From the newsletter.
Back when the kids were little, we lived in a five-floor walk up apartment in the northern tip of Manhattan, a neighborhood called Washington Heights, home to an odd mix of scruffy academics (that was us), artists, aging German Jews, and Dominicans. One day, as I prepared to haul a four-year old and a baby up all those stairs, a Dominican family – a mom, the grandma, and a couple of kids — from downstairs greeted me. They were heading over to the local school for a lunch, and wanted to know if I wanted to join them.
Lunch? At the school? Yes, they told me. They explained that they often went over to the school for a free meal. The school fed anyone who showed up. I passed; the baby needed a nap, I said, but I tucked away that information in my head for the future. One never knows when one might need a free meal.
Tensions are growing around the country over the fact that schools have been closed for a year. The teachers union in Chicago and the superintendent nearly pushed the nuclear button this week. The city of San Francisco is suing their school district. Every day, parents who oppose school closings tag me on posts on Twitter, hoping to get journalists to pay attention to their plight.
The CDC says that school should open, even before teachers get a vaccine. Every public health expert says that schools should open. The Biden administration is trying to dance around this fight. They say that schools should open. But — and there’s always a but — they say that schools should be safe. OK, masks and sanitizer. No big deal, right? But they add one word – ventilation. Ventilation is a biggie actually, because most schools in this country are ancient structures without operational windows. So, what they are really saying is that there will be no school openings without expensive upgrades, if not entirely new buildings. (When I wrote about the issue last year, experts told me that it was probably best to knock them all down and start over.) Which isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
So, things are going to get very ugly politically. Meanwhile, kids, their families, and entire communities are in trouble, because of the school closures. For the little kids, the loss of time learning how to read and how to add is tragic, for sure. They’ll never catch up, and will contend with life-long decreased income and opportunities.
But for the older kids, the loss of academics is the least of the problems. It honestly doesn’t matter if the kids in my town aren’t getting the top learning experience from their AP Psychology class. Hell, it might even be a good thing that they have less pressure to perform academically. The kids here are tortured to perform and jump through the hoops to academic brilliance.
If schools were just about the academics, we could solve this school closure crisis by stop trying to make virtual education work, completely shut the schools, and give everyone a password to Khan Academy. But schools are about more than academics, which is why closing them has led to massive societal devastation.
Political scientists often point out that our country was founded by folks who were committed to Lockean liberalism — government should be limited. It’s a common exercise in any Introduction to American Government class to line up Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence with Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government and find all the similarities. So, compared to other European countries, our government does not provide a vital safety net.
While the federal government might do a lousy job of providing food for hungry folks, health insurance, mental health support, childcare, and so on, these people still need help. So, government has told schools to solve these problems. Sometimes it provides the money to do these things, sometimes it just tells schools to do them as an unfunded mandate. Schools are our secret social net.
So, when schools closed, folks like my neighbors in Washington Heights stopped getting their meals. Special ed kids stopped getting therapy for physical disabilities, mental health issues, and severe behavioral issues. Women stopped working. Because community life sucks in America, kids became isolated from other human beings. Because housing sucks in this country, kids are crammed into one bedroom apartments with their entire extended family breathing in the same COVID-filled air all day.
In an interview yesterday, a prominent psychologist and author told me that when the schools open up again, she believes that the mental health issues among children will be so intense that schools alone won’t be able to help. The federal government will need to create new programs to reach kids. She didn’t think that schools had the bandwidth to solve this problem alone. Our country’s poorly financed schools have simply too much on their plates.
In my conversations with experts and teachers, they often mention that this pandemic might be a window of opportunity to rebuild our schools, government, and our world. Problems that were hidden are now exposed. A system that was held together with scotch tape and bubble gum will have to be rebuilt properly. This could be a time when take a chuck out old priorities, and chose to prioritize compassion and empathy.
Let’s make better choices.
104 thoughts on “Why School Closures Are Such a Disaster”
Laura wrote, “The CDC says that school should open, even before teachers get a vaccine. Every public health expert says that schools should open. The Biden administration is trying to dance around this fight. They say that schools should open. But — and there’s always a but — they say that schools should be safe. OK, masks and sanitizer. No big deal, right? But they add one word – ventilation. Ventilation is a biggie actually, because most schools in this country are ancient structures without operational windows.”
Karol Markowicz often notes that “social distancing” is another bomb in the return requirements, because it’s physically impossible to space the kids out 6 feet away in the classroom AND do 5-day school–unless you double the number of teachers and classrooms available. So a list of requirements that includes social distancing is automatically a denial of 5-day school.
I find this irritating because it’s (medically speaking) so superfluous once teachers are fully vaccinated with a 95% effective vaccine. At that point, give families the option of returning in person or being remote (until the pandemic is genuinely over), but teachers need to be in the classroom. Everything else beyond that is just bells and whistles.
I disagree about the social distancing requirements, which is why I think hybrid has to stay an option for schools that don’t have the capacity. The reason spread has been so low in schools is presumably that they’ve preserved this, and it’s kept community spread low. Until we hit herd immunity (or schools can teach outdoors, something I think should have been pursued much more aggressively), spread among students and community spread remains an issue. Things look good, but with the new variants there could still be another spike. I hope this is only the case for a couple more months.
However, my university is still assuming we’ll need socially distanced classrooms in the fall, something that they just announced and is wreaking havoc on my department’s fall schedule and enrollment planning.
I also agree “problems that were hidden are now exposed.” I have had a lot of students come through the Chicago public schools, and there is no easy or good answer to fixing those schools that I can identify. The “nightmare scenarios” that people describe – high dropout rates, massive lack of engagement, failure to acquire skills, mental health issues – were there before the pandemic.
af184793 said, “The reason spread has been so low in schools is presumably that they’ve preserved this, and it’s kept community spread low.”
A lot of schools in the US have been open since August/September full-time without distancing.
There’s enough information that somebody ought to be able to figure out what the difference is in impact on community spread in those communities versus hybrid communities. Here’s the Georgia chart:
You’ll notice that the new case count was high-ish around school reopening time in Aug/September, went down gradually until early October, and then started going up again. It’s not obvious that school reopening had an impact.
See also the NYT’s version of these charts for Florida and Texas. There’s no clear relationship between school reopening and cases going up. I know that in my county, schools went back when local positivity was 13-15% and local positivity fell to around 6% after that, but started edging up again by the end of October.
Laura wrote, “Because community life sucks in America, kids became isolated from other human beings.”
But that’s also been a COVID safety precaution and also literally the law in some parts of the country.
There has been so much shaming of people who wanted to have some semblance of community life over the past year. I totally understand why normal community life is dangerous–but at the same time, people have to understand that normal community functions (even ones that look frivolous!) serve a purpose in terms of protecting people’s mental and physical health and economic well-being. If you’re doing bad, but nobody sees you, how can anybody help you? Think of all the people that you normally see more of, but haven’t seen in person or talked to over the last 11 months. Are you sure they’re OK?
That’s kind of been the case with kids this year in much of the country–out of sight, out of mind.
“If schools were just about the academics, we could solve this school closure crisis by stop trying to make virtual education work, completely shut the schools, and give everyone a password to Khan Academy. But schools are about more than academics, which is why closing them has led to massive societal devastation. ”
You’re referring to something that has always been important to me about public schools. It’s one of the few places as Americans where we come together as a community (even with the limits of private & religious instruction). I came to the US at 5, in May, speaking no English, and was enrolled in a summer preschool program by June (I remember going to the big department store to buy a swimsuit — it was green with an adorable skirt). In the year that followed, I completed K & 1st grade and was reading Charlotte’s web. The school where this happened was seen as mediocre, in a “bad” part of my Midwestern town. I know public schools don’t (and didn’t) accomplish everything we ask of them, but they worked for me in a big way.
What I fear now is not just the temporary loss of community, but the continued eroding (and I know the erosion precedes the pandemic and quarantine) of the community that public schools did and do bring. I worry that talk of reinventing is really an ending. For those who are served poorly by public schools, maybe this is a good thing? What would people personally replace public school communities with? I’m not asking a rhetorical question, I really do wonder about the answers. And, I suspect that many of the answers do mean a bonding public schools as a community.
bj said, “I worry that talk of reinventing is really an ending.”
Yes. While the public schools in some parts of the country are busy “reinventing” themselves, the functional middle class is going to be leaving, either for private school, long-term homeschooling or for parts of the country with open or more open schools.
@politicalmath and his family are planning to leave WA for an open school area.
“My daughter, who was one of the top kids in her class last year, is failing 4th grade.”
“She is “completing” assignments by filling in box after box with “I don’t know” and “who cares.””
Me: This is what a kid on strike looks like.
“We’ve already decided to move out of Seattle. At least once a week, [the 4th grader] talks about moving as pretty much the only thing she is looking forward to.”
“I don’t know how to communicate to our school that this simply is not working. All I get back are the usual “we’re all working through these troubled times” mealy-mouthed drivel.”
He says elsewhere that it’s hard to talk about this in public because of mobbing.
“you should see the conversations in the Facebook groups
Parents are begging for help and what they get back is “safety, safety, safety”
If they step out of line, they’re banned from the group
If they talk to the press, the press prints their name. You know what happens next.”
