Archives for category: Safety

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, contributes frequently here.

He writes:

If you want to get really depressed about today’s politics, look at the New York Times’ Upshot, which asked: Should Children Go Back to School? Sadly, the answer has been, “It depends in part on your politics.”

One source the Times cited was a Brookings Institute analysis of data which found that “politics, more than public health, was driving school districts’ reopening plans.” Brookings discovered:

No relationship between school districts’ plans and their counties’ infection rates. Instead, there was a strong correlation between a district’s plans and a county’s support for Mr. Trump in 2016.

We should all be horrified that President Trump and his supporters have put ideology and short term politics over the health of students. When we get through this nightmare, deep soul searching will be necessary as we ask how our politics have devolved to this point.

Below is a step towards such a reckoning. It uses Oklahoma, a “red state” in terms of Republican power, which has become a “red zone” in terms of infection spread, as a case study. White House reports that were not revealed to the public until recently, now show that Oklahoma has the nation’s 8th highest positivity rate.

Eight White House Corona Virus Task Force reports on Oklahoma’s COVID infections were finally released on August 25. As many parents send their kids back to in-person school, they now can read the full truth that could have been revealed almost two months ago about what safe reopenings would require.

This is how Oklahomans finally got access to crucial public health information. The Tulsa World reported that on August 13, before Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx visited Tulsa, Gov. Kevin Stitt said he directed the state Health Department “to post everything and be as transparent as possible.” But, a week later, The Center for Public Integrity published a second, secret report; Tulsa Mayor Bynum thus learned that “eight White House reports had been issued. Bynum said he was only aware of one that had been previously leaked to the media.”

Dr. Birx met briefly with numerous members of the Stitt team and a few others, but without key public health leaders, such as Tulsa Health Department director Bruce Dart, Democratic officeholders, or the press, and she also met privately with Stitt. The governor said, “Overall it went really good, and she’s pleased with Oklahoma and what we’ve done so far.”

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister posted on Facebook that Birx warned, “Oklahoma is about 4 weeks behind the South” and needs to “avoid asymptomatic spread which is happening in Southern states.” That cryptic comment didn’t make the headlines, or prompt a discussion of how would it be possible to reopen schools in counties where the virus was spreading.

Stitt characterized Birx’s advice as, “A lot of other states have shut down bars. That was a recommendation — it wasn’t a recommendation, but that was something she said, you’ve got to be ready if you see your positivities kick up that you can maybe limit bar capacity.”

Tulsa Public Radio challenged spin on the crucial question of how schools and colleges can open this month, adding, “Birx’s task force has, in fact, told Oklahoma it should shut down bars statewide, calling it ‘critical to disrupt transmission.’”

As school was starting, about 50 school sites were dealing with COVID infections; the first week of partial reopening, the number rose to over 100. If – as public health experts predict – asymptomatic children spread the virus to their classmates, teachers and school staff, and their families, parents should ask why they were not warned when Oklahoma entered the “red zone” around July 14.

Similarly, administrators can ask how they could have prepared differently for reopenings if they had been told about the effect of “community spread” on schools. The week before classes were scheduled to open, two school systems had to delay in-person instruction. Who knows how many of those wrenching adjustments will occur in the first weeks of school?

If they had known the full story presented in eight studies, many districts could have prioritized preparation for virtual over in-person instruction. Had administrators been told of the August 2 task force recommendation for a statewide mask mandate, and recommendations as early as July 5 on bars and indoor dining, would they have given different advice to their school boards on reopening? Had they known when the task force recommended that red zone counties limit social gatherings to ten people, would they have thought differently about school sports?

Administrators were already behind in preparing for school because as late as June many researchers still doubted that young people would spread the virus as much as older persons. It wasn’t until late July that experts were fully aware of the super-spreading by young people. And I would add that decision-makers should have considered the New York Times database. It estimated that on July 31 an average Oklahoma County school with 1,000 students would begin the year with 11 students with the virus.

Also, on July 23, the State Board of Education voted 4 to 3 to adopt the protocols presented by State Superintendent Hofmeister as recommendations – not mandates. Had they known what would be revealed in the recent recommendations for Oklahoma, would they have voted differently in terms of making masks mandatory in schools? Had the SDE guidelines on providing only virtual learning been discussed in communities that were fully aware of the task force’s recommendations on limiting the size of social groups, would they have thought differently about closing schools in the counties with the highest infections?

