The embattled school year has officially started in many states, and already, students and staff have faced COVID-19 infections, mass quarantines and protests.
Over the summer, while many camps closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks, and as pediatric infections spiked, states and school districts scrambled to make schools safe in the pandemic that’s now infected more than 5 million people. The results vary depending on state case counts and community transmission rates — some schools have opened their physical doors, some are teaching with a hybrid model (which combines virtual and in-person instruction) and others are remote-only.
“Although we’ve learned about COVID-19 at lightning speed, we’re about to get an education on how it impacts schools,” Yahoo Life medical contributor Dr. Dara Kass says. “The pandemic has uncovered gaps in the system — schools with insufficient bathroom facilities or windowless classrooms — but there is a new urgency to address these issues to keep children safe.”
Here’s a snapshot of how U.S. schools have fared this week.
School outbreaks have led to mass quarantines
Schools that opened for in-person classes this week had a bumpy start. In Georgia, Woodstock High School reported that 14 positive and 15 pending cases sent 289 students and staffers into quarantine, while Etowah High School recorded 59 positive cases, prompting a two-week quarantine for 925 students and staff members. Both schools have now closed their doors until Aug. 31. The Cherokee County School District both schools are a part of called the closures “necessary precautions as we work to continue in-person learning in our other 38 schools and centers.”
In Mississippi, which reportedly has the country’s highest COVID-test positivity rate — referring to the percentage of people who test positive of everyone tested, as defined by CNN — 29 schools had cases among about 40 people. That sent hundreds into quarantine, state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs told the Jackson Free Press.
Teachers concerned for their health are taking proactive measures
Educators wary of returning to their physical classrooms are writing their wills and updating trust documents to protect their families in the event of death from COVID-19, teachers and education unions told Yahoo Life. One instructor even wrote postmortem letters to her family, expressing her love and apologizing for missing life milestones. In recent weeks, some teachers wrote their obituaries to protest back-to-school plans and state pandemic guidelines, and held demonstrations with fake gravestones and coffins.
“This feels like an experiment,” Suzanne Alexander, a math teacher at Grenada Middle School in Mississippi, told the Daily Beast, reflecting on the first week of school, during which students huddled in corridors and offered her hugs. “And I know a lot of other teachers who’ve been saying that when it gets bad enough, they’ll send everyone home again to do remote learning.”
Lawmakers are at odds with parents and teachers’ unions on opening schools
State leaders have gotten pushback from parents and unions over back-to-school plans. In July, the Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis over an executive order to open classrooms, and a group of California parents filed suit against Gov. Gavin Newsom for ordering schools in 37 counties to teach remotely, claiming violation of children’s educational rights. Those counties were placed on a state watch list and cannot open for in-person learning until meeting strict health criteria for 14 consecutive days. This week, Immanuel Schools, a private school district in Fresno County that made the list, was ordered to close by health officials for opening classrooms, reported the Associated Press.
On Wednesday, some pushback efforts paid off: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy relaxed orders that schools must open for in-person classes (with remote learning options) after educators complained of “inadequate levels of funding, staffing, equipment and facilities.”
Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers, with its 1.7 million members, said it supports teacher strikes “as a last resort” and that “nothing is off the table” when fighting for its members’ safety.
Sports season was disrupted
The CDC has urged athletes to wear face masks, practice social distancing and avoid communal equipment, but it’s a tricky threshold, depending on the activity. This week, Athens High School in Alabama suspended football practice until Aug. 19 after two players tested positive for COVID-19. And a spokesperson from the Jordan School District in Utah tells Yahoo Life that an Aug. 14 football game was canceled after three players tested positive for COVID-19.
Earlier this month, Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco Independent School District in Texas, and Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools in Kansas, both of which open remotely on Aug. 24 and Sept. 8, respectively, postponed fall sports altogether. And hybrid school Denham Springs High School in Louisiana (which opened Aug. 7), does not allow remote students to participate in on-campus sports. “If you’re not around people at school, how could you justify being okay with them playing sports?” head football coach and athletic director Brett Beard told WAFB.
Lunch period looks different
In June, nonprofit news organization The Counter predicted that “the school cafeteria as we know it will be unrecognizable” come fall, and it’s shaping up to be true. On Tuesday, the Granite School District in Utah showed off its revamped lunchroom inside Woodrow Wilson Elementary School where, on Aug. 24, kids will have assigned seating and eat pre-packaged meals. And in South Carolina, Charleston County School District, which opens Sept. 8 for either in-person or remote learning options, ditched trays for plastic bags and implemented a touch-free lunch payment system.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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