Remember the good old days when people used to argue that the existence of the charter school alternative would gut the public system?
It turns out that the public system is capable of doing that all by itself.
Public schools (even with the resistance to in person) are not being gutted. But, some of the discussion against schools opening is undermining support for public education, I believe, and some of the rhetoric in favor of reinvention including particular focus on those far from educational justice (the term being used in our district) might ultimately undermine public education.
Charters do, too, undermine the community of public education that I am valorizing (and, I recognize that public education does not work like my experience for everyone).
bj said, “Public schools (even with the resistance to in person) are not being gutted.”
I don’t know what else to call it when a large fraction of kids aren’t having daily schooling and/or are failing.
“In Maryland: Failure rates in math and English jumped as much as sixfold for some of the most vulnerable students in Montgomery County, the largest system in the state.”
“In Texas: Students across the greater Houston metropolitan area got F’s at unprecedented rates, with some districts reporting nearly half of middle and high school students failing in at least one class.”
“In North Carolina: 46 percent of students in grades three through 12 in Wilson County Schools failed at least one class — more than double the rate from the same period in fall 2019.”
I’d call that gutting public education.
” But, some of the discussion against schools opening is undermining support for public education, I believe.”
Somebody I know online once referred to public schools as a “jobs program.” At the time, I thought that was unfair, but it’s much truer than I thought.
I agree that remote instruction is failing many children, but those numbers are using percents in ways that try to make the effects as bad as possible. 23% to 46% failure is terrible, but there are lots of statistics that are going to look like that, and we cannot attribute them all to the response to the pandemic (remote schooling, for example) rather than the pandemic itself.
And, I am not happy with the teachers unions and don’t like having to defend their actions, but the extreme versions of antagonism drive me to and I’m really feeling the lack of what I’d like to call a middle ground — except I oppose that concept, used too often for I don’t agree with either side, so what I believe must be the middle. So, what I want is a pro-public school, pro-teacher ground that also argues in favor of opening public schools (is that the middle?). I do think some folks are leaving the public system — whether that has long term consequences or not, beyond I don’t know. There’s going to be a school levy on a WA ballot special election next week (it’s a continuation, so the school would loose money if it fails). Will people vote for a school levy in spite of mostly closed schools? I wonder if it will be a wake up call for anyone.
Camas, WA is doing the special election levy, BTW. I’ll try to report back on whether the levy passes. Asked spouse whether he’d vote for a school levy right now, and he said yes. I probably would, too, but I’d think about it, which is a sign of my frustration.
bj said, “And, I am not happy with the teachers unions and don’t like having to defend their actions, but the extreme versions of antagonism drive me to and I’m really feeling the lack of what I’d like to call a middle ground — except I oppose that concept, used too often for I don’t agree with either side, so what I believe must be the middle. So, what I want is a pro-public school, pro-teacher ground that also argues in favor of opening public schools (is that the middle?).”
My version of the middle is that I understand why teachers don’t want to go back to in-person before they are vaccinated…but at the same time, once teachers have had access to vaccination and have had time enough to get their vaccine activated, I have zero patience for anybody who wants to keep schools closed after that or who wants to create all kinds of hurdles for school reopening. It’s a 95% effective vaccine. That’s good enough for protecting teachers–additional requirements are just window-dressing.
Some of the demands are either unworkable (like some social distancing and ventilation) or pointless (like “deep cleaning”). 12 months into the US pandemic, some people still haven’t figured out that this is primarily airborne illness. Zeynep Tufekci has a thread on that here, on the scourge of “cleaning days”:
“Our school district has a school re-opening plan (way into the future/not commenting on that part). They will keep schools closed FOR A WHOLE DAY each week for “deep cleaning.” Kids have missed so much school. If/when they open, they should open.
@CDCgov should address this ASAP.”
They’re planning on destroying an entire instructional day for nothing. As ZT says later in that thread, “If fomites are such a risk, the plan has to be to address the problem during the day, when people are touching things. Not “DEEP CLEAN” the next day, when nobody is in the building. I support a sensible high-touch disinfection plan during the day.”
I know schools are still providing meals in our city, though I do not know how well it is working. Are children and families going hungry for lack of the school based food?
Hey guys. Thanks for commenting without me. Sorry for being a lousy blogger this week. I just finished edits on one article, and I’m in the midst of interviews for another one. Plus, I’m trying to hit daily writing goals on a book proposal. It’s all good; it’s just a lot.
Go Laura! I think “good enough” is good enough and appreciate your posts whenever you find time to do them. I think your only obligation is to yourself, and what you might gain from the blogging.
(Just started listening to “Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say ” by Kelly Corrigan, to which my parent group gave very positive reviews. One of the rules is “good enough” (make sure that everyone around you, and yourself, knows they are good enough).
“They’re planning on destroying an entire instructional day for nothing. ”
Surely if cleaning is needed it could be done on the evenings or weekend! I can’t see *any* necessity to close the school for a day to accommodate this.
If they want to do a deep clean during the week (i.e. after every 2 days of students) – they could do a night clean. The school closes at 3. Surely they could have completed the cleaning by 8am the next day! I decline to believe that they would actually have cleaning personnel at work for more than 17 hours!
And, actually, it would make more sense to do a thorough surface cleaning at the end of each school day. Though even that is fairly pointless – it seems that most infection is via air-borne particles, rather than surface contamination.
Ann said, “Surely if cleaning is needed it could be done on the evenings or weekend! I can’t see *any* necessity to close the school for a day to accommodate this.”
That’s a fair point, too!
Thanks for the @politicalmath link.
I find the personal stories enlightening, and, share his frustration of “It’s either “shut up and submit” or “vaccines are fake””
But, I don’t know why he doesn’t withdraw his kid from school, though: “for everyone suggesting I pull my kid out of school: There’s a very good reason I haven’t done this and if you think really hard about it I’ll bet you can figure it out.” Is that really something I should be able to figure out?
If she’s really just clicking “I don’t care” about the work she’s been offered, what is she getting? I’m asking for real.
I know why I don’t just withdraw my kid — he’s getting a lot and some extra resilience by learning how to do college before college. He’s very independently managing his own schedule and school, doing most of the work on his own. I’m pretty proud and definitely not suffering personally (i.e. managing his school). So though I’m enraged,
I am wondering about next year, though. If everything is online, I’m not sure what he gets out of doing the work online through his neighborhood school, especially since I’d be willing to pay for other opportunities, and he is maxing out on classes there. Other options might be better.
Ok, I got that the spouse disagrees about withdrawing daughter from school. I do wish more parents who think that the remote is worse than nothing would withdraw their kids. Frankly, I think some of these kids would be better off with nothing but a stack of books. Though I guess if you are fighting screens/video games, etc, maybe not. But, are they really better off clicking “i don’t care” about school work than watching TV?
bj said, “But, I don’t know why he doesn’t withdraw his kid from school, though: “for everyone suggesting I pull my kid out of school: There’s a very good reason I haven’t done this and if you think really hard about it I’ll bet you can figure it out.” Is that really something I should be able to figure out? If she’s really just clicking “I don’t care” about the work she’s been offered, what is she getting? I’m asking for real.”
Another possibility–the fear of losing touch with classmates and winding up completely socially adrift when it’s not possible yet to relocate and start at a new school.
“He’s very independently managing his own schedule and school, doing most of the work on his own.”
My 10th grader is in the middle of (hopefully) 5 days of remote. His jr/sr high school shut down (first time this year) because there were so many teachers going into quarantine that they weren’t going to be able to open. As in the spring, he’s able to manage everything very nicely all by himself.
Wednesday, however, I kept our 2nd grader home because I thought she was getting sick. We did a video doctor apt. and I took her in for a parking lot COVID swab at the pediatrician’s office. It was pretty efficient and we got an answer (negative) almost immediately, but it burnt up the morning. I got her make-up work from school and we dug in during the afternoon and evening. It was quite horrid. In fact, it was so bad that I shelved my previous plans of keeping her home for Thursday and Friday. (She’s had 4 kids contact traced out of her class because of COVID positive siblings and parents, so in a perfect world, I would have pulled her out for a few days.)
Anyway, I know that that story makes me sound like the person who starts screaming state secrets when the torturers bring out the cushy chair, but I didn’t want any more.
I actually do have a moderate homeschooling program that I’ve committed to for about a year for Saturdays and long breaks, but it is different when you are choosing the work. I have the 2nd grader do one page of 4 different workbooks (mostly math) and have her do 20 minutes of reading, and we’re good. Just doing that faithfully with her has really moved the needle on her math and reading.
I am always a contrarian. It’s a character flaw. Sorry.
However, teaching during a pandemic is not without risk. According to Education Week: “As of Feb. 1, 2021, at least 707 active and retired K-12 educators and personnel have died of COVID-19. Of those, 184 were active teachers.” https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/educators-weve-lost-to-the-coronavirus/2020/04 These were teacher deaths with lockdowns, social distancing, etc.
Last year, when there was no vaccine, nor was it certain that a vaccine could be made, the risk felt different. Now, however, there is a vaccine, and teachers are either able to be vaccinated, or soon will be able to be vaccinated in the next few months. Once teachers are vaccinated, it should be safe enough to reopen schools.
