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Will Any More Schools Reopen in 2020?

On Tuesday, Philadelphia delayed plans to bring its youngest public school students back to classrooms for at least some in-person instruction on Nov. 30 as cases rise in the city. Remote learning will continue for all students “until further notice,” officials said.

“We hope to see these children in school before the spring, but it’s all going to be based on the advice from the health community,” said William R. Hite Jr., the superintendent.

A similar trend is playing out across the country, especially in big cities, as U.S. cases and hospitalizations reach a new high. Even though research has shown that children are not likely to spread the virus, many experts say that schools cannot safely reopen while community transmission is rampant — even though closing in-person school carries a heavy social and economic cost.

“Most of the country, when you look at the map, a lot of them have case rates that I would say are too high to open schools,” said Benjamin Linas, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University. “It’s a crisis for public education.”

  • On Tuesday, Topeka, Kan., abandoned plans to bring middle and high school students back to classrooms this semester, at least part time.

  • On Tuesday, Anchorage, Ala., again delayed a plan to bring students back to classrooms on Nov. 16.

  • On Tuesday, San Diego and Sacramento paused plans to reopen more schools. Los Angeles does not expect to bring the majority of public school students back to schools until 2021 and San Francisco does not yet have a clear opening date.

  • On Monday, Minneapolis paused plans to bring more public school students back to classrooms and opted to “dial back” some of the in-person support services, including after-school tutoring.

  • Last week, Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, said she could not yet say when students would return to classrooms.

  • Last week, Washington, D.C., delayed plans to bring some students back to classrooms on Nov. 9, along with several large suburban school districts in Maryland and Virginia.

  • Boston reversed course in late October, sending the few high-needs students who had come back to classrooms home again and postponing plans for young learners to re-enter classrooms.

“Any district that hasn’t already introduced in-person learning is facing serious headwinds,” Dennis Roche, the president of Burbio, which tracks school reopenings, told USA Today.

Of course, there are many areas — including Florida, Texas and New York City — where schools are already fully or partially open. Baltimore still plans to bring students back to classrooms next week, though it has slashed the number of schools that will reopen.

But with the virus surging to its worst levels ever, the window for reopenings is rapidly closing. Much will depend on the course the virus takes over the next few months, as colder weather forces people indoors, where the virus spreads more easily. Gatherings for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays are also likely to sow new outbreaks.

Even as hospitalizations surge, the Trump administration has “basically thrown in the towel” on trying to control the pandemic, said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. President-elect Joe Biden and his coronavirus task force will have a very limited ability to shift policies until Jan. 20, when he assumes office.

“If we put a plan in place and really try to control the epidemic, I think it’s possible that schools could stay open or reopen in January or February,” Linas said. “But that is going to require a national Covid strategy.”

The sniffles might be key to a big puzzle of the pandemic: Why are children so much less likely than adults to become infected with the new coronavirus and, if infected, less likely to become ill?

One possible reason: Kids may have antibodies that block SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus causing the pandemic, because they so frequently get milder coronaviruses in the form of colds, according to a new study.

While adults might get one or two colds a year, children may get up to a dozen, said Stephen J. Elledge, a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

  • The Southeastern Conference, the dominant juggernaut of college football, postponed two more games this weekend because of the coronavirus, including the annual matchup between the University of Alabama, which is ranked No. 1, and Louisiana State University.

  • Allegheny College, in Pennsylvania, will require its employees to furlough for two weeks in an effort to ease financial strife caused by the pandemic.

  • Duke University, in North Carolina, will not have in-person fans at home basketball games this season.

  • A good read: With the help of a beloved pair of binoculars, Mike Couzens has managed to cover college football during the pandemic. “The ESPN broadcaster won’t leave home without them because the coronavirus pandemic has changed the dynamic of the broadcast booth,” wrote Kyle Rowland of The Toledo Blade.

  • In Vermont, officials will start regular, large-scale surveillance testing in K-12 schools.

  • In Florida, 26 students came to school after the local health department “neglected to forward an email” telling them they should have been in quarantine.

  • A good read: The Baltimore Sun spoke to high school seniors in Maryland who have been recruited to play college sports. Instead of big public signing ceremonies, students are celebrating in more intimate family ceremonies.

“I fear that it will be difficult to implement anti-bullying programs during this crisis,” wrote Barry E. McNamara, associate dean of the School of Education at Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y., in an opinion piece for Newsday.

Bullies pick on vulnerable students, McNamara wrote, and more students are suffering from anxiety and related behaviors during the pandemic. Some students have gained weight during the lockdown; others might be embarrassed that their classmates can see the inside of their homes. And as kids socialize more online, cyberbullying has increased.

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