State Impact and the Oklahoman now report that only six of the 136 districts in counties at Orange Level 2 or the higher are starting the year with distance learning. The SDE can only “beg” districts to take unpopular public health actions and only 1/3rd of them mandate masks for students and teachers.

So shouldn’t the Board take another vote? And while they’re at it, they could order districts to report COVID infections to the Health Department.

Moreover, education and urban leaders, as well as state policy-makers should study the new reports within the context of perhaps a bigger threat – the reopening of colleges. Cities have no control over universities’ policies, but especially in areas that attract large numbers of college students who have failed to follow social distancing rules, cities could follow federal guidelines on closing bars and in-person dining. And if state leaders took these public health regulations seriously, they could have taken action with the hugely dangerous Weedstock concert near Oklahoma State University.

This summer’s misstatements of fact by the Stitt administration were serious because they undermined preparations for a safe reopening of schools. During a time of “alt facts,” however, it isn’t surprising that many Oklahomans didn’t demand fact checking of the governor. The release of the full facts occurs at a time when students are placed at risk, and schools will likely struggle with infections. Now that the full task force findings are released, parents, educators, and policy makers may bring a more informed mindset to their guidelines.
More importantly, though, will we take a more morally responsible look at the politics of school reopenings? Will we come to grips with the way that America placed politics over the health and safety of our kids, and pledge to never do that again?

Nancy Bailey provides 91 examples of the confusion that surrounds returning or not returning to school during the pandemic. The complete lack of national leadership has contributed to the confusion. Her opening quote from Betsy DeVos, who said that the coronavirus is “a good thing” for the schools because it is forcing necessary changes; it’s a statement that ranks right up there with Arne Duncan’s ludicrous assertion that Hurricane Karina was the best thing to happen to the schools of New Orleans because it wiped out public schools and the teachers’ union and opened the way for mass privatization and Teach for America.

By the way, Nancy and I have never met, but we collaborated in writing a book called Edspeak and Doubletalk: A Guide to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling. I promise you will love it. We worked very hard to disentangle “reformer speak” from doubletalk. You can order it on Amazon for about $10. We both donated our royalties to the Network for Public Education, so you can not only have a delightful read but send a few pennies to a good cause.

The New York Daily News reported that the Trump administration has changed rules for spending federal funds on emergency spaces, which means that subways and public schools will no longer receive funds for cleaning during the pandemic.

Transit systems, schools and other public facilities in New York could soon become a whole lot dirtier because of a policy change enacted by the Trump administration that’ll strip millions of dollars in critical coronavirus aid for the state, the Daily News has learned.

It’s a gut-punch no one saw coming, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) railed Thursday.

Since the outset of the pandemic, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has helped New York and other states cover the costs of coronavirus-fighting efforts — from disinfecting schools and government buildings to stocking up on personal protective equipment for public employees.

But FEMA snuck in a rules change this week to say “the operation of schools and other public facilities” are no longer considered “emergency protective measures eligible for reimbursement,” declaring, “These are not immediate actions necessary to protect public health and safety.”

Presumably, this change will affect schools across the nation that rely on FEMA for extra cleaning.

In the South and Midwest and other parts of the nation, the coronavirus continues to spread. No one can be sure what will happen even in places where it has apparently subsided. Steven Singer warns that reckless reopening not only endangers students but tells them they are not valued.

The grownups say they need to keep the economy running, but are they risking the lives of children and teachers? When they make their decisions, are they doing it on a zoom call or in person?

He asks:

How would you feel when time-after-time the grown ups show you exactly how they feel about you, how little you actually matter, how much everything else is worth and how little they really care about you?

How would you feel if you were a little school kid getting ready for her first day of class this morning?

Would you feel safe, valued, loved?

Apoorva Mandavilli is an award-winning science reporter for the New York Times. She is a mother of two children. She lives in Brooklyn. In this article, she thinks through the pros and cons of sending her children back to school. To read the links, open the story. Yesterday, Mayor de Blasio and UFT leader Michael Mulgrew announced that the city’s public schools would open for blended learning on September 21. Orientation will begin September 16. Teachers will report to their buildings on September 8.


All summer, as information about how the coronavirus affects children has trickled in, I’ve been updating a balance sheet in my head. Every study I read, every expert I talked to, was filling in columns on this sheet: reasons for and against sending my children back to school come September.