Until then, though, it is possible that students are getting mild cases and spreading the virus to adults. Our local public school was always really efficient in spreading stomach bugs through town, and I assume it would be the same with Covid. It would be possible to have school outside in the spring, summer, and early fall, but in the middle of winter here in the North? No. You could choose between freezing to death or breaking social distance, I suppose. There’s a cold front coming: https://weather.com/news/weather/video/arctic-outbreak-to-bring-some-of-winters-coldest-temperatures-yet-0
I think there are some children who prefer online learning. That option should be retained for them–why not? After this pandemic, there will be teachers who have found out that they are good at remote teaching. It would be a good thing to have online schools run by states, rather than for-profit companies.
All students have had a learning loss, though. There should be a great calibration, in which students are not automatically placed in grades by age, rather than by mastery of topics. Certainly, it would be a good idea to rebuild school buildings that are decrepit. On the other hand, in my opinion, some of the best models for school buildings, going forward, will be rather old-fashioned. Windows that open. Oriented for daylight. Not sharing a large HVAC system. Not “open classrooms” that share germs and noise. That’s a long term project, though, and after the vaccine kicks in, who knows if school architects will still like those ideas?
What about all the massive school districts across the country, that bus kids long distances, from many towns, to the same high school? It’s like a recipe to spread disease.
Cranberry said, “What about all the massive school districts across the country, that bus kids long distances, from many towns, to the same high school? It’s like a recipe to spread disease.”
I can’t argue with that.
“Last year, when there was no vaccine, nor was it certain that a vaccine could be made, the risk felt different. Now, however, there is a vaccine, and teachers are either able to be vaccinated, or soon will be able to be vaccinated in the next few months. Once teachers are vaccinated, it should be safe enough to reopen schools.”
You’d be surprised how controversial that last sentence of yours is.
Cranberry said: “Once teachers are vaccinated, it should be safe enough to reopen schools.”
But I don’t see that as being sufficient for the teacher unions. They are talking about community incidence of less than X percent. And requirements for social distancing and properly ventilated classrooms, etc.
There is zero possiblity that the *kids* will all be vaccinated this year (none of the vaccines have been approved for children under 16). And, if Covid is anything like the ‘flu, there will be plenty of cases of someone being vaccinated, and still catching the virus (some people simply have low resistance/immunity to viruses overall, and even vaccination doesn’t stop them getting sick – though it probably stops them getting as sick as they would otherwise).
If the teacher unions are waiting for 100% safety for their members, then it’s simply never going to happen.
And, sorry, 184 active teachers out of a death toll of hundreds of thousands is simply not significant. [That is, statistically significant, each death is a disaster to the family concerned]
You could get the same totals for librarians, or stockbrokers, or fishmongers.
Ann said, “And, sorry, 184 active teachers out of a death toll of hundreds of thousands is simply not significant. [That is, statistically significant, each death is a disaster to the family concerned]
You could get the same totals for librarians, or stockbrokers, or fishmongers.”
And they don’t need to have caught COVID at school. There’s been plenty of COVID out in the community.
I clicked on the link in the Chicago teacher piece where he mentioned a young teacher who had died tragically of COVID–and it turned out that she was teaching remote!
(That said, middle schools and high schools are inherently higher risk because they’re not podded in the way that elementary schools typically are.)
I was talking to my sisters tonight about COVID, vaccines and schools, and one of my sisters mentioned that a third grade classroom in Plainview-Old Bethpage had a serious outbreak: https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2021/02/04/old-bethpage-elementary-school-covid-outbreak/. FTR, this is considered a well-off school district on Long Island.
Reading that article about the third grade classroom. It strongly implicates after-school activities (wrestling and judo) in the spread – rather than the classroom itself.
Which makes sense. It’s not possible to do either of those sports without very close physical contact. But it’s certainly possible to do school without breathing in each others’ face.
I don’t think that’s what the article said. It said it played a role. Unless all 11 kids and teacher were in the after school activity, then there was spread in the classroom.
I’ll see if I can dig up some more info.
“I think there are some children who prefer online learning. That option should be retained for them–why not? After this pandemic, there will be teachers who have found out that they are good at remote teaching. It would be a good thing to have online schools run by states, rather than for-profit companies. ”
I agree that there are *some* children who prefer online learning. However, I would like some stringent quality checking about whether they are learning as much or as well as they did in person. [Mr 13 loved online school, but learned little or nothing during the time]
You would also need to check with parents as to whether they also prefer online learning – this is likely to narrow the numbers even further. [Plenty of parents either need the kids to be in school for supervision, or want the kids to have some social interation]
And then, I think, you may well find that the majority of the kids who would quality have already switched to homeschooling and/or unschooling (with self-starter kids who thrive on self-directed learning, unschooling is a great model).
There may well be sufficient interest for a state-wide remote school model (with a small number of kids and teachers) – but it’s unlikely to draw of much from the demand for in-person schools.
Here in NZ we have the NZ correspondence school, which teaches kids in very remote areas (e.g. a sheep station 6 hours drive to the nearest school) and also kids who have been excluded from schools (for a variety of reasons) and no other school will take them. The remote kids do OK, but it relies a lot on Mum to support them; the excluded kids usually do very poorly (unsurprisingly – as there are a whole lot of other issues going on). Statistically, the achievement rates are significantly lower than in-person schools – but, of course, it’s better than nothing.
Of course, kids who are homeschooled or unschooled usually do rather well – but again, they have huge parental input/support.
Also, I’d be surprised if there are many teachers who have found they are good at remote teaching *and prefer this over in-person classes*. I have several good friends who are teachers (all, IMHO excellent teachers – I’d be happy for my kid to be in any of their classes). All initially struggled with remote teaching, but mastered the technology, and did a fairly good job (though none felt the kids were learning well). All, without exception, are overjoyed to be back teaching in-person. The personal interaction is a big part of why they chose to teach in the first place.
The article is about the impact of the Israeli vaccine program on COVID in Israel.
“Analyzing data from six weeks into the vaccination campaign, when the majority of people that age [60+] had been vaccinated, they found that the number of new Covid-19 cases dropped by 41 percent compared to three weeks earlier.”
“That group also experienced a 31 percent drop in hospitalizations from the coronavirus, and a drop of 24 percent of those who became critically ill.”
“But Maccabi Healthcare Services reported Thursday that out of 416,900 people it had vaccinated, only 254 had gotten Covid-19 a week after their second dose. What’s more, all of the cases were mild. Comparing these rates to unvaccinated people, the researchers estimated that the vaccine has an effectiveness of 91 percent.”
Then we get to a really interesting detail that probably should have been higher up:
“The results are all the more striking, experts said, because Israel is contending with a worrisome new variant of the coronavirus. The [possibly 50% more transmissible] variant B.1.1.7 now accounts for up to 80 percent of the samples tested in Israel.”
There are still other variants out there, but the fact that the vaccine works so well on the British variant is huge and has a lot of implications for US school reopening.
I’ve been looking at the shapes of the curves of covid in different locations and they confusing. Other places (India, the Midwest) have seen September peas followed by declines, not entirely explicable, and probably not vaccine dependent. Others, like Israel & UK have seen September peaks followed by December peaks and then declines. I think it might be the effect of the new variants, so hopefully, Israel’s experience is showing us that the vaccine can knock down cases even with the new variants. But, boy, the data is messy. I do not trust my own eyeball versions anymore, and wish there were more clean analysis.
Also true for comparing different school opening regimes and covid transmission in schools — I hope we will get those analyses even if they aren’t used now, because we need them for the next pandemic.
Laura tweeted, “Biden’s press secretary said that Biden wants schools to be open, but there must still must be certain safety considerations, including ventilation, even if teachers are vaccinated. Many, if not most, of schools are super old, without operational windows. Schools won’t open.”
There’s already some interesting stuff happening, with Biden’s people talking over the CDC on schools.
“The debate heated up this week after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said vaccinating teachers was not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools.
“The White House downplayed those remarks, with press secretary Jen Psaki saying that Walensky had been speaking “in her personal capacity” and saying there would be “official guidance” and “final guidance” on the issue.”
(Walensky is an MD/MPH, former chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Harvard Medical School professor.)
So much for giving the CDC autonomy and respecting their scientific expertise!
Let’s not make that into the same thing — the conversation is a quibble about what “official guidance” means.
I do think that the Democratic political establishment is going to have to take a stand at some point on whether they are going to use any levers available to them to push teachers to return to schools (and, note, they do have to agree — we can’t force them to return, though we can refuse to pay for work they don’t do).
The San Francisco lawsuit is an interesting step (city suing the district). Chicago is fighting the teachers, too. The 2nd largest district in WA failed to get a restraining order ordering teachers back to school when the judge said that state guidance now counts “asynchronous” teaching as fulfilling the teachers’ obligation to work (they negotiated a deal where individual schools decide whether K-1 will return — most seem to have decided in favor, but 2/3 that decided not to return are Title 1 schools). WA’s governor issued new guidance, but has applied no levers. I think a lever is withdrawing the pandemic guidance that counts asynchronous/remote instruction as instructional hours and providing support and moving teachers forward in vaccine lines (one plan seems to be to vaccinate teachers in school once they are in the priority track).
