Former CDC Director Thomas Friedan and Education Secretary Arne Duncan of the Obama administration, along with former President George W. Bush's Education Secretary Margaret Spelling, teamed up for an article in The Atlantic weighing in on how to safely reopen schools. "We need to reopen schools this fall," the officials argue, and go on to list eight very specific steps to ensure doing so doesn't "backfire."
The officials start by acknowledging "severe illness from COVID-19 in children is rare." That's why it's more important to focus on "how well communities control the coronavirus throughout the community," and how schools fit into that puzzle. And to be sure, "in places where the virus is spreading explosively," reopening may not be possible for a while.
But where it is, schools should start by "shielding the most vulnerable" and keeping at-risk students and staff at home. For those who are at school, we should "reduce risk wherever possible" by cutting certain high-risk activities like team sports and choir. Barring nonessential visits will help "keep the virus out," the officials say, and wearing masks is essential. Class sizes will also need to shrink, perhaps into smaller "pods" and split schedules that "reduce mixing among students and staff" and "reduce occupancy" as a whole. "New health and safety protocols" will be key, and above all else, schools need to "prepare for cases" and be ready to close at any time.
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But as Brown University Economics Professor Emily Oster noted to NPR on Thursday morning, all of those things will take supplies and money that many public schools simply don't have. Kathryn Krawczyk
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