Into the con column went a study from Chicago that found children carry large amounts of virus in their noses and throats, maybe even more than adults do. Also in the con column: two South Korean studies, flawed as they were, which suggested children can spread the virus to others — and made me wonder whether my sixth-grader, at least, should stay home.

Reports from Europe hinting that it was possible to reopen schools safely dribbled onto the pro side of my ledger. But could we match those countries’ careful precautions, or their low community levels of virus?

I live in Brooklyn, where schools open after Labor Day (if they open this year at all), so my husband and I have had more time than most parents in the nation to make up our minds. We’re also privileged enough to have computers and reliable Wi-Fi for my children to learn remotely.

But as other parents called and texted to ask what I was planning to do, I turned to the real experts: What do we know about the coronavirus and children? And what should parents like me do?

The virus is so new that there are no definitive answers as yet, the experts told me. Dozens of coronavirus studies emerge every day, “but it is not all good literature, and sorting out the wheat from the chaff is challenging,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an expert in adolescent health at Brown University.

But she and other experts were clear on one thing: Schools should only reopen if the level of virus circulating in the community is low — that is, if less than 5 percent of people tested have a positive result. By that measure, most school districts in the nation cannot reopen without problems.

“The No. 1 factor is what your local transmission is like,” said Helen Jenkins, an expert in infectious diseases and statistics at Boston University. “If you’re in a really hard-hit part of the country, it’s highly likely that somebody coming into the school will be infected at some point.”

On the questions of how often children become infected, how sick they get and how much they contribute to community spread, the answers were far more nuanced.

Fewer children than adults become infected. But childhood infection is not uncommon.

In the early days of the pandemic, there were so few reports of sick children that it was unclear whether they could be infected at all. Researchers guessed even then that younger children could probably catch the coronavirus, but were mostly spared severe symptoms.

That conjecture has proved correct. “There is very clear evidence at this point that kids can get infected,” Dr. Ranney said.

As the pandemic unfolded, it also appeared that younger children were less likely — perhaps only half as likely — to become infected, compared with adults, whereas older children had about the same risk as adults.

But it’s impossible to be sure. In most countries hit hard by the coronavirus, lockdowns and school shutdowns kept young children cloistered at home and away from sources of infection. And when most of those countries opened up, they did so with careful adherence to masks and physical distancing.

Children may turn out to be less at risk of becoming infected, “but not meaningfully different enough that I would take solace in it or use it for decision making,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

In the United States, children under age 19 still represent just over 9 percent of all coronavirus cases. But the number of children infected rose sharply this summer to nearly half a million, and the incidence among children has risen much faster than it had been earlier this year.

“And those are just the kids that have been tested,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a former health commissioner of Baltimore. “It’s quite possible that we’re missing many cases of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic children.”

In the two-week period between Aug. 6 and Aug. 20, for example, the number of children diagnosed in the United States jumped by 74,160, a 21 percent increase.

“Now that we’re doing more community testing, we’re seeing higher proportions of children who are infected,” Dr. Ranney said. “I think that our scientific knowledge on this is going to continue to shift.”

Children do become sick with the virus, but deaths are very rare.

Even with the rising number of infections, the possibility that panics parents the most — that their children could become seriously ill or even die from the virus — is still reassuringly slim.

Children and adolescents up to age 20 (definitions and statistics vary by state) represent less than 0.3 percent of deaths related to the coronavirus, and 21 states have reported no deaths at all among children.

“That remains the silver lining of this pandemic,” Dr. Jha said.

But reports in adults increasingly suggest that death is not the only severe outcome. Many adults seem to have debilitating symptoms for weeks or months after they first fall ill.

“What percentage of kids who are infected have those long-term consequences that we’re increasingly worried about with adults?” Dr. Ranney wondered.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a mysterious condition that has been linked to the coronavirus, has also been reported in about 700 children and has caused 11 deaths as of Aug. 20. “That’s a very small percentage of children,” Dr. Ranney said. “But growing numbers of kids are getting hospitalized, period.”

Children can spread the virus to others. How often is still unknown.

Transmission has been the most challenging aspect of the coronavirus to discern in children, made even more difficult by the lockdowns that kept them at home.

Because most children are asymptomatic, for example, household surveys and studies that test people with symptoms often miss children who might have seeded infections. And when schools are closed, young children don’t venture out; they tend to catch the virus from adults, rather than the other way around.

