Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, takes off her protective face mask to speak as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos looks on during a White House coronavirus disease (COVID-19) task force briefing at the U.S. Education Department in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Parents and educators had already begun to weigh a return to physical classrooms before school was out for summer. While President Trump has pushed for school reopenings nationwide in recent weeks, local districts defy his expectations. The Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified school districts, California’s two largest districts, announced Monday students will return to school next month in a virtual setting due to the state’s rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The same day, in Orange County, the Board of Education voted to allow schools to reopen with masks and social distancing optional.

School districts around the country have started to make their own decisions on in-person learning as well. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) also announced the state’s reopening plan, which allows schools to open if they are located in a region with a less than 5% COVID-19 infection rate. School districts will make individual decisions between Aug. 1-7. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran declared last week that schools must be opened to students at least five days a week starting August. However, many school boards in the state are questioning the constitutionality of Corcoran’s order. School leaders in Arizona co-signed a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) demanding school openings be pushed back at least until October 1 while waiting for a “downward trend” in cases. Catholic schools throughout the states are preparing to return to classrooms this fall, barring any “legitimate authorities” blocking the schools from reopening.

Nearly three-quarters of American parents say there is a large or moderate risk to their family’s health in sending their children to in-person schooling. While Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos originally argued that school closures be left to local jurisdictions and states at the start of the pandemic, DeVos now calls for schools nationwide to follow demands from the president to reopen.

After the Trump administration attempted to use the American Academy of Pediatrics’ previous statement to pressure schools to open for in-person learning, the academy clarified that the decision to reopen should be made with science and safety in mind rather than politics. A leaked guidance document from the Centers for Disease Control noted full, in-person classes are the highest risk for spreading COVID-19. President Trump tweeted his disapproval for the guidelines, claiming the CDC was “asking schools to do very impractical things.” Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said that due to “more co-morbid illness” present in American kids, those students are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than their international counterparts, despite a lower infection rate for young people. 

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±7% margin of error; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Trump’s demand that schools fully reopen spurned by big districts – Politico – 7/13/2020
President Donald Trump has spent the past two weeks demanding — often in all caps on Twitter — that American schools reopen this fall. But America’s biggest school systems are rejecting the president across the country, with one city and county after another opting for virtual education or just a few days a week in school. And the president has little power to do anything about it.

The Case for Reopening Schools – Wall Street Journal – 7/14/2020
Everything else about the coronavirus has become politicized in America, so why not a return to school as well? That’s the depressing state of play as President Trump pushes schools to reopen while Democrats heed teachers unions that demand more federal money and even then may not return. The losers, as ever, would be the children.

To reopen schools safely, close streets and create outdoor classrooms – Fast Company – 7/14/2020
Schools are crucial to building back the economy. Once schools reopen, parents can get back to work, which will spur economic growth in restaurants, retail, bodegas, and all those mom-and-pop enterprises that have vanished in the past several weeks. Getting our schools open for our children triggers the reopening of our communities, and must take top priority for every city agency. But one in particular could be especially helpful: Departments of Transportation, which controls streets and sidewalks.

Should Schools Be Fully Reopened in the Fall? – Reason – 7/13/2020
“There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous,” DeVos told Fox News host Chris Wallace. “We know that children contract and have the virus at far lower incidence than any other part of the population, and we know that other countries around the world have reopened their schools and have done so successfully and safely, and kids there are going back to school every day.” […] Is the Trump administration right on the science? The policy? The federal government’s role thereof?

America Drank Away Its Children’s Future – The New York Times – 7/13/2020
We now have overwhelming confirmation of something we already suspected: For many, perhaps most students there is no substitute for actually being in a classroom. But rooms full of students are potential Petri dishes, even if the young are less likely to die from Covid-19 than the old. Other countries have managed to reopen schools relatively safely — but they did so with much lower infection rates than currently prevail in America, and with adequate testing, which we still don’t have in many hot spots.

Doctor: ‘Anyone Who Prioritizes Children Would Reopen The Schools’ – The Federalist – 7/14/2020
Dr. Scott Atlas said it “feel(s) like I’m living in a Kafka novel” when watching politicians’ “hysteria” against school reopening, in an TV interview Monday with Martha MacCallum. According to the renowned doctor, school closings severely damage children’s’ development and generate next to no gains for public health. “I’m not sure how many times it has to be said, but the risk to children for this disease, for fatalities, is nearly zero. I mean, this is totally antithetical to the data,” he said.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Secretary Betsy DeVos on Twitter, 7/13/2020: Five pediatricians interviewed by @NBCNightlyNews agree the benefits of being in school “far outweigh” the risks of #COVID19 for students. All 5 plan to send their kids back to school in the fall. We can reopen schools safely & ensure learning continues.

MayorOfLA on Twitter, 7/13/2020: While we want our kids to be able to get back to their classrooms, schools should only open for in-person learning when it is safe for students, families, teachers and staff. I support @LASchools’ decision to begin the fall semester with distance learning.

Richard Grenell on Twitter, 7/13/2020: Orange County showing leadership in California.

Lily Eskelsen García on Twitter, 7/13/2020: #BetsyDeVos needs to stop playing politics with students’ lives and futures, and put aside her ideological quest to privatize schools. She needs to finally do her job, by helping parents, health experts, and educators reopen schools responsibly and safely.

Gary Cohn on Twitter, 7/14/2020: Safety must be a priority, but does online school mean school for all? Not all students have internet and the ability to learn remotely. Are we inadvertently widening the education/opportunity gap?

Mohamad Safa on Twitter, 7/13/2020: If your school board is holding a virtual meeting to discuss in-person school. Then maybe it isn’t the best time to send kids back to classrooms.

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