Florida wrestles with impossible question: when can schools reopen safely?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Broward county, Florida, is America’s sixth largest school district, where more than 10,000 teachers are tasked with educating more than 270,000 students. Now, it is also a Covid-19 hotbed.

When in-person classes ended here on 13 March, there were 11 cases of Covid-19 in the county, according to Johns Hopkins University’s virus tracker. Now, there are more than 23,000 cases, with a curve bending vertically. Covid-19 cases have doubled in 20 days.
As the virus spreads and reopenings are placed on pause, no one in Broward county seems to agree on a fundamental question: when should students return to school, and how?
“It’s very tough right now, with the amount of cases we have,” said Burt Miller, president of the Broward County Council of Parent Teacher Student Associations, a coalition of groups made up of hyper-involved parents, and a father of a future high school freshman.
“I sit on meetings almost every day with the school board, different committees, trying to figure out how this is going to happen,” said Miller. “Nobody has a set plan, because every time you think of something, something else comes up that’s going to counteract that.”
In the last week, all eyes have been on Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, which have seen spikes in Covid. With the exception of California, these states normally resume classes in early to mid-August. That now feels worrying close to the Fourth of July, a holiday known for socializing, partying and drinking – all behaviors public health officials warn can help spread the virus.
Amid this trend, Donald Trump has heaped pressure on educators. He criticized “tough and expensive” guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which the agency said it would revise after his comments. The CDC director, Dr Robert Redfield, said he would be “very disappointed” if schools used guidelines put out by his agency as a reason not to reopen.
Trump’s administration has also threatened schools’ funding, at a time when local governments are expected to slash school budgets in response to cratered sales tax revenue. Educators across the country have begged for federal support, but have received none of the $250bn they proposed in a letter to Congress.

With the school year now getting near across these states, anxious teachers, frustrated parents and overwhelmed school districts are wrestling with how to bring students back, if at all, amid a pandemic whose trajectory only seems to reach skyward.
“It’s very exhausting,” Miller said. “I would not want to be a part of the decision-making the school board’s got to make.”
Arizona already delayed school reopening once in June, when there were 74,000 Covid-19 cases. There are now 108,000, and ticking up. Texas’s education agency will require students aged 10 and older to wear masks to attend in-person classes. Parents there can request virtual instruction.
Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, this week ordered “brick and mortar” schools to reopen at least five days a week for students, in consultation with health departments, this fall. Some school leaders have said there is still flexibility in the order, but worry about the pandemic escalating further.
On the day the governor made the announcement, one of the local hospitals in the Broward county city of Deerfield Beach had just one available intensive care bed.
“We do not see a path to reopening all district schools with 100% full enrollment every day, as we were before we closed schools due to the coronavirus pandemic,” the Broward county superintendent, Robert Runcie, said in a video message to his district.
He also shot down comparisons to other countries, made by Trump, which had reopened their schools and economies.
“These countries have done widespread testing and contact tracing,” he said. “We have not done so, and consequently don’t have the infrastructure and systems in place that are necessary.
“The sad fact is that there is no national plan.”
Pediatrician Dr Tommy Schechtman, a past president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who practices in nearby Palm Beach, said: “We all want our kids back into school, but we need to do it safely.”
Fall classes were scheduled to start on 10 August in Palm Beach. The board announced this week all classes would still be virtual.
“We’re in the middle of a horrific surge,” said Schechtman. “Our hospitals don’t have ICU beds, our numbers are rampantly increasing.”
In the past week, his practice’s order for 400 Covid-19 tests went from back-ordered to canceled. The delay in test results grew from two days to six, and is now up to 12. And the practice is struggling to obtain basic personal protective equipment such as surgical gowns.
“You can’t do contact tracing when [test results are] 10-12 days out,” Schechtman said.
Broward county schools are among those still developing a model for students and teachers, now amid public acrimony. In the current “hybrid” proposal, Broward kids would go to in-person classes two to three days per week, and attend virtually on off days. But that plan has split the community.
“I don’t care if they sit side by side,” said a poster in a new Facebook group called “Broward parents for the return to school”.
The group, with more than 4,400 members, is advocating for full-time, in-person instruction. “The six-feet-apart nonsense is a joke. Just get them back in the classroom so we don’t have a country filled with anti-social dummies.”
Members have organized protests, letter-writing campaigns, shared letters from hopeful children, and even made T-shirts reading “five days, face-to-face”.
No matter the return-to-school policy, all are fraught with seemingly unanswerable questions. After all, how do you get a five-year-old to keep a mask on? How does a teacher refuse a hug to a crying child? Are children in part-time school eating enough? Are they suffering abuse? Is their mental health deteriorating?
Third-grade teacher and single mom Jamie Delerme, whose six-year-old daughter attends Broward schools, described it as a “no-win” situation.
“Ask any teacher: we would rather be back in the classroom,” she said.