Where will the Biden administration fall? They have the power to give goodies. Will they use that power to push teachers to return?
Then there’s this happening:
Briefly, a number of DC metro school districts are planning on “reopening”–which means that (presumably unvaccinated) non-teacher classroom workers are going to watch kids work while the teacher “teaches” remotely.
In some of these areas, the teachers who are going to be teaching remotely have been given vaccine priority.
The classroom monitors in Alexandria VA are going to get $17 an hour.
In effect, the taxpayer gets to pay twice for school (remote teacher AND classroom monitor) and get basically half the value of real school.
I sit on our local school board, and I can’t stress how much this situation sucks. I feel like we’ve come up with a reasonable plan. We have three cohorts: the first two rotate days in school (3 days on/2 days remote one week then 2 days on/3 days remote the next week), while the third cohort is students with IEPs, high needs, etc. who come in 5 days a week. We also offer a fully remote option for students who do not want to come in; for our elementary kids, we have our own teachers running those, while our middle school and high school kids use a platform. Some teachers are doing a bang up job of remote days; others – not so much. But I suspect that correlates VERY highly with how well those teachers performed prior to the pandemic.
This is the best we can do with social distancing guidelines for two reasons. First, as many have pointed out, we don’t have room in our schools to social distance kids. But second (and this hasn’t really been pointed out), busing is a MAJOR issue. We’d have to double the number of buses we have to maintain social distancing on the bus (and we live in a big town – we’re top 5 in terms of square mileage in our state), and there simply aren’t enough buses in existence to do that, particularly if every other district is looking to do the same. Additionally, it would cost us a TON of money to do that or to run bus routes multiple times – money we don’t have. So getting kids to and from school is a big challenge when social distancing requirements are in place.
Of course, people are pissed at us – and I get that. This is so, so hard on kids and parents. But I figure there is a 1/3 of the town who wants everyone in full time, 1/3 of the town who wants fully remote schooling, and 1/3 who support hybrid. No matter what option we choose, a majority of the town is totally pissed. Nothing is less fun that doing volunteer work (because we don’t get paid to be on the board) only to have everyone hate you. I suspect that there is going to be either a decline in people running for local school boards OR an increase in extremists running for school boards in the near future. Fun times.
What’s the size of your district Shannon?
We also have a volunteer school board, for a district of 50K students. One member resigned in the middle of the pandemic. And, you can see the visible distress of those who remain, who clearly were elected a couple of years ago to do what they thought would be an entirely different job. They are faced with trying to guide administration decision making while having only “one employee” (i.e. the superintendent, who announced a few months ago that she would be leaving in June) and an administration that slow walks any suggestions making course correction or nimble responses nearly impossible. I understand how overwhelming it must be.
I am a the point where I wonder whether having an elected, volunteer school board is the right model for our school district. I do think the board attracts single-issue advocates and I think that the board has insufficient resources and tools to correct course in the district (the power lies in the employees of the district, administrators and teachers through their union).
Note, our district is offering no in person classes currently except for a small group <100 of the 8000 children with IEPs in the district. Even among those it is unclear whether they are actually being offered services by the district or if the district is paying for out of placement services. So you are doing a lot more than we are.
Shannon said, “So getting kids to and from school is a big challenge when social distancing requirements are in place.”
Wow. Yeah, I didn’t even think about that.
Yes, I feel bad for social boards. But I have to admit that I am THAT parent who talks at every school board meeting. But I do it because nobody else is discussing the big issues, like what they are going to do about the little kids or all the mental illness or all the other major issues that are going to happen because the teachers aren’t teaching, and the students have stopped showing up to school. They talk about random shit instead, like a potential gifted and talent program. I want to hear plans. And they aren’t giving me plans. So, therefore, they are going to get another speech from me on Monday.
Laura said, “They talk about random shit instead, like a potential gifted and talent program.”
OH MY GOODNESS!
I like gifted and talented a lot more than you do–but this isn’t the time.
“I want to hear plans. And they aren’t giving me plans. So, therefore, they are going to get another speech from me on Monday.”
Go get ’em!
I have two kids who are dealing with depression, anxiety, etc. Another member of the board is a mother of a kid with high needs (he’s placed out of district) and who is chair of our local special education committee. So addressing those issues is brought up at EVERY meeting. This is probably why, in large part, our high needs kids are the first who came back and who are in class every single day.
I will say though – it’s hard to come up with plans. Those of us on the board are all doing this as an unpaid volunteer job on top of regular jobs – and many of us have huge additional work loads at our real jobs addressing the pandemic. Our administrators are overwhelmed with reacting to what’s happening: they’re spending large chunks of their day contract tracing in addition to other logistics related to the pandemic. The state has not suspended ANY reporting requirements – and has pushed forward with the implementation of new reporting requirements in place this year. I understand the need for plans, but I also see that our administrators are worn out – they have been working day and night for many. many months now. I am hopeful that with increased vaccinations, they’ll get the time and space they need to start really thinking about what we’re going to do this summer/next year to address this.
Our district is pretty small – we’re a town of 30K, and we have 5K kids in school – maybe. But yeah – this is definitely not the job I signed up for. But I do it because I feel like I have something to offer. I am also the person who talks about big picture issues – like the fact that we are in the bottom 10% of all school districts state wide in per pupil funding (our property tax rates are among the lowest in the state too). It really constrains what we can do, and the cheapness of people in my town re: schools drives me bonkers.
That’s so great that you and your board are addressing these issues. It’s not happening at our meetings. Maybe it’s because 2 of the 5 members of our board send their kids to private schools, which are open as normal. Our school board is currently talk about procedures for identifying gifted and talented students. I have no idea how they can do that when the teachers haven’t met many of their students in person.
Students are so massively, massively screwed over right now. Learning loss is going to be the least of the problems. The damage is permanent, but I hope that if we get kids back in school soon, we can mitigate some of the damage.
If we can’t open schools, then we will have to make more radical changes. School vouchers, teacher furloughs, complete reorganization of schools — it’s all going to be on the table soon.
“They talk about random shit instead, like a potential gifted and talent program. I want to hear plans. And they aren’t giving me plans. So, therefore, they are going to get another speech from me on Monday.”
Oh my; I’m new to the game of paying attention to school boards, but, at the last one i tried to watch, the subject was boundaries for a middle school, and there were 10! parents testifying about the two blocks they wanted included in the boundary. I know how this happens (coordination among a group who cares, and, the boundary was on the agenda, so speakers on the topic were prioritized, and, the school board actually decides the boundaries), but it was mind boggling. No plan or information on opening schools.
In our case, though, it really is that the school board can’t do a lot, without careful planning and using big hammers (i.e. refusing to approve budgets for the district unless the district answers questions about something, which would be a huge hammer to use).
The NFL has found that Covid is very, very infectious. https://www.wsj.com/articles/super-bowl-nfl-covid-cdc-11612104460
From Sept. 27 to Oct. 10, there were a total of 41 cases in the league. Of those, 21 were believed to have come from transmission within an individual team—a finding boosted by genomic sequencing.
Those 21 cases yielded fascinating insights. Twelve had no close interactions of at least 15 consecutive minutes with a confirmed positive. Eight had no interactions of even five consecutive minutes. Seven had no interactions that cumulatively added up to 15 minutes with any confirmed positives.
Right around the Titans’ outbreak, in October, a similar lesson came from a Vermont prison. An investigation there confirmed that cumulative brief interactions exceeding 15 minutes could lead to transmission. It didn’t have to be 15 consecutive minutes, leading the CDC to change its definition of a close contact to a cumulative 15 minutes over the course of 24 hours.
I recommend the entire article, although there might be a paywall. At any rate, how do you think you can run a school, in person, under that time limit? Only after vaccinating the teachers and staff would I feel that they would be reasonably safe, unless they’ve already had Covid-19.
There are estimates now that the pandemic could continue, worldwide, for 7 years: https://nypost.com/2021/02/05/pandemic-could-continue-for-seven-years-under-current-vaccination-rate/
The Post article includes links to Bloomberg and other sources.
But, from that article, note: A study by Mount Sinai published last week in the preprint server MedRxiv found reinfection is “common” among young people, especially those who had very mild cases or no symptoms at all when they had the bug. The researchers involved urged governments to include young, previously infected people in vaccine distribution.
And yet, the Seahawks had no coronavirus cases: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/05/sports/football/seahawks-coronavirus-nfl.html
“The N.F.L. Had Over 700 Coronavirus Positives. The Seahawks Had None.
The only team to play the entire season without any confirmed positive cases did so with innovative thinking, vigilance to protocols and some Pete Carroll-style competition.”
We don’t need football, but we do need schools. They are necessary. So, our goal has to be not zero risk (one elementary school, even if it were spread within the school), but reasonable risk, reasonable precautions, and a plan to change plans as needed. Right now, I see a stasis waiting for no risk, which we will not reach. I understand the fear; I experience it myself. But so did the doctors, nurses, nursing aides, child care workers, first res ponders, grocery store workers who do their jobs.
