for safe reopening. Congress has bailed out major corporations, but allotted only $13.2 billion for the nation’s nearly 100,000 schools and more than 50 million students. Public schools were not allowed to request money from the $660 Billion Paycheck Protection Program, but charter schools, private schools, and religious schools were eligible to request PPP funding, and some received millions of dollars.

Kamenetz begins:

Despite widespread concerns, two new international studies show no consistent relationship between in-person K-12 schooling and the spread of the coronavirus. And a third study from the United States shows no elevated risk to childcare workers who stayed on the job.

Combined with anecdotal reports from a number of U.S. states where schools are open, as well as a crowdsourced dashboard of around 2,000 U.S. schools, some medical experts are saying it’s time to shift the discussion from the risks of opening K-12 schools to the risks of keeping them closed.

“As a pediatrician, I am really seeing the negative impacts of these school closures on children,” Dr. Danielle Dooley, a medical director at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., told NPR. She ticked off mental health problems, hunger, obesity due to inactivity, missing routine medical care and the risk of child abuse — on top of the loss of education. “Going to school is really vital for children. They get their meals in school, their physical activity, their health care, their education, of course.”

While agreeing that emerging data is encouraging, other experts said the United States as a whole has made little progress toward practices that would allow schools to make reopening safer — from rapid and regular testing, to contact tracing to identify the source of outbreaks, to reporting school-associated cases publicly, regularly and consistently.

“We are driving with the headlights off, and we’ve got kids in the car,” said Melinda Buntin, chair of the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt School of Medicine, who has argued for reopening schools with precautions.

The New York Times reports that the public schools of New York City have been conducting random drug tests, and the results reveal a surprisingly small number of COVID-19 infections. The city might be a “national model.”

For months, as New York City struggled to start part-time, in-person classes, fear grew that its 1,800 public schools would become vectors of coronavirus infection, a citywide archipelago of super-spreader sites.

But nearly three weeks into the in-person school year, early data from the city’s first effort at targeted testing has shown the opposite: a surprisingly small number of positive cases.

Out of 15,111 staff members and students tested randomly by the school system in the first week of its testing regimen, the city has gotten back results for 10,676. There were only 18 positives: 13 staff members and five students.

And when officials put mobile testing units at schools near Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods that have had new outbreaks, only four positive cases turned up — out of more than 3,300 tests conducted since the last week of September.

New York City is facing fears of a second wave of the virus brought on by localized spikes in Brooklyn and Queens, which have required new shutdown restrictions that included the closure of more than 120 public schools as a precaution, even though few people in them have tested positive.

But for now, at least, the sprawling system of public schools, the nation’s largest, is an unexpected bright spot as the city tries to recover from a pandemic that has killed more than 20,000 people and severely weakened its economy.

If students can continue to return to class, and parents have more confidence that they can go back to work, that could provide a boost to New York City’s halting recovery.

The absence of early outbreaks, if it holds, suggests that the city’s efforts for its 1.1 million public school students could serve as an influential model for school districts across the nation.

In September, New York became the first big urban district to reopen schools for in-person learning.

Roughly half of the city’s students have opted for hybrid learning, where they are in the building some days, but not others. The approach has enabled the city to keep class sizes small and create more space between desks.

Since then, large school districts across Florida have opened for in-person learning, too. Some wealthier districts in the New York suburbs declined to take this step, worried that it was too risky and logistically challenging.

The city’s success so far could put much more pressure on other districts that have opted for only remote instruction to start considering plans to bring their children back as well.

“That data is encouraging,” said Paula White, executive director of Educators for Excellence, a teachers group. “It reinforces what we have heard about schools not being super spreaders.”

So far, it is also good news for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has staked much of his second-term legacy on reopening schools for in-person learning during the pandemic.

While public health experts said the data was encouraging, they also cautioned that it was still early.

In general, maintaining low levels of infection at schools would depend on how well New York City does in holding off a broader spread in the population.

Also, some experts have called for much more frequent random testing in all schools — something that city officials are considering — in order to increase the odds of discovering an outbreak early.

So far, most coronavirus testing for school workers has taken place at city-run sites outside the purview of the education department.

Out of 37,000 tests of staff members at city sites, 180 were positive, a city official said.

According to separate data reported to the state by local school districts, 198 public school students in New York City have tested positive since Sept. 8. (Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in early September ordered those conducting coronavirus tests to collect school information on children, but so far compliance has been spotty, state officials said.)

The city’s new schools testing regimen, which began Oct. 9, calls for 10 to 20 percent of the school population to be tested once a month, depending on the size of the school. The city is applying this testing to its 1,600 traditional public schools; the city’s 260 charter schools are not included.

Some researchers have questioned the efficacy of that approach, saying it could miss a large outbreak.

“It’s great that New York City is doing some level of random testing,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “It’s not at the level that would be ideal.”

One study recommended testing half the students twice a month.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers union, said the city is looking to increase testing to as much as three times a month citywide. Such frequency, he said, would be “much more valuable” in terms of keeping the virus in check…

A positive test of a student or teacher causes the city to spring into action. Under the rules, one case can cause the closure of a classroom. Two or more cases in separate parts of the same school can prompt a temporary schoolwide closure. At least 25 schools have temporarily closed since classes began. But only three were closed as of Friday…

A positive test of a student or teacher causes the city to spring into action. Under the rules, one case can cause the closure of a classroom. Two or more cases in separate parts of the same school can prompt a temporary schoolwide closure. At least 25 schools have temporarily closed since classes began. But only three were closed as of Friday.

The first set of guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control warned that schools needed to take safety precautions to protect students and staff before reopening. Then in July, Trump and DeVos insisted that schools should reopen in full, even as Trump and his allies blocked passage of appropriations that provided the resources needed by schools to reopen safely. Trump’s highest priority was getting the economy open by getting parents back to work.

I wrote last July that the Trump administration pressured the CDC to revise its guidelines, emphasizing the importance of reopening and downplaying the safety guidelines. Getting re-elected meant more to Trump than the health of our nation’s students.

The New York Times tells the story:

Top White House officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this summer to play down the risk of sending children back to school, a strikingly political intervention in one of the most sensitive public health debates of the pandemic, according to documents and interviews with current and former government officials.

As part of their behind-the-scenes effort, White House officials also tried to circumvent the C.D.C. in a search for alternate data showing that the pandemic was weakening and posed little danger to children.

The documents and interviews show how the White House spent weeks trying to press public health professionals to fall in line with President Trump’s election-year agenda of pushing to reopen schools and the economy as quickly as possible. The president and his team have remained defiant in their demand for schools to get back to normal, even as coronavirus cases have once again ticked up, in some cases linked to school and college reopenings.

The effort included Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, and officials working for Vice President Mike Pence, who led the task force. It left officials at the C.D.C., long considered the world’s premier public health agency, alarmed at the degree of pressure from the White House.

One member of Mr. Pence’s staff said she was repeatedly asked by Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, to get the C.D.C. to produce more reports and charts showing a decline in coronavirus cases among young people.

The staff member, Olivia Troye, one of Mr. Pence’s top aides on the task force, said she regretted being “complicit” in the effort. But she said she tried as much as possible to shield the C.D.C. from the White House pressure, which she saw as driven by the president’s determination to have schools open by the time voters cast ballots.

“You’re impacting people’s lives for whatever political agenda. You’re exchanging votes for lives, and I have a serious problem with that,” said Ms. Troye, who left the White House in August and has begun speaking out publicly against Mr. Trump.

According to Ms. Troye, Mr. Short dispatched other members of the vice president’s staff to circumvent the C.D.C. in search of data he thought might better support the White House’s position.