COViD education
July 9, 2020

It turns out "closing schools was a lot easier than reopening them" during the coronavirus pandemic, Myah Ward and Renuka Rayasam note at Politico. But Johns Hopkins University — which has made checking COVID-19 infection and death data easy with its coronavirus map — is trying to help, launching another site Thursday to help Americans track how different states plan to reopen schools this fall, plus guidelines from health and education agencies and organizations.

According to this new education tracker, run by the Johns Hopkins eSchool+ Initiative, 43 states and territories have released plans for reopening their schools. The site reviews each plan based on 12 criteria, including coronavirus protection measures, academics, and choices offered to students, teachers, and staff.

The goal of the tracker is to give parents, teachers, staff, school district leaders, and policymakers one place where they can access and compare reopening plans, Annette Anderson, deputy director of JHU's Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, tells Politico. "At the end of the day, it's about trying to make sure that when we reopen, that the reopening benefits all." Peter Weber

July 9, 2020

President Trump on Wednesday criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, then he and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos threatened to withhold federal funds from schools that don't fully reopen in the fall. "The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families," Trump tweeted. Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday afternoon the CDC will issue new guidelines.

"Well, the president said today, we just don't want the guidance to be too tough," Pence said at a coronavirus task force briefing. "That's the reason why next week, the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward."

There are good social, economic, and societal reasons to send kids back to school — the American Academy of Pediatrics "strongly" advises a return to in-school learning — but only if districts can reasonably minimize the risks for children, teachers, and staff. The steps to make schools adequately safe will cost an extra $1.8 million for an average school district, according to one analysis, and it's not clear Trump and Congress will offer any financial help.

State and local agencies, which fund more than 90 percent of K-12 education, are facing hard choices, as are teachers and parents weighing the risks and benefits of returning or sending their kids into classrooms amid a deadly, in many cases out-of-control coronavirus outbreak. Trump appearing to force federal scientists to water down their guidance probably won't help those decisions.

"Stop making public education a political issue," said Leslie Boggs, National PTA president.

For Trump, getting kids back in school is "about the economy, and it's about his re-election," Politico reports. As Trump's team sees it, children in school means "parents can more easily return to work and juice the economy — something even the president's allies consider a necessity for Trump to win re-election. And with Trump's sagging poll numbers against presumptive 2020 rival Joe Biden, aides also hope the campaign for in-person schooling will play well with the female and suburban voters the president needs to remain in office."

That last gamble is pretty high-stakes, and it's hard to imagine it paying off if the headlines this fall are about schools closing down again as COVID-19 rampages through suburban schools. Peter Weber

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