How COVID-19 Has Changed Back-to-School Season
Updated: Jul 30
To reopen, or not to reopen, that is the question. There have been multiple discussions of whether the United States is reopening too fast or too slow and how it should be reopening, in stages or all at once.
As the school year quickly approaches, school district leadership has found themselves trying to find the delicate balance between deciding on a mode of learning — remote, in-person or a hybrid model — and ensuring that their students are receiving the same quality of education as they were in years prior. The CDC has published its latest recommendations, classifying different levels of COVID-19 risk as follows: distanced-learning is the lowest risk, then a hybrid model and fully re-opening carries the highest risk. They also promote behaviors to enforce if schools decide to reopen at any capacity at all, including wearing face masks and routinely washing one's hands.
The President of the United States disagreed with the CDC's guidelines and has made it one of his top priorities to reopen schools for the 2020 - 2021 school year. The Vice President even stated that states and local governments should "tailor their plans" so that students can return to in-person classes.
The president has support from a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine which states that public school districts must prioritize opening elementary schools (grades K-5) and opening classes for special needs students. Pediatrician, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, who was one of the contributors to the report, stated that "We failed children ethically and in three important ways. First and foremost, that we have done such a terrible job containing this pandemic. Secondly, that we closed schools ... abruptly without any good plan about how to transition to distance learning and without adequate infrastructure for so many kids. And third, that the moment we closed schools, we didn't immediately start planning about how to reopen them." The report recommends opening elementary public schools and classes for special needs students as these two groups struggled the most with the adjustment to online learning. There are also recommendations to allow for proper hygiene and sanitation. However, the report comments that school district officials should prioritize equity as communities of color have experienced higher rates of COVID-19 and that low-income students are more likely to attend public schools with overcrowded classrooms.
Regardless of the president's tweets and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine's report, many school districts, including the Los Angeles Unified School District - the largest public school district in California and the second largest public school district in the nation - have decided to start the school year with a distanced-learning approach. The National Education Association (NEA) also directly responded to the president's tweet, with NEA President Lily Eskelsen García stating that reopening schools is not a political issue as lives are at stake. In an interview with CNN, Eskelsen García fires back that teachers want students to return to classrooms but that the federal Board of Education is rushing the process. She emphasizes that a return to in-person learning must be done safely, something that the federal government has not created a robust plan for yet to ensure the health of students and faculty should schools open. On July 10, 2020, the NEA was joined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and American Association of School Administrators (AASA) - The School Superintendents Association - and released a statement fortifying the NEA's stance that children should return to school but must do so safely and that there is no one-size-fits all methodology for all schools to reopen as each school has differing circumstances.
To say that education officials have a lot to think about it nothing short of an understatement. As the COVID-19 pandemic in America is ever-changing, there is no knowing what will happen tomorrow, let alone what the status of COVID-19 will be in a few weeks. Although there are many unknowns, we at U4I kindly urge everyone to continue abiding by these practices that are scientifically proven to curb the spread of COVID-19: continuing to socially and physically distance, wearing a face mask and abiding by CDC and local guidelines so that together, we can flatten the curve.
Written by: Amber Widjaja