To confirm the direction of spread, scientists ideally would genetically sequence viral samples obtained from children to understand where and when they were infected, and whether they passed it on.

New York City has delayed the opening of schools by 10 days to give teachers and principals more time to prepare and to avert a possible teachers’ strike.

Under pressure from schools and advocates, the federal government has agreed to make it easier for schools to feed poor children.

“I keep saying to people, ‘It’s so hard to study transmission — it’s just really, really hard,’” Dr. Jenkins said.

Still, based on studies so far, “I think it still appears that the younger children might be less likely to transmit than older ones, and older ones are probably more similar to adults in that regard,” she said.

Sadly, the high numbers of infected children in the United States may actually provide some real data on this question as schools reopen.

So what’s a parent to do?

That’s a tough one to answer, as parents everywhere now know. So much depends on the particular circumstances of your school district, your immediate community, your family and your child.

“I think it’s a really complex decision, and we need to do everything we can as a society to enable parents to make this type of decision,” Dr. Wen said.

There are some precautions everyone can take — beginning with doing as much outdoors as possible, maintaining physical distance and wearing masks.

“I will not send my children to school or to an indoor activity where the children are not all masked,” Dr. Ranney said.

Even if there is uncertainty about how often children become infected or spread the virus, “when you consider the risk versus benefit, the balance lies in assuming that kids can both get infected and can spread it,” Dr. Ranney said.

For schools, the decision will also come down to having good ventilation — even if that’s just windows that open — small pods that can limit how widely the virus might spread from an infected child, and frequent testing to cut transmission chains.

Teachers and school nurses will also need protective equipment, Dr. Jenkins said: “Good P.P.E. makes all the difference, and school districts must provide that for the teachers at an absolute minimum.”

As long as these right precautions are in place, “it’s better for kids to be in school than outside of school,” Dr. Jha said. “Teachers are reasonably safe in those environments, as well.”

But community transmission is the most important factor in deciding whether children should go back to school, researchers agreed. “We just can’t keep a school free from the coronavirus if the community is a hotbed of infection,” Dr. Wen said.

One of Trump’s newest and most influential advisors on COVID has urged Trump to emulate the Swedish model, keeping the economy open while waiting for the population to develop “herd immunity.” The advisor, Dr. Scott Atlas, denies that these are his views, but his advice mirrors them. Trump has said repeatedly that the pandemic will magically “disappear,” which might happen at some point. But how many lives will be needlessly lost while waiting for that magic moment? The United States has 4% of the world’s population, and nearly one-quarter of the world’s infections. Trump’s laissez-faire approach to the pandemic has not slowed its spread. There is a human cost to putting the economy over health and safety.

One of President Trump’s top medical advisers is urging the White House to embrace a controversial “herd immunity” strategy to combat the pandemic, which would entail allowing the coronavirus to spread through most of the population to quickly build resistance to the virus, while taking steps to protect those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations, according to five people familiar with the discussions.

The administration has already begun to implement some policies along these lines, according to current and former officials as well as experts, particularly with regard to testing.

The approach’s chief proponent is Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist from Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, who joined the White House earlier this month as a pandemic adviser. He has advocated that the United States adopt the model Sweden has used to respond to the virus outbreak, according to these officials, which relies on lifting restrictions so the healthy can build up immunity to the disease rather than limiting social and business interactions to prevent the virus from spreading.

Sweden’s handling of the pandemic has been heavily criticized by public health officials and infectious-disease experts as reckless — the country has among the highest infection and death rates in the world. It also hasn’t escaped the deep economic problems resulting from the pandemic.

But Sweden’s approach has gained support among some conservatives who argue that social distancing restrictions are crushing the economy and infringing on people’s liberties.

How does immunity against coronavirus work? New research shows how antibodies can block infection.
That this approach is even being discussed inside the White House is drawing concern from experts inside and outside the government who note that a herd immunity strategy could lead to the country suffering hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lost lives.

“The administration faces some pretty serious hurdles in making this argument. One is a lot of people will die, even if you can protect people in nursing homes,” said Paul Romer, a professor at New York University who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2018. “Once it’s out in the community, we’ve seen over and over again, it ends up spreading everywhere.”

Atlas, who does not have a background in infectious diseases or epidemiology, has expanded his influence inside the White House by advocating policies that appeal to Trump’s desire to move past the pandemic and get the economy going, distressing health officials on the White House coronavirus task force and throughout the administration who worry that their advice is being followed less and less.

