The U.S. attempt to get kids back in class this fall has turned into a slow-moving train wreck, with at least 2,400 students and staff either COVID-19 infected or isolated due to exposure, and most large large school districts choosing to go online this summer amid rising cases of the virus.
President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have shaken up the situation the most by revealing this week in states like Georgia, Alabama, Indiana and Tennessee, where schools reopened after a months-long pandemic break – just for him quickly repel as soon as popped infections supported.
Trump and DeVos have demanded that schools stay open full time and have threatened to withdraw federal funding if institutions fail to do so. At a White House event this week, DeVos did not mention the crisis in Georgia and elsewhere and said families should not be held “captive to other people̵7;s fears or agendas.”
DeVos “has repeatedly said that the decision to reopen should be made at the local level, and some schools may need to stay temporarily virtual based on the local public health situation,” Angela Morabito, a Department of Education spokeswoman, told ABC News late Thursday in an email response to questions about recent school closures.
“She also, for the last 30 years has asserted that parents and families need options when it comes to child rearing and this has never been clearer than now,” Morabito wrote. “Parents need to have access to safe, personal options, as well as distance or distance learning opportunities, if this is best for their family. The key word here is safety.”
But what is “certain” is not at all clear to most school officials and at the heart of a bitter debate unfolding just months before the presidential election.
There is a universal agreement that in-person instruction should be superior to online classes and especially vital for students at risk. But local officials warn of complicating factors: crowded corridors, masked opposition, dilapidated buildings with closed windows and hesitant staff.
“There was no way we could socially distance our children and follow other guidelines” with in-person instruction five days a week, said Helena Miller, chairwoman of the Rock Hill school board in the red state of South Carolina.
Schools in neighboring states this week seemed to have the same point as they struggled to stay open within days or weeks of reopening – many students without masks walking through the crowded corridors. Georgia’s Cherokee County – which was hit hardest – reported that nearly 1,200 students and staff were self-isolated after the well-known exposures.
There were other schools as well. A community college in Mississippi told its 300 students to quarantine after nine positive cases were confirmed, along with students in Gulfport and Corinth counties. Indiana schools were also hit with about 500 quarantined students across several districts, as administrators expressed concern that there would not be enough staff available to continue teaching.
“Unfortunately, we are in a situation where parents seem to be sending their child / children to school even when they are symptomatic or perhaps even when they, as parents, have been tested and are awaiting results, later to find out they are positive, “wrote Reece Mann, assistant chief of the Delaware Community Schools Corporation in Muncie, Indiana, in an email to parents, according to The Associated Press.
There is no federal standard when it is considered safe to reopen schools, although the White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued various documents suggesting “phase” reopening and advising children and staff to wear masks and t ‘keep students six feet away.
As a result, most schools have focused hyper-hype on their local virus data, with some seeking the World Health Organization recommendation that less than 5% of an area’s daily tests be positive in 14 days before schools in the area reopen. Currently, only 16 countries meet these criteria.
“We pay absolutely no attention to what the White House has to say about this, nor do we do any more of the city’s major school districts,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Metropolitan Schools Council, a coalition of the largest urban school in the country. systems.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, suggested that communities look at the number of new COVID-19 cases in a given week for every 100,000 people. If the increase in new cases is higher than 10%, it should be cause for serious concern.
If “you are in a red zone, I think you really are more cautious,” he said Thursday in a discussion led by the Walter Reed-sponsored direction of the National National Medical Center.
Miller, in South Carolina, said her board was embittered for months before finally deciding to offer parents a “hybrid” option starting Sept. 8. The option allows parents to choose in-person guidance for their children two days a week – an action that reduces the number of children in a school at once to allow for social distancing.
The hybrid model was harshly criticized by DeVos when it was first adopted earlier this summer by a school district in Virginia. At the same time, DeVos has argued that a national school plan is not necessary because schools are run by local officials.
“There is not a national overseer, nor should there be, so there is no national plan for reopening,” she said last month.
Many parents agree with DeVos and want to at least try to move forward with classes within persons as much as possible.
“I definitely still say, ‘Give this a kick. “I think there’s a way to do it personally,” Carlo Wheaton, a parent of a young man at Woodstock High School in Georgia, told WSB-TV in Atlanta after the school announced it should be temporarily closed after 14 people tested positive. for the virus and 15 others were awaiting their test results.
Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the Association of School Supervisors, said one solution is money. His group estimates that schools need $ 490 per student – about $ 200 billion nationwide for the 54 million students attending school in the US – to allow schools to reopen safely.
The money can be used to improve classroom ventilation and expansion to allow teachers to teach their students while distancing themselves from society.
Trump announced Wednesday that he plans to provide 125 million masks to students. Domenech said he would take it, but it is a drop in the bucket for schools.
“We see what is happening in Washington: nothing,” Domench said.
Miller said in her local school presidential policy and White House events are not part of the equation, and that she relies on her local health department and governor’s office to figure out what to do when there is no textbook.
“There are no right answers,” she said.
ABC News’ Sophie Tatum contributed to this report.