I think it’s good to vaccinate teachers (as well as anyone else who is doing necessary work that puts them at risk), but that goal is too operational and mechanistic. We need plans that set goals about how we deal with a ever changing pandemic, not one that sets metrics we may never reach (all teachers? all students? which vaccine? how about new variants?). We will continue to face new strains, new data, new mitigation measures. That’s why I’m not good with, OK, we’ll open the schools when the teachers are vaccinated — that’s not an endpoint any more than we’ll open the hospitals when doctors are vaccinated.
Here’s an issue that I haven’t seen anybody talking about.
I don’t think that enough attention has been paid to seasonality and school opening/closures.
For example, a lot of NE/mid-Atlantic school districts stayed closed or mostly closed through Aug./Sept./Oct./etc. and were only starting to talk about coming back later in the fall–i.e., during the beginning of cold and flu season and (as it turned out) the biggest, deadliest surge of the pandemic. As I recall, DC was planning to come back in early November.
That timing made no sense at all.
Meanwhile, a number of sunbelt states mostly opened in August/September and had very successful reopenings…up until November when everything went to heck nationally.
I think we ought to think harder about the relationship between school reopenings and COVID’s likely regional seasonality. We probably can’t time this exactly, but there is reason to believe that if COVID continues to be a force in the US beyond the first round of vaccinations, summer may be a bad time in the sunbelt and a lot of states are going to have a problem with traditional cold and flu season. Hence, how about planning to run in-person school through summer 2021 for (the mostly) northern states that did not have a summer COVID surge in 2020? Likewise, both northern and sunbelt states should use the sunbelt strategy of using August-October for in-person school.
Obviously, there’s a lot we don’t know, but I think that the US should work harder at using relatively low risk months for school.
And maybe this is unnecessary because we are going to crush COVID with vaccines this spring–but I still think it would be a good idea for non-sunbelt states to use the summer for school.
By the way, Laura, feel free to steal this idea.
I agree that summer school should be a big part of the conversation and I would like to see conversation about shutting remote education and furloughing teachers (in younger grades — I don’t think it works for HS) and reopening the schools later in the year. That leaves room for vaccination, too. If we come up with extra money so that summer school can be offered to every K-5 student who desires it, then we can do both. But, if its one or the other, I think summer school instead for K-5 would be a good plan in the NE/NW.
I don’t know about CA and the midwest, and am less sure about the seasonality (if we actually mean air condition/heating, we should refer to that, rather than season).
bj said, “I don’t know about CA and the midwest, and am less sure about the seasonality (if we actually mean air condition/heating, we should refer to that, rather than season).”
Yeah, that’s a good point.
A lot of schools may get too warm in the summer, unfortunately.
If Laura ever gets her school rebuilding dream, one of the things that needs to happen is rethinking school ventilation, because being unable to even open windows has been a huge problem.
AmyP, I think there are too many factors in play to assume that summer is a safer time. For one thing, the states seem to have reached a significant number of initial Covid-19 patients at different times. The states with direct flights to Asia and Europe seem to have borne the brunt of the first wave.
I agree that sealed HVAC systems that recycle air (often with dodgy filters) are likely part of the problem. If it were up to me (which it’s not!) I would have encouraged people to be outside as much as possible. In my opinion, shutting people up inside is extremely dangerous; shutting down state parks and outdoor public spaces was not the thing to do.
If you look at the “Weekly number of deaths (from all causes)” chart (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm), you’ll see that the summer was not a pause. It only seemed better in comparison to the first and second wave. 20% excess deaths is significant.
I do think there are deaths and health effects due to Covid that are not being picked up by the testing. For example, young, healthy patients suddenly exhibiting heart problems: https://www.fox2detroit.com/news/ohio-state-study-30-of-student-athletes-have-heart-damage-linked-to-covid-19.
Also, there is now the specter of “Long Covid:” https://nypost.com/2021/01/18/1-in-8-recovered-covid-19-patients-die-within-5-months-study/
Many people who suffer long-lasting effects of the coronavirus develop heart problems, diabetes and chronic liver and kidney conditions, according to the report.
The research also found a higher risk of problems developing in various organs after people younger than 70 and ethnic minorities were discharged from the hospital, according to the Guardian.
“People seem to be going home, getting long-term effects, coming back in and dying. We see nearly 30 percent have been readmitted, and that’s a lot of people. The numbers are so large,” study author Kamlesh Khunti said.
I agree it’s a train wreck. I’m just frustrated by the way the discussion of this disease keeps breaking down into two camps, no matter the topic. Schools open or schools closed. How about, open schools with stringent safety precautions, which include at least, vaccination of staff, with the goal of vaccinating everyone when possible?
I predict the unions will be hard to convince, short of vaccination, if only because the teachers with the most seniority are also the oldest, and thus the most in danger from Covid-19.
As I’ve said before, I think that remote education that costs money is bad enough for young children that if the mess cranberry describes was a the only way, we should shut down remote education and furlough teachers and bank the money for when we can teach the children in schools.
For some, I think remote is worse than nothing, but for many it’s not worth the cost we are investing, especially if it means less money later.
For K-3, in my opinion.
If we start furloughing teachers, there’s going to be a major major major war.
Among whom? or between whom? I mean I know it’s not going to happen, but as long as people keep saying they have no plans, they’re waiting for cases to decease, for vaccinations, for . . . . i don’t see how the budget holes are going to close. Maybe federal rescues.
Do you mean the teacher unions? Because I don’t see striking as making a significant difference at this stage, and what other weapons do they have?
Furloughing teacher may be the only way to get their attention. Right now, they get paid regardless of the fact that the majority of the kids they’re supposed to be teaching aren’t getting an education.
And, why should teachers be different? Plenty of other employees have been furloughed.
The teachers unions have more tools than strikes. They are significant $$ contributors to campaigns and elections. People owe them. Biden owes them.
Parents don’t have a Plan B. If schools totally shutdown, then they won’t even get those few hours of remote education. It will be pit neighbor against neighbor.
The next door school district did “strike” — replacing the synchronous hours with asynchronous (is homework). I think whether parents rebel depends on what they get out of the synch time. And I don’t know. I hear the horror stories of younger kids locking themselves into bedrooms and posting no zoom signs and older kids asleep in front of their computers. But those could be extreme examples and are not my experience.
But if teachers were to try an asynchronous strike here, I’d loose any sense of being in it together and that is saying a lot for me.
Also, my furlough plan includes compensatory time. Would parents rebel then?
I can only chime in with our anecdata. Our province offered two options, one fully virtual where in our board, students were assigned to essentially a fake huge school with its own principals and teachers, and in-person, which for high schools was hybrid and for elementary schools was full-sized classes with masks and other protocols (no rotating to science labs etc.)
From my position tracking about 20 schools related to our after school program and my own kids, there was transmission in schools but (without asymptomatic cases) very few large outbreaks. My _opinion_ is that kids were giving it to a few people around them but it wasn’t going like wildfire through full classes – I had about 8 kids in my after school program who had to stay home and get tested because there was a case in their class and none of them developed it. In my own workplace, we had two situations where people tested positive for Covid the day after attending, and none of the contacts through us developed Covid (we had pretty serious masking and distancing protocols in place.)
In my opinion, the province and school boards really failed in one regard: They seemed to hesitate to shut a whole school or even a few classrooms down based on ❤ cases. And the protocol that upset me personally the most was that if there were students in a classroom with a positive case, those students had to stay home – but their SIBLINGS did not, so you had families with one child self-isolating and one…merrily eating lunch with their classmates.
Community spread kept going up.
Then we had a shutdown at Christmas because of the spike in cases, and then some Northern boards opened in-person (because they don't have great internet) and now most of the province's schools are either in-person now or opening for in-person learning on Monday (my own board is in the last group, slated for Feb 16.)
My high schooler has done really well, except for a low-ish grade in the shortened math quadmester which is understandable as he takes a bit of time to absorb concepts. My fourth grader is drowning except that he's picking up a lot of french, and I am kind of low energy to force him through the work and I'm not sure where we will end up; I think I'm going to start some tutoring for him over the summer if not before.
Other than the unwillingness to declare outbreaks and do robust contact tracing (a BIG other than) I think educationally, the boards and teachers have done really good work here. I am sure there will be gaps, especially with vulnerable kids – like 8,000 of them never actually showed up to school – and my PTA-equivalent is already talking about setting up a free tutoring program once we can do it in-person. If my business closes I'm thinking of taking a year off (my savings account is good) to dedicate to writing and running almost-free after school help at my house, do martial arts and homework and social skills with 4-6 kids. If my business stays open we're looking at opening a few more scholarship slots once we're profitable.
I think it helped teachers that they were given some choice – I don't think everyone who wanted virtual got it and everyone who wanted in-person got it, but I think there were possibilities and that helped them feel supported.
It helps that here in Ontario, schools are funded at the provincial level, so although there are still large inequities, funding per student isn't one of them.
For our kids, I am actually opting into virtual school now because of the B117 variant, as we know it's here in the community and there has been no change in the protocols that let cases of the /old/ variant gradually rise in the fall. Also our Conservative government lost its path and has been lying a lot, so I no longer feel that I can trust the decision-making. It's like – we reset the numbers but we aren't doing anything differently so I can't see that cases will go /down/ once we reopen, and here in Canada, vaccination is currently a disaster – I think because we prioritized long-term care homes we'll see good stats for a bit, but if we take the guardrails off, we'll start to see seniors in the community get sick. Like my MIL who lives with us.