Atlas declined several interview requests in recent days. After the publication of this story, he released a statement through the White House: “There is no policy of the President or this administration of achieving herd immunity. There never has been any such policy recommended to the President or to anyone else from me.”

White House communications director Alyssa Farah said there is no change in the White House’s approach toward combatting the pandemic.

“President Trump is fully focused on defeating the virus through therapeutics and ultimately a vaccine. There is no discussion about changing our strategy,” she said in a statement. “We have initiated an unprecedented effort under Operation Warp Speed to safely bring a vaccine to market in record time — ending this virus through medicine is our top focus.”

White House officials said Trump has asked questions about herd immunity but has not formally embraced the strategy. The president, however, has made public comments that advocate a similar approach.

“We are aggressively sheltering those at highest risk, especially the elderly, while allowing lower-risk Americans to safely return to work and to school, and we want to see so many of those great states be open,” he said during his address to the Republican National Convention Thursday night. “We want them to be open. They have to be open. They have to get back to work.”

Atlas has fashioned himself as the “anti-Dr. Fauci,” one senior administration official said, referring to Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease official, who has repeatedly been at odds with the president over his public comments about the threat posed by the virus. He has clashed with Fauci as well as Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, over the administration’s pandemic response.

Atlas has argued both internally and in public that an increased case count will move the nation more quickly to herd immunity and won’t lead to more deaths if the vulnerable are protected. But infectious-disease experts strongly dispute that, noting that more than 25,000 people younger than 65 have died of the virus in the United States. In addition, the United States has a higher number of vulnerable people of all ages because of high rates of heart and lung disease and obesity, and millions of vulnerable people live outside nursing homes — many in the same households with children, whom Atlas believes should return to school.

The most important concern about reopening schools is the health and safety of students and staff. The Trump administration has adamantly refused to provide funding to states and cities to enable them to make schools as safe as they should be.

As a result, Newsweek reports, significant numbers of teachers are quitting. This is a blow to students and schools across the nation.

It was hard to recruit teachers before the pandemic. How will these teachers be replaced?

Veteran K-12 teachers in states across the U.S. are resigning and retiring at higher rates as schools begin reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic this fall, with educators citing the stress tied to remote learning, technical difficulties and COVID-19 health concerns.

Several teachers who recently resigned, retired or opted out of their jobs ahead of pandemic reopening efforts say leaving their kids has been hard, but remote learning has made their jobs too difficult. One Florida teacher said she became paranoid due to the constant requirement of being live-streamed to dozens of students throughout all hours of the day. And an Arizona high school science teacher said he resigned from a job he loves after his district voted to return students to in-person classroom learning—creating a health risk he and many other teachers say they aren’t willing to take.

In New York State, teacher retirements are up 20 percent from 2019, according to data from the New York State Teacher Retirement System. About 650 teachers filed for retirement between July and early August alone.

A number of K-12 teachers said much of the joy they received from personal interaction with students has been undermined or eliminated altogether by teaching through a computer screen rather than a classroom.

“I had to consider the health of my family. I am a science teacher. We gather evidence and we make decisions. If there is competing data, we look at both and weigh them,” Kevin Fairhurst, who resigned from his teaching position at Arizona’s Queen Creek Unified School District on August 13, told Healthline. “The data from the experts in our health field suggested we should not yet be teaching in person because of the potential for this to cause more outbreaks.”

Fairhurst is among nine of 17 science teachers at two of the district’s high schools who have quit in the past few months. Students and teachers at school districts around the country receive daily temperature checks and are required to wear masks—even on recess playgrounds—as administrators are aiming to eliminate the chance of spreading COVID-19.

This story by Stephen Castle appeared in the New York Times:

LONDON — When pupils return to Southend High School For Boys next week, the cafeteria will serve takeout food only and lunch will be eaten outside. Lessons will stretch to two-and-a-half hours to reduce the need to switch classrooms. And new equipment has been bought to spray the sports changing rooms with disinfectant.

“By and large, we are pretty ready to roll,” said Robin Bevan, the school’s head teacher, or principal, as he prepared to welcome 1,300 young people to a building about 40 miles east of London, constructed around a century ago without social distancing in mind.

But there is only so much anyone can do.

“The question, ‘Will schools be safe?’ is a slightly crazy question because nothing in life is safe,” said Mr. Bevan. “The real question is, ‘How far have you reduced the risk?’”

