Archives for category: Safety

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.

The Florida Education Association was disappointed in latest court decision:

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Education Association (FEA) was disappointed today that the First District Court of Appeal reinstated a stay on the temporary injunction against Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s emergency order. We look forward to continuing to press our case in court for the sake of students, educators and local communities.

“We are going to keep fighting because lives are at stake,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. “This is not about closing schools or opening schools. This is about allowing local districts to do what is best to protect local families. Who rightfully gets to make these decisions regarding safety? Is that state officials in the Capitol bubble, or people in our communities? That power should stay with the districts, where it belongs. Educators and parents don’t need directives. They need good solutions for educating kids during a pandemic.”

In removing the automatic stay on the temporary injunction, Judge Charles Dodson of the Second Judicial Circuit wrote: “The statewide reopening of school during the month of August 2020, without local school boards being permitted the opportunity to determine whether it is safe to do so, places people in harm’s way.” The judge warned that, under Commissioner Corcoran’s emergency order, students, teachers and communities could suffer “potential irreparable injury.”

Especially since the stay has been reinstated, it is in the best interest of our state that this case be decided as quickly as possible. The Florida Education Association would urge the First District Court of Appeal to take Judge Dodson’s words to heart, and to rule in favor of our students, educators and communities, and against Commissioner Corcoran’s unconstitutional emergency order.

As FEA asserts in Florida Education Association et al v. Ron DeSantis, as Governor of the State of Florida et al, emergency order 2020-EO-06 is counter to Florida’s Constitution, which mandates that Floridians have a right to “safe” and “secure” public schools.

Local districts should hold power in making local decisions that can be life or death. They also should have the best possible information in making those decisions, including accurate, up-to-date data on coronavirus infections and exposures in their schools.

Their ability to get that data appears increasingly doubtful. Duval County Public Schools recently was ordered to stop publishing information about Covid-19 exposures and cases in schools. And after inadvertently publishing statewide data on Covid cases in schools last weekend, the state health department pulled back the report, saying it was in draft form. The data will be available in the “coming days and weeks,” the department said.

Earlier, as school districts began to contemplate plans for fall, county health departments were reportedly under orders to restrain what they told districts in relation to the pandemic, and to provide information but not recommendations on opening or closing campuses.

Now many districts are open and struggling to contain the coronavirus. New Covid-19 cases in schools are reported nearly every day in counties throughout the state.

Lucas Smolcic Larson writes in the Island Packet about the views of teachers concerning the return to school.

The S.C. McClatchy newspapers asked educators if they felt ready to return to school during the coronavirus pandemic. Over 250 teachers, librarians, coaches and other educators from every corner of the state responded to the survey. The vast majority work at public schools, with about two-thirds reporting they will be required to teach students face-to-face starting this month or next.”

The teachers quoted are anonymous, for obvious reasons. Most are worried. Some are fearful.

Here are a few of the responses:

Lowcountry, more than 10 years. Everyone is confused, overwhelmed and plans are changing daily. Bottom line, I do not feel safe or valued.

Upstate, more than 10 years. My husband and I are both teachers. We have three young children. We updated our will last week. The stress and anxiety we are all feeling is affecting my entire family.

Midlands, 5-10 years. I expect to be exposed and possibly contract COVID. I am attempting to prepare my home and family if this occurs, and I have to quarantine … We have to look to our medical professionals as to how to handle this situation … They could not opt out of not going to work and neither can the educational professionals. Now is the time for us to step up, mask up and do our part to help our children.

Lowcountry, more than 10 years. It’s not a question of if there’s (going to be) an outbreak at school but WHEN. I feel like a pawn for the politicians and administrators. We teach so as to empower students in our classrooms, yet here we are totally dis-empowered as teachers. These cracks were evident before COVID-19, but the pandemic has widened them into canyons.

John Thompson is a historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma.

He writes:

The McAlester Public Schools are in the Oklahoma county where COVID is now #1 in the state in per capita COVID infections. A week before the scheduled opening, McAlester reports five positives linked to football. But its schools will still provide in-person instruction.

This is just one of 50 schools with infections on the eve of their reopening in a state which had had a low infection rate, but that is now in the “Red Zone,” with more than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. We must finally ask why responsible leaders, such as the mayors of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, are so unwilling to challenge Trumpian true-believers who undermined science-based public health actions, even as a crisis is clearly unfolding.

https://oklahoman.com/article/5669649/mcalester-schools-to-reopen-amid-state-high-covid-19-rate?utm_source=SFMC&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The%20Oklahoman%20breaking-news%202020-08-2021:37:08&utm_content=GTDT_OKC&utm_term=082020

https://www.kosu.org/post/here-are-oklahoma-school-districts-where-covid-19-cases-have-been-discovered-school-began

A week ago, I hoped to communicate with some of the adults in the room – who I know understand that a second burst of COVID is virtually inevitable. So, I started with a joke, borrowing from the late political Oklahoma humorist, James Boren, who used to say, “When in doubt mumble.”