My high schooler already has a decent virtual placement – his school gave up assigning kids to Virtual School because it's a specialized program and so he'll be Google Meet-ing into classes where his friends are there in person, but I think this term will be ok because it's his two favourite subjects. Next term is physed and English and he lives with me, so we're good there even if things keep being lousy (I have hopes for once they can have class outdoors.)
My 4th grader is not guaranteed his French placement so that's where we might have to decide between switching him to English (which I don't favour, but, pandemic) or….or I have NO IDEA. But because it's grade 4, we have his life to make up skills. I just don't know what his relationship to school will be.
Whoops, the heart is < 3 cases 🙂
Jenn said, “My _opinion_ is that kids were giving it to a few people around them but it wasn’t going like wildfire through full classes – I had about 8 kids in my after school program who had to stay home and get tested because there was a case in their class and none of them developed it.”
I think that it’s more than just your opinion. The sort of full-class blow-up in Wendy’s news story barely seems to happen very rarely.
“And the protocol that upset me personally the most was that if there were students in a classroom with a positive case, those students had to stay home – but their SIBLINGS did not, so you had families with one child self-isolating and one…merrily eating lunch with their classmates.”
Here’s an interesting school safety thread from a Harvard School of Public Health guy:
His suggestions: use higher quality masks (he gives a prioritization list) and portable air filter with HEPA filter. He goes into a lot of detail, but here are some snippets:
“The power of masks comes when everyone wears one. If everyone in the room is wearing a blue surgical mask, which captures ~70%, respiratory particles have to go through 2 masks – mine, and yours. The *combined* impact is 91%! And that’s before distance or ventilation”
“If a student has a 70% mask, and now a teacher wears a KF94, for example, the *combined* benefit is 98%! Immediate exposure reduction of 98% just from masks, even before any distance or any ventilation/filtration.”
“Only buy a portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter. You don’t need or want UV, ions, or any other gimmicky (and expensive) option. Then look for the device’s ‘clean air delivery rate’, or CADR.”
Throw in vaccinated teachers, and you’re starting to look at a much, much safer environment.
Our schools give out paper masks (not sure they are surgical grade) to any kids who don’t have theirs or who have lost theirs, esp since they are required.
The Biden administration has started to make noises about mailing out masks to everybody.
If we’re talking about cloth masks or surgical masks sent to everybody, I think that’s dumb and expensive and will fill up a bunch of landfills with unused masks. Nobody at this point is not wearing a mask because they can’t get one. I drive through downtown many times a week, and even most of the homeless people are wearing masks outside.
However, if the Biden administration could see their way to providing higher grade medical masks to schools (or even just certified KN95s), that would be a completely different deal. Or even just some more surgical masks would be good.
But I’ve never heard Biden talk about higher quality masks. It’s always just “masks”–as if the country wasn’t knee-deep in them already.
Here’s the other thing schools can do, now, during the summer, and if we’re continuing to wear masks in the fall: develop masks that are both high grade medically AND easy to speak through, with a high level of audibility. I had a terrible time hearing students (and they had a hard time hearing each other) when I tried to have class discussions with the students all spread out.
“Here’s the other thing schools can do, now, during the summer, and if we’re continuing to wear masks in the fall: develop masks that are both high grade medically AND easy to speak through, with a high level of audibility. I had a terrible time hearing students (and they had a hard time hearing each other) when I tried to have class discussions with the students all spread out.”
My husband did an experiment before returning to in-person college teaching. He had the family give him feedback on several different masks, with us being unaware which mask he was using. Of the 4 or so masks we compared, KN95s had the best combination of filtration and audibility. We didn’t have any real N95s to compare, though, so I don’t know how they are for audibility.
My college daughter dropped a calculus class taught by a double masked European this spring–he was really hard to understand.
My husband was telling me that it is possible to rig up a DIY air purifier using a box fan and an HVAC filter. Here’s a demo of one approach to the project:
It might be kind of loud, but definitely better than nothing if a real air purifier is unavailable.
Age is affecting my hearing. Add in that masks make lip reading impossible. I would opt for online instruction without masks, if this were required.
Cranberry said, “Age is affecting my hearing. Add in that masks make lip reading impossible. I would opt for online instruction without masks, if this were required.”
My husband pointed out to me that if it’s too loud, you could keep it off during instructional time and then run it when the kids are doing seat work and during breaks.
Hopefully real air purifiers are quieter–but if they aren’t available, there are probably hundreds of millions of box fans floating around the US.
With little kids who don’t have parents eager and able to homeschool them or for kids who aren’t coping well with remote schooling, it really is worth it to try this stuff.
That said, I’ll include my boiler plate bit about, “but I totally understand if teachers want to wait a month until they are vaccinated to come back to the classroom.” There’s a huge payoff for waiting an extra month for teachers to be vaccinated and for the vaccine to kick in.
The problem is, is that with the new variants arising, there’s not a clear finish line anymore. The Brits seem to be crushing their variant with the vaccines that they are using, but who knows about the South African one or whatever other variants are brewing. If we keep schools closed until every single variant has been dealt with, schools are going to be closed for at least several years.
On a happier note, here’s the chart of UK new cases:
They are 2/3 down from peak and still falling.
Click and you’ll get the happy UK chart.
Hi. Voice of Doom here. How was your weekend?
So, it seems vaccines do not necessarily defeat the South African variant: https://www.ft.com/content/e9bbd4fe-e6bf-4383-bfd3-be64140a3f36
Median age of 31. You would not expect to see death or severe cases in that age group (2,000 people). In other bad news, even new strains continue to evolve–the Kent strain has acquired the E484K mutation. I recommend the entire article. As a South African authority interviewed in the article states, maybe the strategy must shift to protecting the most vulnerable, rather than trying to stop the virus itself.
I would assume, logically, that the strains which are controlled by vaccination would thus be handicapped in relation to the strains that are less susceptible to existing vaccinations, so the new strains are likely to spread further, faster. It’s an arms race, in which viral evolution is faster than vaccine development, let alone vaccine deployment.
South Africa has halted distribution of the Astra Zeneca vaccine. https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthart/2021/02/08/south-africa-halts-astrazeneca-covid-19-vaccine-after-study-shows-minimal-protection-against-local-variant/?sh=4ec80016461a
Heh. Hi, Doom. Thanks for the info
We are doing well on the vaccination front: https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/?areas=gbr&areas=isr&areas=usa&areas=eue&cumulative=1&populationAdjusted=1.
Europe is not. There is a fascinating political spectacle happening over vaccination right now: https://spectator.us/topic/ursula-von-der-leyen-broken-first-rule-leadership/?utm_source=Spectator+USA+Email+Signup&utm_campaign=e26b891a62-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_8_31_2020_19_27_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_edf2ae2373-e26b891a62-154708997&mc_cid=e26b891a62&mc_eid=8725a91deb.
At some point, we have to recalibrate our perception of acceptable risk. I am admittedly an odd duck, in that I am more freaked out by long-term disability on a massive scale than by death. Lockdowns were originally introduced to relieve the pressure on hospitals. If vaccination campaigns reduce the load on hospitals, then perhaps we can call that good enough and open up the economy again.
The long-term psychological effects on people are severe. I am less worried about children at home with families than I am about the lonely singletons. People living alone. Young adults in new cities. Widows and widowers. The crotchety, old, introverted and misanthropic. People campaign against solitary confinement in prisons. What happens when millions of people are denied social contact for months or years?
I am worried about those lonely singletons. Some of them are breaking quarantine, because, indeed, solitary confinement (especially unchosen) is unbearable for human beings in the long term, even if interspersed with communication. Some are muscling through, but I worry about them sometimes — though the ones I know I know only remotely.
In other pandemic news, I looked out my kitchen window and discovered that my husband and teen son are outside trying out the throwing knives that husband just ordered. They’re using a styrofoam block as the target, but I believe there’s been some talk of constructing a wooden target.
Mine played backgammon (kiddo was playing for the first time he remembers, though he might have played as a youngster and doesn’t remember), a pandemic first.
“Minimal transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from paediatric COVID-19 cases in primary schools, Norway, August to November 2020.”
There was a lot of community COVID in the area studied: “Oslo and Viken were the counties in Norway with the highest 14-day incidence of COVID-19, ranging from 19.3 to 94.9 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in weeks 36 to 46 .” EEK!
“Norwegian schools were closed during the first SARS-CoV-2 wave in spring 2020. After re-opening, all schools implemented infection prevention and control (IPC) measures based on national guidelines. These included strengthened hygiene measures, physical distancing and a clear message to stay home if symptomatic, even with mild symptoms. Use of face masks is not recommended in schools in Norway. We found that with the IPC measures implemented there is low to no transmission from SARS-CoV-2–infected children in schools.”
“It is important to acknowledge that our results are valid for primary schools only, and not for secondary or high schools. SARS-CoV-2 transmission in those ≥ 14 years old needs to be further studied.”