Britain is at a critical moment in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic as millions of pupils return to the classrooms, many for the first time since March, when the country went into lockdown.

The resumption of schooling will be crucial for young people who have fallen behind in their studies, and the government hopes it will spur economic recovery by allowing parents to return to work in deserted town and city centers.

But the move also risks a new spike in infections, as young people and teachers mix together. And overseeing the process is an existential political test for the embattled education secretary, Gavin Williamson, who presided over the chaotic awarding of examination results this summer.

“It’s a very, very, difficult situation where you are genuinely trying to balance the needs of a younger generation with the health needs of society,” said Becky Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, a research institute.

Few deny that children need to be back in school and that those from poorer backgrounds with inadequate internet access or none at all have suffered the most, deepening the country’s socio-economic divide. Policymakers worry about the psychological impact on children of the lockdown and, in some cases, their increased exposure to domestic abuse.

“There is a great deal of good will from schools, the majority of parents and most kids, keen to get back” Ms. Francis said, adding that, without a return, there is a risk of “seeing a generation of children blighted by the knock-on effects of Covid.”

Even during the lockdown schools remained open to children of essential workers and those deemed vulnerable. But not too many parents took advantage of it, and a government plan to get all younger pupils in England back before the summer break fell apart.

This time, there is cautious optimism that, despite nervousness among some parents, most children will attend, as they have done in Scotland, where schools reopened earlier in the month.

But the relationship between the government and teachers is fraught. In June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson attacked “left-wing” trade unions, accusing them of obstructing a return to the classroom.

For their part, teachers’ leaders accuse the government of serial incompetence. Repeatedly, they say, they have pointed out practical concerns, been brushed aside, then proved right.

Studies suggest that children are less susceptible to Covid-19 than adults. But there is a bigger risk to teachers and to the families of pupils who may unwittingly carry the virus, particularly people with existing medical conditions.

At Mr. Bevan’s school, pupils will sit facing forward, with groups of students kept together in “bubbles” and staggered start and finishing times for lessons. But in schools for younger children or those with special needs, that is not practical. So head teachers have had to do their best.

“At a time when the government has been dithering, what local school leaders have done is work out a pragmatic solution in their setting,” Mr. Bevan said.

It is a message echoed by Jules White, organizer of a campaign for more resources for schools and called WorthLess?

“Schools are well prepared, we do know how to follow guidance, but there are a lot of factors. If you have 30 children in a classroom, the idea that you can always have two-meter distancing — well, that isn’t going to happen,” said Mr. White, who is head teacher of Tanbridge House School in West Sussex, in the south of England.

“You can mitigate risk by having desks forward facing, having separate equipment,” Mr. White added. “The job of teachers and head teachers is to make people feel safe.”

At his school, two cleaners will work during the school day, rather than after it, to improve hygiene around the clock. Hand sanitizer has been bought at a cost of £3,500, about $4,500, and drama, sports and other extracurricular activities have been put on hold.

But Covid-19, he added, is “a multi-headed monster,” he said. “You hit one thing and another comes up.”

Congress passed the CARES Act and included over $13 billion to public schools. DeVos issued a rule requiring that public schools share that money with private schools. Meanwhile, another $660 BILLION in the CARES Act was allotted to the Paycheck Protection Plan to protect small businesses and nonprofit organizations from going bankrupt; public schools were not allowed to apply for PPP, but charter schools and private schools were and did.

Public schools sued to prevent DeVos from compelling them to share their money with private schools (which already enjoyed the bounty of PPP).

Her rule has now been knocked out by two different federal judges. Jan Resseger writes here about the efforts to demand fair play for public schools, which enroll 85-90% of the nation’s students.

While the Republican Party announced the themes of the Republican Convention—“Monday is ‘Land of Promise,’ Tuesday is ‘Land of Opportunity,’ Wednesday is ‘Land of Heroes’ and Thursday is ‘Land of Greatness.'”—the Convention instead dramatized a very old theme: the difference between appearance and reality. Producers, including people from The Apprentice, put together a spectacular show draped in flags. Their purpose: to distract, distort, and dissemble.

