There is a very high probability that most schools will not be reopening this fall with some districts opening on a part-time basis (“hybrid” option), but the majority are now planning for online schooling. Parents need to be aware and start planning for that, if they haven’t already.
What this will look like
There will be some who fight their way onto private school lists. There will be people who threaten to move to another town (for all the good that does them). There will be a lot of kids who are left out of whatever supplemental plans parents cook up. The bottom line is most people will need to buckle in for more distance learning, alongside their own work and other responsibilities.
Trump still pushing to reopen schools but school officials saying no
President Donald Trump is still pushing for schools to reopen this fall – COVID-be-damned – today saying that he “would like to see the schools open 100%” — and then immediately pivoted to the economy, which is why he wants schools to reopen.
But it’s the crisis of American education, more than anything, that illustrates how the country squandered the wins from months of self-imposed quarantine this spring in exchange for a summer of ignoring the obvious.
Now, rather than fine-tuning plans to bring students back on campus part-time, more and more school districts are announcing that instruction this fall will be online-only. And Trump’s call to withhold federal funding from schools that don’t offer in-person classes has landed with a thud among Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Coronavirus surge has districts changing plans
Last week, it was California, where Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom declared schools couldn’t offer in-person instruction until they met certain COVID criteria. Right now that ban applies to 90% of the state’s kids.
On Tuesday, it was Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia and Montgomery County in Maryland that did an abrupt and simultaneous about-face to say public school students would not be brought back in-person.
Together those comprise a major chunk of the DC suburbs. Kids in the nation’s capital won’t know until July 31 if the city will offer any kind of in-person education this fall or whether it will be online.
On Wednesday, it was Clark County in Nevada reversing course from a hybrid model to distance learning. It was Seattle, too. In Kansas, the state board of education, split down the middle, blocked the governor’s attempt to go online only to start the year, an exception proving the new rule.
New study suggests school reopenings will trigger more outbreaks
Many of these school districts reconsidering plans to reopen are citing new data available now from a large study in South Korea that indicates children 10 years of age and older spread the coronavirus just as much as adults.
The study sought to better define how efficiently children can spread the virus to others and they found that children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.
The findings suggest that as schools reopen, communities will see clusters of infection take root that include children of all ages, several experts cautioned.
“I fear that there has been this sense that kids just won’t get infected or don’t get infected in the same way as adults and that, therefore, they’re almost like a bubbled population,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota.
“There will be transmission,” Dr. Osterholm said. “What we have to do is accept that now and include that in our plans.”
Several studies from Europe and Asia have suggested that young children are less likely to get infected and to spread the virus. But most of those studies were small and flawed, said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
The new study “is very carefully done, it’s systematic and looks at a very large population,” Dr. Jha said. “It’s one of the best studies we’ve had to date on this issue.”
Other experts also praised the scale and rigor of the analysis. South Korean researchers identified 5,706 people who were the first to report COVID-19 symptoms in their households between Jan. 20 and March 27, when schools were closed, and then traced the 59,073 contacts of these “index cases.” They tested all of the household contacts of each patient, regardless of symptoms, but only tested symptomatic contacts outside the household.
Children under 10 were roughly half as likely as adults to spread the virus to others, consistent with other studies. That may be because children generally exhale less air — and therefore less virus-laden air — or because they exhale that air closer to the ground, making it less likely that adults would breathe it in.
Children under 10 may still present a high risk
The number of new infections seeded by younger children may still rise when schools reopen, the study authors cautioned. “Young children may show higher attack rates when the school closure ends, contributing to community transmission of COVID-19,” they wrote. Other studies have also suggested that the large number of contacts for schoolchildren, who tend to share much more close, physical contacts with their classmates when compared to older children may in effect cancel out their smaller risk of infecting others.
While some school districts may choose to reopen some elementary schools on some limited, part-time basis, that option now would be much riskier children in upper elementary grades, middle and high schools.
This group was even more likely to infect others than adults were, the study found and may stem from the children’s behaviors. These older children are frequently as big as adults, and yet may have some of the same unhygienic habits or increased physical contact patterns as younger children do.
Whatever be the reasons, schools reopening this fall would likely cause exponential respikes of new cases of coronavirus all across the country, if implemented. For now, it appears that most school districts across the nation – along with their teachers – are reading the warning signs with few it seems, willing to go along with the president.