#BlackEdChat: School Districts Must Keep It Agile

As child COVID-19 cases surge, school district leaders & policymakers face more pressure to reconsider reopenings ... and options

a #BlackEdChat feature

The list of school districts reconsidering their “reopening” approach during pandemic continues to grow. Everyone appears inclined to take a step back. Philadelphia (200,000+ students) has decided to pump the brakes on its planned November re-opening as coronavirus cases jump five-fold. Detroit public schools (50,000 + students) are also reversing course on in-person learning to stay with a remote learning regimen as cases in that city have risen 5 percent and continue to grow. Indianapolis (30,000 students) schools just announced they’re returning to virtual learning from now until, tentatively, January 15th. School districts throughout Washington state, such as Seattle, completely halted plans for hybrid learning as coronavirus cases surged there. These decisions are varied, of course, and depend on what state you live in (and the politics there): in North Carolina, for example, educators and policymakers haven’t completely reversed to online learning or hybrid - but, if cases continue to surge, they could go back to remote instruction.

According to EdWeek, this is where things stand on a state-by-state basis in terms of reopenings …

The conditions and decisions on this map will, more than likely, dramatically change depending on the trajectory of pediatric or child coronavirus surges. Current pediatric infection trends suggest that the number of children catching COVID-19 has been on a recent increase since the start of the school year - but, recent research, so far, hasn’t established a direct link between school reopenings and coronavirus increases.

Yet, cases are on the rise for children. At the end of September, the Associated Press reported

Children of all ages now make up 10% of all U.S cases, up from 2% in April, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Tuesday. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the incidence of COVID-19 in school-age children began rising in early September as many youngsters returned to their classrooms.

About two times more teens were infected than younger children, the CDC report said. Most infected children have mild cases; hospitalizations and death rates are much lower than in adults.

The CDC report did not indicate where or how the children became infected.

Public health experts say the uptick probably reflects increasing spread of the virus in the larger community. While many districts require masks and other precautions, some spread in schools is thought to be occurring, too. But experts also say many school-age children who are getting sick may not be getting infected in classrooms.

Just as cases in college students have been linked to partying and bars, school children may be contracting the virus at playdates, sleepovers, sports and other activities where precautions aren’t being taken, said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health specialist at George Washington University.

Research from the American Association of Pediatrics shows dramatic increases in child cases since October, more here

The trajectory of these increases will determine 1) how parents perceive the current education situational landscape and 2) the decisions school districts make on whether to reopen or not - “do we stay hybrid or do we go completely online until it’s completely safe?” It’s a difficult conversation as households are faced with anxiety over everything from worries over their child’s academic performance and future to the impact this uncertain climate is having on their social skills - and the impact this is having on family or parental finances as, for example, women are more likely to quit their jobs to stay home with remote learning children than men.

Views on how online learning is going thus far vary, according to income and race. See more at Pew Research …

Chalkbeat/AP offers a glimpse into how school districts are making these decisions in terms of their racial composition. Is race a driving factor in whether a system is online or not for the long haul? Who’s to say - but, it is a factor and a characteristic of that decision …

One thing is for certain: schools will are being forced to provide options for households, on whether to go online or to go in a classroom … or to do all of the above. This doesn’t mean that this is the blooming of a new school choice movement - it just means that parents are being practical and frantically searching for what’s best for their child. This is what a September EdChoice poll showed …

Schools will need to embrace agile and innovative mindsets while adjusting to the pandemic education environment. This will turn into a test of how well districts do just that, perhaps determining best educational practices in the future. In the meantime, educators could take tips from non-traditional blended learning and hybrid models that have already been doing this for a numbers of years now. Parents, when presented with these models, will need to keep a somewhat open mind, exercise patience (what little is left), and give them a chance. An inability for schools to activate agility mixed with parental reluctance to see that agility as a plus when it happens could translate into deeper losses beyond the pandemic.

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