There has been a lot of uncertainty surrounding the reopening of schools for the Fall semester in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Students finished last Spring semester mostly online, and parents and educators anticipate a similar situation later this year as coronavirus cases keep increasing in the U.S. However, the Trump administration is adamant that continuing classes online for the upcoming school year is not a possibility.
“We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants it,” President Donald Trump said during a press conference.“The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it.”
Doubling down on his claim, Trump announced that those school districts who decide not to follow through with the opening plans might see a decrease in funding from the federal government. This recent announcement has caused an uproar among lobbyists, activists, teachers and parents, some of whom are still reluctant about sending their kids back to school in the middle of the health crisis.
“To exercise an abundance of caution, I’d like to keep my kids home with me where they’ll study online,” Johanne Davis, a mother of three from Indian Land, South Carolina, told USA Today. “Health is the issue, not just for my children, but also school workers. Teachers shouldn’t have to be front-line soldiers in this pandemic.”
Some parents, on the other hand, argue that homeschooling has proven to be a real challenge for them, and some have had to choose between tending to their kids or keeping their jobs.
“Is kids’ health more important than returning to school? Of course it is,” said Jenna Schwartz of Los Angeles, a mother of two, former teacher, and leader of an area organization called Parents Supporting Teachers. “But what if the inability to return to school forces a parent to lose their job and their insurance? That’s a different kind of health crisis.”
Opposition to reopening
There has been a lot of pushback on the reopening plans, and for good reason. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rated virtual-learning as the “lowest risk” option for the school settings, and maintains that an unregulated classroom would be the “highest risk”. However, the Director of the agency, Dr. Robert Redfield, said that “they were just guidances” after Trump called the suggestions “very tough” and “expensive”.
“Normally, people don’t play with kids’ lives. They’ll play with adults’ lives, but they don’t play with kids’ lives,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers told CNN.
“This new thing from Florida and from Texas of ‘we’re going to open five days a week and we’re going to open as normal’ — this was new in the mix and clearly a pressure campaign by the administration, because they look, frankly, at schools as if it was child care as opposed to education.”
Trump has argued that reopening schools would have little impact on the health of the children, saying that “young people do extraordinarily well” with the virus. He added that, according to New Jersey’s governor, only one person under 18 had died in the state, and that “was somebody, I guess, had a problem with perhaps diabetes or something else.”
“We shouldn’t be complacent and think that if a child contracts coronavirus all will be fine. Chances are all will be fine, but we just don’t know. This is particularly true for children who have underlying conditions, such as obesity or lung disease,” said Elizabeth Cohen, CNN’s senior medical correspondent.
This proves a real problem in the U.S., where children have more comorbidities, like asthma, diabetes and obesity, than other countries in the world. According to the CDC, 18.5% of U.S. children between ages 2 to 19 suffer from obesity, about 6 million children under age 18 have asthma, and more than 193,000 people under age 20 in the U.S. have diabetes.
Even though there is not enough evidence to determine how contagious children with coronavirus are, they wouldn’t be the only ones pushed into the front-line of the pandemic.
“I think a lot of times people forget that kids don’t go to school by themselves,” Sarah Gross, a high school English teacher in New Jersey, told CNN. “The schools are run by a lot of adults, and a lot of those adults are especially vulnerable to coronavirus.”
What Lies Ahead
Even with pressure from the White House, many school districts plan to stick to their online curriculum during Fall. Schools in Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta, Nashville, and New York are planning to start the new school year remotely, at least until Labor Day.
“Our leaders owe it to all of those impacted by the COVID-19 closures to increase the pace of their work. No one should use the delay in the reopening of classrooms as a reason to relax,” the Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Diego Unified School District said in a joint statement. “The coronavirus has not taken a summer vacation, as many had hoped. Indeed, the virus has accelerated its attacks on our community.”
Other school districts that have expressed plans to reopen during the Fall, like Illinois and New Jersey, will do so under certain regulations. Those include wearing masks, reducing class sizes and limiting movement within the school.
“This is an unprecedented time for our students and educators, but we are pleased to announce that we anticipate the return to our classrooms in some capacity this fall,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “The return to school will pose challenges, but we are confident that New Jersey’s school districts can move forward in a way that best serves the needs of their district while also achieving a safe environment for students and staff.”