These are the colleges where black students really matter

When New York’s black high school seniors return to school in the fall and start looking ahead to college admissions, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) should be at the top of their lists.
As protests over racism continue to ripple across the country, HBCUs offer a safe haven where young minds can feel truly embraced by a racially diverse faculty who will empower them for the future. According to US Department of Education statistics, 75 percent of all black people with a doctorate degree (and four fifths of all black federal judges) received their undergraduate training at HBCUs. With typically lower tuition fees and a more integrated staff than traditionally white institutions, HBCUs are a more affordable and supportive way for black kids to level the playing field.
Today, there are 107 HBCUs, and the majority of them are in the South, so NYC high school students have no choice but to look farther away from home to places like Claflin University, Morehouse College, Tuskegee University and Howard University. They might feel nervous, but the journey will be worth it. Take it from me — I went from Yonkers, NY, to Claflin University, a private HBCU in Orangeburg, SC, where I received an incredible education from some of the brightest minds teaching the art of public speaking, philosophy and Black History.
I learned some surprising fun facts, too, including one about Martin Luther King Jr. not being born “Martin.” He didn’t get that name until his father came back from a church-related trip and began to call himself Martin Luther King instead of Michael King in honor of the Protestant leader. On July 23, 1957 — 28 years after his birth — King Jr.’s birth certificate was revised. Dr. King, Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall all attended HBCUs. In addition to having the most iconic and prestigious black alumni base in the world, here are three more reasons why HBCUs shine:
A compelling historical background: The majority of HBCUs came about after the end of the Civil War. Former slaves knew that education was their ticket to the future, and they applied the same skills they had learned as slaves to their schools’ curriculums — including painting, architecture, farming, stonemasonry, cooking, carpentry, nursing and more. During the 1930s and 1940s, when many Jewish intellectuals left Europe after the rise of Nazism and could not find work in the US due to anti-Semitism, HBCUs embraced them with open arms. While much of America was still practicing anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice in the 1940s, Albert Einstein lectured at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, an HBCU.
They have always been open and loving institutions: HBCUs weren’t created as a way to go against the dominant society; they were created because the dominant society wouldn’t allow blacks to enroll in other schools. And contrary to popular belief, HBCUs are not just schools with black students. Some HBCUs even have more white students than they do black students. Bluefield State College in West Virginia was founded in 1895 to educate the children of black coal miners. Today, this HBCU is over 80 percent white. Many HBCUs also have students who are open and proud members of the LGBTQIA+ community. In 2019, the country’s only all-male HBCU, Morehouse College, opened its enrollment to transgender men, stating that, “Morehouse accepts applications from those who live and self-identify as men.”
The culture is unparalleled to any other type of institution in the country: A culture of black excellence thrives at HBCUs, producing some of our most prominent leaders including Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Toni Morrison and Chadwick Boseman, to name just a few. But HBCUs are also renowned for their warm hospitality and homestyle Southern cooking, which tastes just as good as the knowledge you’re receiving. What other collegiate dining halls serve peach cobbler, macaroni and cheese and cornbread? Come on now. (It’s no wonder that I put on weight during my undergraduate years.) All of this: delicious food, a family-like atmosphere, manicured lawns, pristine buildings, top-notch tuition and abundant love from professors is everything that black students — no, all students — need now more than ever.
Dennis Richmond Jr. is a freelance journalist and the author of “He Spoke at My School: An Educational Journey.” He is the founder and director of The New York-New Jersey Historically Black College and University Initiative, which prepares students by exposing them to opportunities only found at HBCUs.

One million Brits to pay £38k extra a year for care after Covid crunch

More than a million people may be forced to pay almost £40,000 extra a year to be cared for at home, or have to move in with their children, because they would no longer consider living in a care home after Covid-19, new research seen by Telegraph Money shows.
Coronavirus has caused a crisis of confidence in care homes. A fifth of over-60s are rethinking how they will manage in their later years as they have now ruled out living in one, exclusive data from Canada Life, a wealth manager, found.
More than a million people who are over 60 and not already receiving some form of care will now be looking at alternatives such as at-home support. Costs for this depend on the person’s needs, but can be far higher than care home fees....

Mayor Says New York City Schools Will Not Fully Reopen In September

Thursday, July 9, 2020
New York City’s 1.1 million public school students will attend class part-time this fall according to a preliminary plan announced today by Mayor Bill de Blasio in a press conference. Students will spend one to three days in the classroom each week. On staggered schedules, there will likely be only a dozen people gathered together at a time, including students, teachers and aides.
The nation’s largest school system, which has more than 1,800 schools, has long been plagued by overcrowding, with classes held in hallways and trailers. Most classes in middle and high school have at least 30 students. De Blasio and schools chancellor Richard Carranza, said they will adhere to the school safety guidelines laid out by the CDC, which recommend that students and staff stay six feet away from one another.
De Blasio laid out three possible scenarios. In one, school buildings would accommodate 50% of the number of students they had taken in the past. Students would get live instruction the same two days each week and every other Monday. The second plan would serve only a third of the normal number of people in each building. Students would go to school 1-2 days a week and get a total of five days of in-person instruction every three weeks. In the third model, students would attend in a six-day rotation, with two consecutive in-person days and four remote days in a cycle.
De Blasio said that the plan is subject to change, depending on recommendations from public health officials.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who frequently clashes with the mayor, said in his own press conference later today that he would make the final decisions about school reopening statewide. He will issue additional guidance Monday and school districts must submit their reopening plans to his office by July 31. A final decision will come the first week in August.
It’s not clear whether Cuomo will try to interfere with de Blasio’s plan. When a reporter asked the governor whether de Blasio’s ideas were “credible,” Cuomo answered “No.”
President Trump has been pressuring school leaders to fully reopen K-12 schools. Today he threatened to withhold federal funds if they don’t. Most school funding comes from state and local government sources. The federal government pays for just 8.3% of public school budgets nationwide, according to government figures. Nevertheless, Trump and Vice President Pence are trying to control what local districts do. To make it easier for schools to open, Pence said today that the CDC would issue new, less stringent school reopening guidelines soon.