Interesting (and scary) pop science article on virus re-infections and variants.
We may be living with this virus for some time…. And what does that mean for school re-openings….
Even 100% vaccination (which is, frankly, not achievable) wouldn’t necessarily protect people from catching it again.
And, of course, *any* variant which is less restricted by current immunity levels (whether through having survived or through vaccination), is much more likely to spread and become a dominant strain.
Monica Gandhi just had something possibly related. She wrote (in response to an article):
“Why are T cells beloved? 99 convalescent people in S. Diego- immunity stimulates broad T cell repertoire, (=19 CD4 epitopes; 17 CD8 epitopes). Means viral escape of T cell-immunity (from both natural infection/vax) unlikely, re-infection if happens mild.”
I don’t quite follow that, but yay?
I recommend “Cells at Work” on Netflix: Episode 9: “Thymocytes”
Laura tweeted, “Could a school district that usually spends $5,000 on an aide, now use the CARES grant money to pay that salary, with an extra $5K to pay the football coach?”
Here’s my horrid thought–have some of those districts been using that money to pay “classroom monitors” and keep teachers remote?
I don’t understand why you think community sucks in the US. I’ve lived in a variety of areas and have never had that experience. Community in the US is not government directed, but I consider that a strength.
Bowling alone, Putnam
Social distancing is anti-community.
It might be necessary–but it dissolves existing community.
That’s why subgroups that depend on mutual support for survival have chosen not to do it–much to the dismay of the groups that have chosen social distancing over community.
that’s 20 years old. Even “bowling” has made a comeback. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/bowling-alleys-made-comeback-120030456.html. Have you gotten involved in any meet up groups?
Not formal clubs, but my mother plays cards, walks against the current at a local indoor water park, has a quilting group. My dad was involved in ham radio clubs, his VFW and did lots charitable work through them, as well as the Legion. My brother is in Lions Club, my sister used to organize Mom’s Day Out for her church etc. I have friends that regularly hike with Sierra Club. Another friend’s husband is part of this: https://bacaworld.org/faqs/
My neighborhood has a citizen’s association. We mostly spend the dues on beer, but we are also able to make the local pols listen when we complain about potholes and sidewalks.
Putnam is out of date and there were multiple good criticisms of him at the time it was published.
Pfft! To the idea we lack community.
I live in Canada and have relatives in the States and I think there’s community in both.
But what baffles me in the US is how mean people are regardless – mean in the sense of stingy, when it comes to social supports. Like here I have been to PTA meetings for years and I have never, ever, ever heard someone say that the school shouldn’t be spending money on special ed. (I have once or twice heard people complain about integrated classrooms where the teacher’s attention is perceived to be going to particular students.) But I hear from friends there that this is quite common, both in meetings about taxes and at school meetings.
Maybe this is a specific community thing but I think…in the US community seems to be defined as “do I have nice friends who help me out” and where I live it’s defined as “can people who need help get it.”
Jenn said, “Maybe this is a specific community thing but I think…in the US community seems to be defined as “do I have nice friends who help me out” and where I live it’s defined as “can people who need help get it.”
“Community” means non-governmental support. It’s what you have aside from government programs.
During the pandemic, whole government sectors stopped operating in large areas of the US for long periods of time: school, special education, child welfare, early intervention, libraries, parks and playgrounds, etc. Anybody in those areas who depended on those services was out of luck.
Ironically, the government service shutdowns happened predominantly in politically blue areas, where people pay through the nose for those government services.
““Community” means non-governmental support. It’s what you have aside from government programs.”
Yes and no – maybe that’s what it means in the US.
But here, we have government-funded community centres which run government-funded community programs. They are distinct from “government services” which are more like – welfare, driver’s licenses, health cards, etc.
A “community camp” is a camp funded through a) municipal community centres and b) federal summer wage subsidies, usually run through a non-profit but also through community centres. Same with community soccer, seniors’ fitness classes and friendship clubs, community art and STEM classes, etc. Then there’s “non-profit” so for example, we also have a Boys’ and Girls’ club which is partially government funded (on a program basis) but also charitably funded through individual and corporate support.
I was speaking with my husband about this use of community this morning. Although it’s a small and fuzzy difference, the language itself reinforces some of the cultural difference between where we are the US. For us, a social circle is people who know you – people that you hang out with at book club, play hockey with, etc.
Community is what we do and build locally for everyone who lives here that we don’t know, and for us, a lot of that is funded through either partial or complete government support. Like this: https://211ontario.ca/211-topics/community-programs/
For example, here in my neighbourhood we have 5 community pools within biking distance. All are funded through a combination of provincial (through the schools, because 2 of them are co-located in high schools) and municipal funding, with one also co-located/funded through the University of Toronto, and build by Federal funding for the PamAm Games among others. This means my kids have access to “community swim lessons” which cost us $80 for 10-12 depending on the level at 3 of the pools (families who clear the low-income bar don’t pay at all).
My niece learned to swim in her “community clubhouse pool” but that was a clubhouse built in the US by her gated HOA.
It didn’t strike me until this discussion but I do think that language is really important and here, paying for everyone to access participation in community programs through our taxes is a big part of how we define it.
Jenn said, “Community is what we do and build locally for everyone who lives here that we don’t know, and for us, a lot of that is funded through either partial or complete government support.”
We have a lot of government funded or partially funded amenities in the US, too, but in some areas, they are closed by the pandemic.
Take, for example, the Smithsonian museums in DC. There are a squillion of them, they are free, and they are currently closed because of the pandemic.
Natural History says, “As a public health precaution due to COVID-19, all Smithsonian museums are temporarily closed. We are not announcing a reopening date at this time and will provide updates on our websites and social media.”
Even DC’s National Zoo, which is free, and which in a saner world would be open, is closed:
There’s also been a collapse in National Zoo educational programming. When I clicked on “camps” and “classes” (the National Zoo camps are super fun for kids), I got this:
“On Thursday, Feb. 4, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and Friends of the National Zoo announced the dissolution of their partnership. FONZ [Friends of the National Zoo] will no longer offer camps, children and adult classes, birthday parties, or overnights at the Zoo.”
“In-person and virtual FONZ Safari Day Camps are suspended indefinitely, but your young explorer can still enjoy our Sofa Safari Online Activities.”
“As a public health precaution due to COVID-19, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is temporarily closed. Home-school programs are suspended for the 2020-2021 school year.”
They’ve also stopped offering school group programming.
Basically, it’s a clean sweep in terms of all in-person educational activities at the National Zoo.
DC’s National Building Museum, which is also free, “is closed until further notice.”
A bit more hopefully, DC’s Children’s Museum says they “will be closed March 13 until further notice as a precaution against COVID-19.”
This has been such a disaster for DC metro area families.
It’s not like that everywhere in the US. While it looks like our city zoo in Texas is probably not going to run summer camps, the zoo is open. Coincidentally, our local schools have been open in-person since August, with occasional closures.
It’s going to make an enormous difference in child welfare, going forward, which areas were open.
Oh, right now all of ours are closed – we’re coming to the end of a relatively full lockdown in Ontario, curbside pickup for non-essential retail only, takeout only, kids learning remotely (some are back this week), no gyms, no indoor gathering including places of worship. Special ed classes in schools and OT/PT/ST etc. did stay open all along though. Our second wave was mismanaged by the Ontario government, which set poor benchmarks based on, unfortunately, following some US-based benchmarks/models (but they had plenty of bad Canadian advice as well), and it looks like we’re setting ourselves up well for a third wave.
Things are really different up here than there for a variety of reasons including ICU capacity and vaccine sourcing issues (we bought early but our supply’s been delayed by Pfizer and Moderna for a few weeks – the price we pay for having sold off our manufacturing over a decade ago.) For my business it’ll be the slow rollout that may kill us – we’ll see in the fall.
My point was more, for us government is an important part of community building and our definition of community, I think, different than in the US for that reason. In some ways it ends up colder, like people are meeting each other at the community pool and the library rather than organizing street parties.
Like here I have been to PTA meetings for years and I have never, ever, ever heard someone say that the school shouldn’t be spending money on special ed. (I have once or twice heard people complain about integrated classrooms where the teacher’s attention is perceived to be going to particular students.) But I hear from friends there that this is quite common, both in meetings about taxes and at school meetings.
Isn’t this a result of different funding models? It seems the funding for schools in Canada come from the province, following a per-student formula: https://peopleforeducation.ca/public-education-in-ontario/how-education-is-funded/
Funding for special education, for student achievement in the Learning Opportunities Grant, and for capital expenditures, is enveloped and cannot be spent for other purposes.
The Ministry of Education announces revisions to education funding and the amounts that school boards will receive in the spring of each year.
So, a school board meeting in Canada has no power to change the special ed budget. Thus, it would be a pointless exercise to complain about it at a PTA meeting. In contrast, the public school districts around here have more latitude to adjust the budget, most of which is determined by the local town. The state does equalize spending some, under education reform law. The state does set a per-district budget floor for spending per student. In contrast to Canada, though, the budgeting is mainly bottom-up, rather than top-down.
