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Is it Safe to Reopen Schools in the Fall?


There’s been a lot of debate over whether it’s safe to reopen schools in the fall, including K-12 and higher education. If you’re a parent, this has probably been on your mind as well.

The White House has made it clear that it wants every school in the U.S. to reopen for the fall, but districts and institutions across the country are pushing back, saying they don’t have the resources to make sure their classrooms are free of COVID-19. Schools are designed to be social, so it’s going to take a lot of money and some creative thinking to keep everyone safe.

At best, we’re likely looking at a patchwork of different models across the country as some schools reopen and others don’t. Find out what to expect.

How to Reopen Schools

President Trump is urging schools across the nation to reopen for the fall. We can’t ignore the fact that the U.S. education system is directly tied to the domestic economy. Many parents can’t go back to work if their kids cannot go to school. If schools remain closed, many people will likely remain unemployed or work from home as they balance remote learning and daycare.

However, the new school year is just a few weeks away and many schools say they need financial aid to bring students back on campus safely, as well as faculty and staff.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued “considerations” for institutions looking to reopen in the fall. They are wide-ranging, covering everything from hygiene practices, remote learning, and food safety to cancellation and containment policies.

We know that schools come in all shapes and sizes in this country with classes ranging from just a handful of students to more than a hundred in a single room.

When the agency first issued these guidelines back in May, many schools and districts said they didn’t have the means to implement them; others said they didn’t apply to their specific situation. Issuing best practices to so many different types of schools, including religious and private organizations, for such a new disease is going to be an uphill climb.

The White House vs. the CDC

To help more schools reopen, President Trump demanded that the CDC revise its guidelines to make them less restrictive. He referred to them as “tough,” “expensive,” and “impractical.” But today, agency Director Dr. Robert Redfield said he does not plan on changing these “considerations.” They were created by some of the top health and education officials in the country and they should be left as they are.

However, the CDC is doing its best to keep these guidelines flexible, so schools can adhere to them as they are able.

As the CDC website reads, “Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.” It goes on to say, “These considerations are meant to supplement—not replace—any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which schools must comply.”

To Each Their Own

As it stands, it looks as if local and state officials will be the ones deciding whether it’s safe to reopen schools. It’s important to remember that the president does not have the authority to reopen schools on his own.

The same is true of state-wide lockdowns across the country. State governors and health departments are the ones calling the shots in terms of whether to reopen businesses, and that will apply to schools in the fall as well.

The CDC guidelines will undoubtedly be helpful to some, but it often comes down to resources and communication. Many schools have said they plan on doing a combination of remote and in-person learning. New York City recently announced that it will hold in-person classes somewhere between two to three days a week, depending on the week. Many districts are exploring similar options. This is an easy way to facilitate social distancing, so a portion of students are at home, while the rest are in school.

However, that is just one solution to many problems. Schools say they need more staff to reduce class sizes. They also need money for sanitation, PPE, and remote learning materials. Around 9 million children do not have Internet at home, which will complicate the situation in some areas. Some have suggested focusing on low-income students and those who need the most help, while keeping kids at home who do have access to the Internet.

What’s Best for the Kids?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also made it clear that kids should be in school as much as possible without jeopardizing public safety. They say children learn best in school. It is also where many children receive essential services, including free lunches and breakfast, mental health counselling, healthcare, and Internet access.

The AAP also believes depriving children of another semester of in-person classes would be damaging in other ways, as well. Social interaction, exercise, and in-person learning are key to their physical and mental health.

So, what can you do?

We all want schools to reopen in the fall, so we all need to do our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. The more we reduce the spread, the safer our schools will be.

If you’re at home with the kids, the CDC is full of helpful information regarding at-home learning, coping techniques, and tips for talking to kids about the pandemic. Hopefully, children will be back in school in some form in the fall.

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