The Convention hardly touched on education policy. But last night in his acceptance speech, the President claimed he will “expand charter schools and provide school choice for every family in America.” Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Tim Scott, (R-SC) also extolled school choice as the future of education, even as, ironically, President Trump himself and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are demanding that the nation’s 90,000 public schools reopen as the only path to getting America’s parents back to work. Trump and DeVos certainly haven’t been counting on their favorite patchwork of charter schools and private schools to accomplish their systemic goal. The convention’s primary education speaker, Rebecca Friedrichs, the lead plaintiff in an anti-teachers union case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, not surprisingly, attacked teachers unions. Although she claimed that the unions “are subverting our republic, so they undermine educational excellence, morality, law and order,” you will remember that instead a wave of #Red4Ed strikes during 2018-2019 pushed states like West Virginia and Oklahoma to increase school funding at least a little bit and forced Los Angeles, Oakland, and Chicago to address unreasonable conditions including class sizes of 40 students and a dearth of school counselors in public schools serving concentrations of our nation’s poorest students.

While the Republicans held their convention, Betsy DeVos herself wasn’t having such a good week. She was left off the Convention agenda, and on Tuesday, the Savannah Morning News reported that she visited a reopened public school in Forsyth County, Georgia, where she made a speech: “I think it’s been good that schools are committed to reopening… I know there have been a couple of schools that have had more incidences of students with the virus. The CDC has been very helpful in providing a lot of information and recommendations for how to go about going back to school., and we highly suggest referencing them.” The newspaper countered DeVos’s comment with an analysis by Georgia State University public health professor, Dr. Harry J. Heiman: “According to the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, we are the second worst state in the country for coronavirus transmission… To suggest that not having a mask mandate is a responsible approach, especially for older students, reflects Secretary DeVos’ lack of understanding about both CDC guidelines and the measures necessary to ensure the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff.”

And on Monday, a Florida judge blocked a requirement announced on July 6 by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that public schools reopen five days a week for any families who do not opt for virtual learning. The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reports that Corcoran threatened any districts refusing to reopen with a loss of state funding. Trump and DeVos’s pressure on governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, has in this case created confusion just as schools are trying to manage the complexities of educating children in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic. Strauss quotes Orange County school board member Karen Castor Dentel: “We were under threat of losing our funding and forced to develop models that are illogical and not based on what’s best for kids. But we had to go forward…. I wish the ruling came sooner. Not just that our kids are back in school but in the whole planning stages. We were planning another model that was developmentally and educationally sound and we had to scrap that.” And to add more confusion: DeSantis says he intends to appeal the judge’s ruling.

But the most important public education news is that the second judge this week has now blocked Betsy DeVos’s binding guidance that drove school districts to set aside more than expected federal CARES Act dollars for private schools.

Politico’s Michael Stratford reports: “A federal judge in California on Wednesday halted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ effort to boost emergency coronavirus relief for private school students. The court ruling blocks DeVos from implementing or enforcing her rule in at least eight states and some of the nation’s largest public school districts. The secretary’s policy requires public school districts to send a greater share of their CARES Act… pandemic assistance funding to private school students than is typically required under federal law. U.S. District Judge James Donato’s order prevents DeVos from carrying out her policy in a large swath of the country: Michigan, California, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia as well as for public school districts in New York City, Chicago, Cleveland and San Francisco.”

Just last Friday, another federal judge in Washington state, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara J. Rothstein, issued a similar preliminary injunction blocking Betsy DeVos’s binding guidance that federal CARES Act dollars be diverted from the public schools serving poor children to cover the educational needs of students in private schools regardless of the private school students’ family income.

In the statutory language of the CARES Act, Congress directed that CARES Act public education relief be distributed in accordance with the method of the Title I Formula, which awards federal funds to supplement educational programming in public school districts serving concentrations of low-income children. Public school districts receiving Title I dollars are also expected to provide Title I services to impoverished students attending the private schools located within their district boundaries. In the binding guidance she imposed in July, DeVos demanded that per-pupil CARES Act relief for private schools be based on each private school’s full enrollment, not merely on the number of the private school students who qualify for additional services because their families are living below 185 percent of the federal poverty line.

Education Week‘s Andrew Ujifusa elaborates on the meaning of Betsy DeVos’s binding rule, whose enforcement two federal district court judges have now blocked: “The Education Department’s interim final rule, publicized in June and formally issued in July, pushes school districts to reserve money under the CARES Act, the federal coronavirus stimulus plan, for services to all local private school students, irrespective of their backgrounds. That represents a major departure from how education law typically governs that arrangement, in which federal money for what’s known as ‘equitable services’ goes to disadvantaged, at-risk private school students.”