In most towns, school spending is something like 2/3 of the yearly budget. I’ve seen very heated debates over town spending in town meetings. It does not help if the school committee is out-of-touch with the voters; overrides to increase town spending can and do fail. When they fail, budgets have to be cut. At that point, it can get bitter, as special ed funding in our state is shielded from cuts, so the cuts come from other parts of the school budget. For example: https://www.mma.org/schools-pare-budgets-after-override-votes/ Parents who are facing class sizes of 37 are likely to complain.
In point of fact, despite the different approaches, the US spends more than Canada on primary school students. The two countries are very close in overall spending on education: https://globalnews.ca/news/2944919/how-canadian-education-compares-to-other-countries/.
I think Jenn’s take on community from another country is interesting. But, we shouldn’t over under-estimate our taxpayer funded communities in the US, too. My children learned to swim in a community school and one rowed in a community boat house and they both took an array of classes at our neighborhood community center.
Amy is mentioning pandemic effects, and indeed, taxpayer funded institutions seem to be less likely to remain open right now. Our club pool is open (though notably, unlike our area community pools, it is outdoor). But, the rowing program just sent out a email to the rowing community saying that some of their coaches have set up a rowing program at another center because the parks program isn’t opening even though the program is permitted to run under the governor’s orders.
And, our schools remain closed. I was most recently steaming about a school district tweet that said the March in school SAT is cancelled and suggested that people could still register for the Saturday SATS. The in school SAT is free to students and they are automatically registered; Saturday SATs are expensive (and, many may already be filled up and may get cancelled) and why would it be safer to take the SAT in another building in another community? I would have been less steamed if they had acknowledged that the cancellation is a loss.
“Isn’t this a result of different funding models? It seems the funding for schools in Canada come from the province, following a per-student formula: https://peopleforeducation.ca/public-education-in-ontario/how-education-is-funded/”
But the funding model is a choice. We could change the funding model so that IDEA was fully funded (or even funded to the level that was promised when the requirement to educate children with special needs was passed at the federal level). It is a perpetual fix that never makes it into law. Senator Jeffords used to be a Republican advocate.
bj said, “Amy is mentioning pandemic effects, and indeed, taxpayer funded institutions seem to be less likely to remain open right now.”
Yeah, I was really counting on being able to send the 2nd grader to our city’s zoo camp after her session got cancelled last summer, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to be running it this year. It’s still possible, but there’s a note on the website saying that they are waiting for the city to make a decision. With every passing week, it gets less likely that they are going to be able to offer the camps, but I haven’t completely given up hope. There’s also the issue of other city summer camps (they usually have a bunch). I googled for 2021 city camp info and all I could find was information about the city camps getting cancelled in 2020…
I’m sure there will still be something available this summer, but it may be much slimmer pickings. We may mostly wind up just getting water park passes and going a lot.
“I was most recently steaming about a school district tweet that said the March in school SAT is cancelled and suggested that people could still register for the Saturday SATS.”
On the one hand, a lot of colleges are going test-optional right now, but on the other hand, if the test scores would have been a plus, not being able to take the test is very disadvantaging. It’s not like it’s reasonable to expect kids to have amazing extracurriculars this year.
By the way, if nobody’s done it yet, that might be a good Atlantic piece for Laura–how college admissions officers are dealing with the fact that they’re basically flying blind this year.
But the funding model is a choice. We could change the funding model so that IDEA was fully funded (or even funded to the level that was promised when the requirement to educate children with special needs was passed at the federal level). It is a perpetual fix that never makes it into law.
Sure. But that hasn’t happened in the 46 years since 1975, so it’s quite unlikely to happen. It would also open the question of whether the funds the schools have spent in that time to close the gap should be repaid.
Here’s an article summing up what’s happened for IDEA up to now: https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/why-the-feds-still-fall-short-on-special-education-funding/2020/01
Note that originally, the “full funding” was a formula of 1.4 x typical student cost per special ed student. The article cites a specific example of today’s special ed funding: The 4,000-student district has about 600 identified students with disabilities, and the cost to educate those students is, on average, about $30,000 higher than general per-pupil costs of about $16,000, she said.
The original formula would have provided $20,000 per special ed student, not $46,000. So there would still be a massive gap, as long as the spending is determined piecemeal, district by district, student by student. It is interesting that special ed identification is not uniform. Urban districts tend to have very few students identified as special ed, while affluent suburban districts have much more. I do not believe that pattern reflects the actual distribution of special ed students.
One fix that will not happen, as it would make no one happy, would be for the federal government to set fixed reimbursement rates per disability, while perhaps setting up schools specialized to treat certain disorders. In the private sector, there are schools that focus on certain conditions, such as dyslexia or autism. Sometimes public school districts choose to outplace students to dedicated programs.
However, the federal government too large a group to fit the definition of “community.”
The Biden administration is being kind of shady about their school reopening “goal.” Jen Psaki has just stated that their goal is 50% of schools being open with in-person instruction at least one day a week…but that goal has already been achieved.
I don’t know how reliable this is, but I don’t know where to find anything better:
They say that currently, 35.2% of kids attend virtual-only schools, 39.7% attend traditional in-person schools, and 25.1% of kids attend hybrid schools. (That doesn’t mean that all of the traditional and hybrid school kids are in class in-person, but they have the option.) Hence, with nearly 2/3 of kids in either hybrid or traditional, the Biden 50% goal has already been met.
The least in-person states seem to be Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico and Maryland.
The Burbio grade level breakdown is as follows:
K-5 is 30.9% virtual schools, 20.5% hybrid and 48.6% traditional
6-8 is 38.4% virtual, 28.2% hybrid and 33.4% traditional
9-12 is 39.8% virtual, 29.6% hybrid and 30.6% traditional.
The number of kids in hybrid and traditional schools has been ticking up while the number of kids in virtual-only has been ticking down and nearly half of K-5 kids are already in school full-time in-person.
Sorry! That last sentence was inexact. Nearly half of K-5 kids already have the option of school full-time in-person–but they may or may not be taking it.
As an FYI, the nominee for Secretary of Education hasn’t been confirmed yet.
Let’s also not forget Biden has been president for only 2 weeks, without any support for transition.
Wendy said, “As an FYI, the nominee for Secretary of Education hasn’t been confirmed yet. Let’s also not forget Biden has been president for only 2 weeks, without any support for transition.”
Biden has internet, too.
He knows, or he ought to know, how many kids are in school in person right now.
Even better, I believe the “goal” is limited to K-8. So, the current goal is to get 50% of schools serving K-8 open in-person 1 day a week by April 30…a goal which has already been achieved.
Maybe… Biden doesn’t want to rely on the Internet for stats? Is that a bad thing?
Wendy wrote, “Maybe… Biden doesn’t want to rely on the Internet for stats? Is that a bad thing?”
Has the Biden White House presented any of their own stats with regard to how many schools are currently full-time/hybrid/full remote?
You’d think that that would be a pretty basic thing to want to know before setting goals about how many schools should be open after 100 days…
You’re nitpicking. They’re goals, not contracts. Biden is expressing support for getting schools open in a situation where it’s been only 2 weeks and department leadership isn’t even in place. That’s a good thing overall.
True, except for the part where it creates worries that they don’t really understand what’s going on. And, school really isn’t a federal issue, normally, so my guess is that the federal folks don’t necessarily have a great handle on the details of what is happening around the country in individual school districts.
Our state superintendent, who recently cursed on camera complaining about what’s happening (and saying his own kid was failing chemistry) did step tenderly into applying some levers. He’s said school districts need to submit school reopening plans by March 1, student learning assessment by June 1 (and, unlike last year, is not waiving the state rules about assessment), and said that the federal money will only be released if they submit the March 1 plan (I’m not holding my breath for that). The state is also stepping up data collection on how schools are educating the students.
bj said, “He’s said school districts need to submit school reopening plans by March 1, student learning assessment by June 1 (and, unlike last year, is not waiving the state rules about assessment), and said that the federal money will only be released if they submit the March 1 plan (I’m not holding my breath for that). The state is also stepping up data collection on how schools are educating the students.”
That’s pretty reasonable.
I get the feeling that a lot of blue state and big city school districts are running out of patience.
Lots of school levies on the ballot as part of a special election on February 9th in WA state. I’d mentioned Camas, but there were lots across the whole state. Many are “continuing” levies, which means that they don’t change the tax rate, just continue the levy that had already been in place. The vast majority >90% appear to have passed. Only a a few have failed, Battle Ground, Mount Vernon, . . .
All the Feb 9th levies were in smaller districts (none in the Seattle metro area where the biggest districts are, and where most students are remote). But people don’t seem to be voting down the levies over the current state of the schools (though some of those districts are in person or hybrid, Camas, for example, isn’t).
Oops, I think anonymous is me, bj
The camps don’t fit in this category, but I do thin that another characteristic of whether something is closed is whether it is free to the user (i.e. the free museums in DC, public schools, libraries, . . . .).
My college freshman is having a snow (actually ice storm) day today. Classes are supposed to be remote.
One professor cancelled the class.
The other professor held his class, but nobody had their camera on. EEK! Fortunately, this is a fluky kind of event (I have literally never experienced this type of storm before in TX) and it should be possible to attend class in person within days.
On a happier note, it occurs to me that the widespread taping of college classes is going to be really good for accessibility.
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