Should Schools Reopen for In-Person Learning?
Should schools reopen for in-person learning?
by Causes | 3.2.21
What’s the story?
- The debate over reopening schools for in-person learning amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is intensifying in the school districts across the country where students are still unable to attend classes in-person.
- Students’ long-term absence from the classroom, extracurricular activities, and the social environment an in-person school provides has sparked fears about the consequences in terms of learning loss and diminished mental health. Additionally, many families have struggled to accommodate their childrens’ remote learning while continuing to work.
- State and local educational agencies have reported that tens of thousands of students have dropped off the grid, with a recent study indicating that roughly 3 million educationally marginalized students have been missing from school since March 2020.
- There has been a surge in youth mental health crises amid the pandemic, with a recent study showing that medical claims for intentional self-harm among children age 13-18 increased 99.8% as a proportion of all medical claims in April 2020 compared to April 2019, while overdoses among that age group increased 119.3% in the same period.
- According to a tracker created by school calendar aggregator Burbio, as of February 21st, a majority of American K-12 students attended schools with some in-person learning, including 42.6% attending schools with in-person learning every day and 26.3% attending hybrid schools. The remaining 31.1% were attending virtual-only schools at that time, which was down from 33.6% the prior week as more schools moved toward offering more in-person instruction.
- The debate over school reopenings has also become increasingly political, as President Joe Biden attempts to make good on a pledge to reopen schools within 100 days without alienating teachers unions ― a major Democratic constituency ― and Republican lawmakers in states across the country implementing in-person reopening plans.
What are the experts saying?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci both have said that while they support states and localities prioritizing vaccinations for teachers and staff as essential workers, their vaccination is not a prerequisite for reopening. More than half of states have teachers in a high-priority group for vaccination.
- Fauci told CBS, “If you are going to say that every single teacher needs to be vaccinated before you get back to school, I believe quite frankly that’s a non-workable situation.”
- Walensky emphasized that mask-wearing and physical distancing in school settings “are incredibly important in areas that have high community spread of COVID-19” and that the cases where the virus has spread in schools “have occurred when there are breaches in mask-wearing.”
- Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who was confirmed Monday by the Senate on a bipartisan vote, said in his confirmation hearing that “there is no substitute for a classroom for our students being in front of their teacher” and that there are “great examples” of schools around the country that have safely reopened before teachers have been vaccinated. In his previous role as Connecticut education commissioner, Cardona pushed for school districts to reopen with five days of in-person learning.
What does the research say?
- Researchers with the CDC released a report on data and policy recommendations for reopening schools safely, which noted:
“As many schools have reopened for in-person instruction in some parts of the U.S. as well as internationally, school-related cases of COVID-19 have been reported, but there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
- A trio of studies in North Carolina, Sweden, and Norway found limited in-school transmission of COVID-19 and COVID-19-related symptoms. Among 17 Wisconsin schools, COVID-19 incidence among students and staff members was lower than in the county overall, and only seven cases out of 191 identified in students and staff members (representing 3.7% of cases) were linked to in-school spread.
- On the other hand, a contact tracing study of COVID-19 infections in eight Atlanta-area elementary schools found that teachers brought COVID-19 to schools at least as often as they caught the virus from students. A U.K. study also found that educator-to-educator transmission is more common than student-to-student transmission; similarly, a German study found that COVID-19 transmission rates from teachers to others were three times the transmission rate from students to others.
- Older school buildings with outdated and/or poor ventilation can pose a barrier to school reopenings in areas such as Portland, Oregon, where over 40% of public school buildings are 90 years old and have questions surrounding their ventilation. Even if schools themselves are safe, the safety of children’s commutes to school may be complicated by the pandemic due to reduced bus capacities or exposure risk on public transportation
Politics of Reopening
- The parameters of Biden’s pledge to reopen schools within the first 100 days of his presidency have shifted from at least one day of in-person per week to five days per week, amid pushback from teachers' unions.
- Teachers' unions, which gave 98% of their 2020 political contributions to Democratic candidates and liberal organizations according to donation tracker OpenSecrets, have expressed a reluctance to return to more in-person learning, citing concerns about COVID spreading in schools and inadequate facilities.
- Around the country, there have been several examples of local teachers' unions fighting hard against reopening plans. On Tuesday, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), which represents teachers in America’s second-largest school district, blasted the latest plan offered by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Democratic lawmakers as “a recipe for propagating structural racism” and said educators are being asked to “sacrifice ourselves, the safety of our students and the safety of our schools.” In 2020, UTLA demanded the enactment of Medicare for All and a moratorium on the formation of new private charter schools as a prerequisite for reopening.
- In San Francisco, parents are mounting an effort to recall the elected school board, which was sued by the city for not advancing a reopening plan required by law despite finding the time to orchestrate the renaming of schools the board believed were honoring people with connections to racism, sexism, and slavery. Across the bay in Berkeley, the head of the local teachers union has faced charges of hypocrisy after he was spotted taking his daughter to in-person preschool at a private school while arguing for public schools to remain remote.
- After its members threatened to go on strike and recorded viral interpretive dance videos about the reopening debate, the Chicago Teachers Union agreed to a hybrid model in which two groups of students would each receive two days per week of in-person learning.
— Eric Revell with contributions from Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / izusek)
U.S. & Israeli Officials to Hold Strategic Meeting on IranWhat’s the story? National security officials from the U.S. and Israel are set to hold a virtual meeting on Tuesday to continue
by Causes | 4.13.21
IT: 🚨 U.S. warns China using military force against Taiwan 'serious mistake,' and... Should CEOs - and Will Smith - fight restrictive voting laws?Welcome to Tuesday, April 13th, Ps and Qs...More than a 100 corporate executives and leaders got together on a Zoom call
by Causes | 4.13.21
Colorado Considers Legalizing Human Composting - Should More States Follow?What’s the story? Colorado may soon legalize natural organic reduction,” sometimes called “human composting," giving the
by Causes | 4.12.21