Stratford explores what this week’s court rulings will mean: “The pair of rulings amounts to a major setback for DeVos as she seeks to oversee the roughly $16 billion pot of emergency assistance Congress laid out for K-12 schools in the CARES Act in March… The Trump administration argues that it has the authority to create policy dictating public distribution of the funding to private school students because the CARES Act is ambiguous on that point. But the two judges disagree… Donato ruled that DeVos’ policy is likely to be struck down because she lacks the legal authority to impose her own conditions on coronavirus relief funding for K-12 schools. The judge said Congress’ intent ‘is plain as day’ for how CARES Act funding should be distributed to schools. The judge also said the coronavirus relief law ‘unambiguously’ instructs the funding to be distributed to private school students in the typical manner under federal law based on the number of low-income students.”

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and a retired high school principal and a grandmother, argues in this article that public schools in New York City should reopen. She speaks for herself, not for the Network for Public Education. NPE issued a statement calling for additional federal funds to enable the safe reopening of schools. NPE put the emphasis on the necessity to protect the health and safety of students and staff before reopening. Just for the record, I personally am super-cautious about when it is safe to reopen (I don’t know), but my son who has a second grade child in public school is eager for schools to reopen. These are important discussions. There is no clear answer because none of us knows what might happen in a few weeks or months. Take it as a given that we share the same goals: the safe reopening of schools and a return to in-person learning. The only points of difference–and they are important– is when to reopen and how to determine whether the schools are safe for students and adults alike.

Carol argues that it is time for schools in New York City, which has a very low positivity rate, to reopen.

She writes:

No one knows with certainty whether New York City public schools can successfully remain open this fall. Some believe a second wave of the virus will overwhelm us, and others believe, for the five boroughs at least, the worst is past.

What is not an unsettled question, however, is the harm to New York’s children if they continue to learn exclusively online. The evidence of remote learning’s ineffectiveness is well established. For years, researchers have studied remote education via online charter schools, and from that research, we know what to expect.

The most comprehensive study of K-12 online schools was the 2015 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University (CREDO). That study concluded that students at full-time online charter schools fell far behind similar students in district public schools or traditional charter schools, equivalent to receiving 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days in reading.

Macke Raymond, CREDO director, said that the gains in math were so small, it was “literally as though the student did not go to school for the entire year.”

A 2019 study of Pennsylvania online schools confirmed those results. It found that when compared with public school peers who were learning in person, online students lost “the annual equivalent of 106 days of learning in reading and 118 days in math.”

When it comes to graduating high school students in four years, online learning has terrible results. Half of all online high schools’ graduation rates are below 50%. These failing schools enrolled three in four online students.

Keep in mind, the above results are from a sector with considerable experience in remote learning and a student body whose families actively sought it.
For our youngest students, online learning is especially problematic. It goes against all of the research regarding how young children learn. Experts also warn us of the dangers of electronic screen time to the development of memory, language and thinking skills, in addition to its association with vision disorders and obesity.
Finally, we must consider our experience with remote learning since COVID to date. When I was a teacher, we had an expression, “You can’t teach an empty seat.” That holds true even when the seat is on the other side of a screen. As of May 27, The Boston Globe reported that 20% of all Boston students were “virtual dropouts,” not logging in since the beginning of that month. More than one month into the pandemic, thousands of California students could not be accounted for, and this summer, in New York City, 23% of students never logged on to summer school at all.

Since we closed our school doors, children have not slipped through cracks, they have fallen into canyons.

This is not to argue that we must open schools now across the United States as if the pandemic does not exist. Rather, it is to make the case that in those few states and cities like New York, where the virus is remarkably low, we have a moral obligation to children and our nation to try.

Will it take courage, faith and discipline? It will. Will students who refuse to follow safety rules need to learn from home? Sadly, yes. Should teachers and children with underlying conditions have a remote option? Of course. Openings will not be perfect, and schools may have to close from time to time. But if we throw up objection after complaint as we “get ready to get ready to get ready,” we undermine the trust of parents and fuel the fears of parents and teachers alike.

Even as we did during COVID’s darkest days, New York City can provide the leadership to other major cities, giving evidence of what to do when re-opening their schools as their rates of virus decline.
What we cannot do is try to wait COVID out. Childhood is short, and every year is precious. No politician, pundit or leader can put it on pause.