School Report Card: An Iowa school plans for in-person prom, parents challenge mask mandate in Florida district

·9 min read
An Iowa school district is planning an in-person prom for sprirng, but is still unsure what that will look like. Here, students in Massachusetts pose for photos in prorm dresses after their prom was canceled in May of last year. (Photo: REUTERS/Faith Ninivaggi)
An Iowa school district is planning an in-person prom for spring, but is still unsure what that will look like. Here, students in Massachusetts pose for photos in prorm dresses after their prom was canceled in May of last year. (Photo: Reuters/Faith Ninivaggi)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Iowa's Boone High School is planning on holding a prom — with precautions

Board members at Iowa's Boone Community School District are mulling over safety precautions to allow students to have a junior-senior prom. Details about the prom, which is scheduled for May 1, were discussed during Monday's board meeting.

During the meeting, Boone High School principal Kristopher Byam outlined possible safety measures to allow the prom to move forward. Those included holding the dance outside or socially distanced in the school gym, requiring masks, doing temperature checks at the door, serving prepackaged food and drinks, limiting attendance to just high school students and using a specialized air purification system in the gym.

"So far this year, our administration has done a phenomenal job of ... doing what they can to make things safe for our kids," he said. "I think we really need to trust that they're going to continue to do that with a hosting of prom." Byam did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment.

The safety of holding a prom right now "really depends" on a lot of factors, Dr. Lawrence Kleinman, professor and vice chair of pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells Yahoo Life. "If you're actually dancing with people, that suggests you'll be close to one another, even if you're masked," he says, adding, "I'm not sure how well masks stay on in the shadows of proms."

Certain safety precautions like limiting attendance, having a good filtration system or holding the event outside can help, Kleinman says.

Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life that it may be possible to have a safe prom if local case counts are low. "I don't know that we could safely do it right this moment in Los Angeles, for example, but if you're in a location where the numbers are low and you have safeguards in place ... I think it's fabulous," she says. "Those seniors deserve it. They've been through a lot."

Still, Kleinman says, the risk of COVID-19 spreading isn't zero. "There is risk at any congregating event in a community that has the virus spreading," he says.

Study finds COVID-19 transmission is low in New York City schools

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics analyzed data from COVID-19 testing in New York City public schools and found that the rate of transmission within schools was low.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 25: Principal Ben Geballe (C) helps students settle into a classroom at Sun Yat Sen M.S. 131 on February 25, 2021 in New York City. New York City middle school students who opted for in-person learning in 2020 were allowed back for the first time since November due to COVID-19  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
A new study has found transmission at New York City schools to be low. Here, a classroom setting at a recently reopened NYC middle school. (Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

The study analyzed data from 234,132 people in 1,594 New York City public schools between Oct. 9 and Dec. 18, 2020. Of those, only 986 (0.4 percent) tested positive for COVID-19. The researchers also found that, of the 36,000 students and staff members who quarantined after an exposure at school, only 191 tested positive for the virus, making the in-school transmission rate 0.5 percent.

"We found that in-person learning in New York City public schools was not associated with increased prevalence or incidence overall of COVID-19 infection compared with the general community," the researchers concluded.

Fisher says she's "thrilled" with the results. "They back up what the science tells us — that school is safe when the proper precautions are followed. New York City was really an epicenter of the pandemic in the beginning, and the fact that they were able to bring back those students is a huge comfort."

Kleinman says it's "heartening" that the risk of COVID-19 spreading in schools is low, but "frightening" that it's not zero. "Like everything, it's a balance of risks and benefits," he says.

L.A.'s school district and teachers' union have reached a tentative agreement to resume in-person learning in April

After months of a very public struggle between teachers and government officials, the Los Angeles Unified School District and its union, the United Teachers Los Angeles, have come to a tentative agreement to start in-person learning in April.

District superintendent Austin Beutner released a "Return to Campus Family Guide" on Thursday for families and students, outlining safety protocols that will be in place. “We recognize the decision whether a child will return to school at this time is not a simple one. This Guide, and the opportunity to have their questions answered by school leadership, will help families make an informed decision," Beutner said in a press release.

A big sticking point for the teachers' union was getting staff vaccinated against COVID-19 before in-person learning resumed. Vaccinations are now open to all educators and school staff in the area.

After reading the guide, families will have the option to return to in-person learning or finish the semester online.

Fisher, who lives in the school district, says that although data has shown that vaccinating teachers isn't required to safely reopen schools, getting the teachers vaccinated is "brilliant."

Kleinman agrees. "The more of the teachers who are immunized, the safer it will be," he says. "The more older students are immunized, the safer it will be. Vaccination, good hand hygiene, mask-wearing, good ventilation, surface cleaning and exclusion of those who are sick will all help."

Fisher says she's eager for kids to resume in-person learning. "We've had a big fight. Let's get our kids back in school," she says.

A Maryland school district saw a 34 percent jump in student COVID-19 cases this week

Maryland's Carroll County Public Schools reported a 34 percent increase in COVID-19 cases among students this week compared with the previous week.

The district, which discloses a weekly tally of case counts, reported that the total number of cases jumped from 48 during the week of March 3 to 60 during the week of March 10, with the biggest increase being among students (31 cases to 47 cases).

Dr. John Schreiber, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Connecticut Children’s, tells Yahoo Life that the jump in cases is a good reminder that the pandemic is still ongoing. "We're not done yet," he says. "Only a portion of the population is immunized. We still have about 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 a day in the U.S."

Fisher adds that "all of the safeguards are still important. We are not out of the woods yet."

"We will see another surge if people do not continue to follow the proper precautions," Fisher says. "I cringe when states like Texas lift mask mandates."

Schreiber urges families to continue to be patient and do their best to prevent the spread of COVID-19. "We need to hunker down and continue to be cautious," he says. "We're almost there."

Some families challenge mask requirements in a Florida school district

Nearly 3,000 people in Florida's Collier County are urging the local school district to get rid of its mask mandate. A petition created on March 4 asks that masks be made optional in the district.

"Multiple private and charter schools opened since August with a mask-optional policy and haven’t had any reported outbreaks," the petition says, noting that Collier public schools "have a higher percentage rate of cases, as well as higher disciplinary actions due to masks, which is disruptive to their educational experience and their right to attend public school."

The petition ends on this note: "Enough is enough, let our kids be kids and put the decision back into the homes of the families. They miss your smiles."

"Governor [Ron] DeSantis stated forcing of mask mandates is unconstitutional and will not be enforced. Don’t children deserve to have the same rights as their parents?" one person wrote in the comments. "A person is a person no matter how small."

During a school board meeting on Tuesday, member Jen Mitchell said that the board "can talk about removing the masks" after school staff is vaccinated. "I think it's going to be very difficult to wrap our brains around going into the fall with masks on," she added.

Providence Saint John's Fisher says she's asked about whether masks will be required in schools next year "a lot."

"We really don't know," Fisher says. "It depends on case counts and how many people we can vaccinate by the fall." But, because there are no vaccines currently authorized for use in younger children, Fisher says she's "not 100 percent sure that masks won't be required in school in the fall."

Schreiber agrees. "This has been such an unpredictable pandemic," he says. "We don't really know what's going to happen, but there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel."

Fisher's advice for families: "Plan for masks. If your child doesn't have to wear them, you'll be happy."

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