Public Schools Weigh the Risk of Reopening
BY: Nicole Donelan
When public schools in the United States began to close in March due to Covid-19, most students anticipated a short hiatus from school. However, as the pandemic continued, students across the nation became acquainted with the concept of “distance learning,” and finished out the school year online. Now in the fifth month of the pandemic, many states are seeing upticks in Covid-19 diagnosis, while districts across the nation evaluate the risk of reopening this fall.
Reopening plans in major school districts have varied in different locations. In the New York City Public School District, the nation’s largest public school district, Mayor DeBlasio announced that schools would not fully reopen, instead opting for staggered attendance schedules for in-person learning that would limit students to 1-3 days of in-person class a week. Such is the case for a variety of other districts, such as Seattle, Omaha, and Fairfax. Other districts, like Detroit and Miami-Dade Public Schools, are offering a choice between different models of learning, ranging from predominantly in-person, hybrid, and all online. And many districts - including Atlanta, Houston, Nashville, Los Angeles/San Diego, and San Francisco - are still continuing solely online instruction for the first several weeks of school.
Much of the concern surrounding reopening comes as states see spikes in new cases that are higher than ever before. Arizona, California, Texas and especially Florida have been hit particularly hard by what some refer to as the “second wave” of Covid-19 in the U.S. However, the pressure from state and federal politicians alike has only further complicated things. Despite the fact that the U.S currently leads in global cases of Covid-19, President Trump recently threatened to cut funding from schools that do not reopen for in-person learning while drawing comparisons to other nations with lower confirmed cases. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has stated multiple times that she believes schools should reopen for in-person education. And, in spite of mounting cases in his state, Florida governor Ron DeSantis has issued an emergency order for public schools to reopen five days a week to students.
Between rising cases, political pressure, and student disdain for distance learning, there is no easy fix to the problems posed by Covid-19 for public school districts. However, despite Trump’s derision towards the CDC for their “tough and expensive guidelines for opening schools,” it is imperative that schools listen to scientific experts as well as assess their community’s needs when crafting their plans to reopen.
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