Trying to persuade, I noted that medical experts and responsible political leaders must always wrestle with doubts. And when their audiences are President Donald Trump and Gov. Kevin Stitt, the ability to mumble something in order to not sound disagreeable becomes an essential skill.

For example, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, made a “highly touted stop” in Tulsa on August 16th, but it was a private meeting. Public health experts were almost as unrepresented as the press and Democratic officeholders; Dr. Bruce Dart, the director of the Tulsa Health Department, wasn’t invited. Dr. Birx only took five or six questions but at least she warned that Oklahoma may be “a month behind seeing asymptomatic spread happening in other southern states.”

“Asymptomatic spread,” thy name could be classrooms of children returning to public schools and dorms and bars full of returning college students. And what is happening in other southern states (like Texas, Georgia, and Florida) is frightening – perhaps too tragic to say out loud.

Birx didn’t answer press questions as she left. Since she met privately for 45 minutes with Gov. Stitt, there was little opportunity to cross examine his claim, “Overall it went really good, and she’s pleased with Oklahoma and what we’ve done so far.” Oklahomans were told little about her warning about asymptomatic spread beyond Stitt’s characterization of her words, “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.”

One of the few media outlets, Tulsa Public Radio, which challenged spin on the crucial question of how schools and colleges can open this month, drew upon a previous study and added, “Birx’s task force has, in fact, told Oklahoma it should shut down bars statewide, calling it ‘critical to disrupt transmission.’”

https://okcfox.com/news/local/hofmeister-talks-school-safety-after-meeting-with-top-coronavirus-adviser

https://www.publicradiotulsa.org/post/public-press-tulsa-health-director-shut-out-during-visit-white-house-coronavirus-doctor

But now that The Center for Public Integrity has published the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force secret report, we know the truth. We are learning what our leaders know and when did they know it. Now that these facts are no longer need to be mumbled, we must look in the mirror and ask tough questions about ourselves and the leaders, including those we have trusted. Before summarizing the report’s key points, more context could be helpful.

https://publicintegrity.org/health/coronavirus-and-inequality/exclusive-white-house-document-shows-18-states-in-coronavirus-red-zone-covid-19/

Oklahoma’s press has always had reasons to be reluctant to challenge the power structure, so it was no surprise that it was an editorial columnist, as opposed to an investigative reporter, who explicitly revealed a part of the story that intimidates reporters and politicians. The Tulsa World’s Ginnie Graham reminded us, “Dr. George Monks stepped into the role of president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, requiring him speak truth to the powerful and dubious.”

Gov. Stitt had said that “Oklahoma had ‘plenty of runway’ to respond to virus surges.” But Dr. Monk said “a COVID-19 patient waited a day for the “one and only” hospital bed in Tulsa: “We are at the end of the runway.”

Graham reminded us, “some doctors once promoted smoking as healthy and the anti-vaccine movement finds physicians to back their position.” But Monks says, “We should always tell the truth, even if it hurts.”

https://tulsaworld.com/opinion/columnists/ginnie-graham-tulsa-dermatologist-latest-doctor-finding-himself-at-the-intersection-of-medicine-and-politics/article_93e3e726-b9eb-5f5a-aa8f-32810f094ad1.html#utm_source=tulsaworld.com&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletter-templates%2Ftopic%2Fpopup%2F&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headline

As time runs out for reducing the size of the imminent crisis, The Frontier, a nonprofit media corporation, reported that former interim state epidemiologist, Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, said that local mask mandates are likely contributing to the current downward trend of new infections. But a reopening of in-person schools and extracurricular activities such as sports will likely increase transmissions. Similarly, Dr. Dale Bratzler, who leads the University of Oklahoma’s coronavirus response, said that they will make outbreaks “almost inevitable.” Bratzler advised, “I think we need to watch very, very carefully what happens in the state because we may need to rethink some of these policies on reopening if we see some of these outbreaks occur.”

Mask mandates appear to be helping Oklahoma control its coronavirus outbreak

Those careful words can’t be dismissed as mumbling, but neither were they headline grabbers. To understand their relative lack of influence, the public must read the Oklahoma Watch account of how Dr. Wendelboe was the second of three state epidemiologists since this March. It cited his predecessor, Dr. Kristy Bradley, who explained, “we had been practicing and developing and fine-tuning that public health playbook in Oklahoma for years and years.” But the governor’s new team “just sort of kept it on the shelf and didn’t dust it off.”

