Even as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the nation, the US enters into a second round of the back-to-school program. Careful in-person reopening across several small school districts has ensured that there is no explosion in cases till now. Considering this, even large school systems are now venturing into in-person classes.
When it came to managing the spread of coronavirus in school buildings, large schools had a bigger problem than small ones, and they waited to see the results of reopenings in smaller districts. As the initial response was positive, the large schools are now venturing into reopening. But a rising number of cases across several districts are threatening their efforts.
Districts that have not yet reopened are now under pressure to reopen, and the debate regarding this has been happening since many months between district leaders, parents and school authorities. While some parents were against reopening in-person classrooms, others supported it as they did not have any options to keep kids at home. On many occasions, teachers’ unions have expressed their displeasure about the reopening of in-person classes at this stage.
One common thing among the schools that reopened during August and September was that most of them were relatively smaller and consisted of a dominant white population and were from wealthier backgrounds. On the other hand, larger districts often serve more students coming from low-income families and people of color and this can make it difficult for them to provide the best safety measures within a limited budget.
As there was no federal effort to track the coronavirus cases in schools, even scientists were not sure about reopening, and many of them opposed the move while few of them supported the move. However, as long as community spread was under control, schools were willing to reopen as this could affect the learning ability of children and also their earnings in the long run.
According to analysts, the number of children attending virtual-only schools has reduced by nearly 25% since Labor Day, and this is a positive trend. Columbia County Schools in Georgia that manages over 27000 students, has given the option for students to attend in-person classes for nearly 14 weeks now. Parents of such students are happy that children are back at school, and they are getting used to the new norms of wearing masks and following other safety precautions.
However, it is not so easy for large schools that are reopening now as the cases are surging once again across the nation. This has forced some schools to go back to virtual classes. Los Angeles Unified School District that happens to be the second-largest school system in the US, has said that they are unlikely to reopen before January as the infection rates are not seeing a declining trend in recent weeks.
Even Boston Public Schools have made a similar move and said that they had moved nearly 50000 students to complete remote learning due to the rising number of cases. This was also the case with the Houston Independent School District that closed 16 schools in Texas.
In a surprising development, it was seen that more teachers are responsible for the spread than students as students have strict guidelines with regards to assembling in school premises. When students enter the school, they pass the temperature check every day and wear a mask for the entire day. They are allowed to take off the masks only for a certain duration for small breaks, and they are even seated in small groups of four or six students. However, many Teachers are seen congregating and not following guidelines in some cases.
Apart from Texas and Oregon, several districts of Florida are also seeing a rising number of infections in recent weeks, and it has become difficult for the district authorities and school management to take a call on this issue. Some of the schools that were started in September had to be closed now due to the rising number of cases in the region.
Last week, Palm Beach County’s school district reported about 180 cases of covid 19 among students after they had reopened last month. The school authorities are worried that the community spread is still not under control in the region.
Analysts who are tracking the number of cases across the schools that have reopened have interesting data. It is seen that the school rate of infection is far lower than the community rate. This was also confirmed by many medical professionals who initially backed the reopening of schools as they are of the opinion that children are less likely to get affected by the virus compared to adults.
On the other hand, several school authorities do not want to risk reopening at this stage as they feel that schools being part of the community cannot be isolated in this situation. If the community, in general, is not taking the virus seriously, it can spread at a rapid rate, and schools will also bear the brunt in that situation.
In New York City, school authorities planned to reopen in a phased manner, and preschoolers and students with significant disabilities were allowed to return in late September. While officials expected that half of the district’s 960000 students would return to in-person learning, only about 280000 students returned to school buildings.
A similar trend is seen in Chicago that has opted for complete remote learning, and district leaders and schools are planning to reopen only by the end of the year for preschoolers. It is generally observed that preschool enrollment has fallen badly, especially among the Latino and Black community students.
As the cases continue to surge across the nation, it is not an easy task for both parents and school authorities to take the final call. Some of the schools are yet to reopen for in-person classes and others that had reopened in the last month are finding it difficult to continue the classes due to a surge in cases. It may take another two or three months before things can come back to normal for the school authorities across the nation.