Big City School Districts Buck CDC Reopening Guidance

Big City School Districts Buck CDC Reopening Guidance

MORE STUDENTS RECEIVE in-person instruction in Florida’s Miami-Dade County than anywhere else in the U.S.

The country’s fifth-largest school district has been returning students – more than 160,000 of them – into elementary, middle and high schools for full-day, in-person classes since October. While parents have the option to keep their children learning remotely, 48% of them opted otherwise, even as COVID-19 positivity rates crested into the double digits last fall.

“We began our preparation for a reopening almost as soon as we shut down the schools back in March of 2020,” Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County superintendent, says. “We felt from the very beginning that some parents had varying levels of apprehension, certain parents had some degree of workforce flexibility, some parents were declaring underlying health conditions, as were members of our workforce. Considering all those factors, we felt that we needed to give parents choices.”

Now, with new, long-awaited school reopening guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention neatly categorizing school districts into coronavirus risk zones with accompanying recommendations, Carvalho finds himself overseeing a high-risk school system where middle and high schools are supposed to be virtual-only. And he’s far from alone.

A U.S. News analysis of the 20 biggest school districts in the country – all of which fall into the CDCs highest risk category – shows that the majority of systems are pushing the new guidance to the max, either offering instruction that’s exactly in line with the upper bounds set by the government’s top public health officials or exceeding what they deem safe.

Only two out of the 20 districts are operating virtually without a hard date to reopen for in-person learning, while 10 are fully open, K-12, five days a week – far and away beyond what the CDC says is safe.

The analysis challenges the prevailing political narrative that schools are not moving fast enough to reopen for in-person learning – at least in the majority of the country’s biggest school districts. Many of those districts have been the target of searing criticism from Republicans (though not exclusively) seeking to capitalize on an early failure for President Joe Biden, who promised to reopen the majority of schools for in-person learning in the first 100 days of his administration.

“As the months have rolled by and the data have poured in, it’s become clear that schools can open safely,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said earlier this month. “An administration that puts facts and science first would be conducting a full-court press to open schools.”

Congressional Republicans, taking a page out of the Trump administration’s playbook, introduced a slew of amendments to the budget reconciliation bill – the vehicle for the president’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package – trying to condition any new federal aid to schools that have reopened for in-person learning. And Rep. Tom Emmer, Minnesota Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has already given marching orders to nail Democrats for failing to reopen schools, in part to make nice with suburban women who bolted from the GOP during the 2020 presidential election.

Just last week, the conservative and influential American Action Network put up billboards and unleashed a flurry of digital ads and robocalls highlighting how much money Democrats took from teachers unions in campaign contributions. The efforts targeted vulnerable Democrats in about a dozen congressional districts.

“Kids are falling behind, yet liberals in Congress seem not to care,” Dan Conston, president of the American Action Network, said. “Even though the science shows it’s safe for children to return to school, teachers unions continue to keep students locked out of their classrooms.”

Yet the U.S. News analysis shows that as these calls mount for schools to reopen more broadly for in-person learning, the majority of the biggest school districts in the country are already offering instruction in line with the CDC’s upper limits, or are or have imminent plans to go beyond what the center deems safe.

The new CDC guidance, released earlier this month, clarifies when it’s safe for schools to reopen for in-person learning and how they can do so safely based on their community’s rates of COVID-19 transmission – the first such guidance issued since schools shuttered for more than 50 million children almost a year ago last March.

The guidance says that all schools, regardless of which transmission zone they fall into, must require the use of masks and practice physical distancing of 6 feet. They should also mandate frequent hand-washing and cleaning of facilities, as well as establish contact tracing and testing of asymptomatic staff and students…Read more>>