Bradley and Wendelboe had extensive experience with epidemics ranging from Zika to Ebola. But Wendelboe said “his role was to give epidemiological advice, but with the knowledge that leaders have other considerations like the economy or disruptions to daily life to also take into account.” Oklahoma Watch (also a nonprofit) explains:

“There’s many decisions that are being made from different angles,” he said. “I think it’s hard for a state epidemiologist to sometimes know how to navigate some of the factors that are outside the straight epidemiological training. I’ve tried to be really respectful when people don’t take my advice. I understand that there’s other things that I’m not privy to.”

As Pandemic Widens, Oklahoma Diminishes State Epidemiologist Role – Oklahoma Watch

In contrast to fact-based analyses in The Frontier, State Impact (an NPR collaborative), and Oklahoma Watch, the Oklahoman published “Keeping Schools Closed Will Do More Harm Than Good,” an editorial by the Heartland Institute’s Chris Talgo. Since the Oklahoman has a paywall, the best way to understand his argument is to follow the link to Inside Sources, “Keeping Schools Closed Will Do More Harm Than Good.” Talgo says that there are multiple reasons to reopen schools, but:

“They might not because teachers unions and politicians oppose it for their own self-interest. Teachers unions throughout the nation are making outrageous demands before they return to their jobs. This includes defunding the police, “Medicare for All,” huge salary increases and several other requirements that have little to do with improving the educational environment.”

Shockingly, several teachers unions have announced they will not return to work unless and until “a moratorium on private school” is implemented.

In fairness, the Oklahoman also published an editorial opposing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempt to grant schools, businesses and healthcare providers immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits. And within a week, the Oklahoman quoted Dr. David Kendrick of the OU School of Medicine about the “new phase” we are entering, “We had four months now without the impact of primary, secondary and university education on the possibility of transmission. … As schools are opening, we are going to have to give that a big, hard look.”

Counterpoint: Ditching Accountability for Schools Should Get Failing Grade

https://oklahoman.com/article/5669643/coronavirus-in-oklahoma-as-state-passes-50000-infections-and-700-deaths-experts-warn-of-possible-future-spikes?no_cache=1&utm_source=SFMC&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The%20Oklahoman%20breaking-news%202020-08-2020:15:18&utm_content=GTDT_OKC&utm_term=082020

So, I will still mumble support for experts who try to be as candid as allowed when advising politicians. But we now know what the Coronavirus Task Force was actually recommending when Dr. Birx was visiting on August 16. The high points, which are the opposite of what the governor claims, include:

Mask mandate needs to be implemented statewide to decrease community transmission.
Bars must be closed, and indoor dining must be restricted in yellow and red zone counties and metro areas.
In red zones, limit the size of social gatherings to 10 or fewer people; in yellow zones, limit social gatherings to 25 or fewer people.

And that brings us back to the issue of government leaders who would like to do the right thing, but they don’t dare articulate what they know is likely true. Ideology-driven officials demanded that we place the short-term benefit of bars and other businesses over our students, making it impossible to safely reopen schools. Many compliant public schools and colleges are leading us to a tragedy.

The premature reopening imposed on communities quickly drove our state’s seven-day average of daily infections from 69 on June 1 to 1,089 on August 1. Since then, our previously effective leaders have gone along with sound bites about a downward curve, ignoring the experts’ warnings about what would happen as schools reopened.

As I wrote this, yesterday’s infections were announced – 1,077.

Then, it was also revealed that Mayor Bynum just learned from Birx that “eight White House reports had been issued. He said he was only aware of one that had been previously leaked to the media.” Stitt then agreed that “he will ask that the White House reports be made publicly available to everyone.”

If the full truth about reopening schools – which should have been revealed more than two months earlier – is released as students are going back to in-person classes, and infections are spread, parents should demand more than mumbling from the governor.

https://coronavirus.health.ok.gov/

Stitt bows to pressure to release White House reports on coronavirus

Mercedes Schneider is preparing for the opening of her high school in Louisiana. Teaching during a global pandemic is a twilight zone, where everyone is groping to do the right thing.

She is aware of the difficulty of planning when there is so much uncertainty. Yet that’s what educators do: they plan.

She’s aware of the contradictions that will make every day challlenging.

The one constant that she pledges to hold on to iscrelationships. With students. With colleagues. The days ahead will be hard on everyone. Be kind.