THE Sunday REVIEW: School opening controversy surges with COVID cases surge

SUNDAY JULY 18, 2020

Last week the Long Beach Unified School District joined California’s two largest districts Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified in announcing that fall classes will begin with all students in distant learning.  LBUSD’s Tuesday, July 14th announcement came one day after L.A and San Diego’s joint announcement and four days before Gov. Newsom’s announced on Friday, July 17th guidelines on reopening schools in California. Under the state guidelines, LBUSD would not be allowed to open.

If and how schools reopen became a major topic locally and across the country. Attention was focused on how schools reopen during the week as COVID 19 cases spiked in California and across the country. The virus spikes have complicated decisions of what schools will look like when schools restart at the end of summer. 

California not immune from COVID controversy

California was not immune from the week’s national debate on COVID political controversies.

Reacting to the state’s spike in virus infections, Governor Newsom started the week with a renewed lock down for 32 counties and ended the week with a plan on how school openings in California would work.

On Monday, July 13th, hours after Gov. Newsom closed down high-risk businesses again, the Orange County Board of Education passed a controversial set of COVID school reopening guidelines that made national news.  The Board’s school opening guidelines for frequent hand washing, temperature checks, and thorough facilities cleanings, also specifically discouraged mandated mask-wearing and social distancing at schools. 

The conservative Board vote would only apply to schools actually operated by the Orange County Department of Education and were only unofficial guidelines for the counties dozens of independent school districts. Many of those independent Orange County school district’s had already announced they planned to ignore the County Board of Education.

Gov. Newsom’s mandated plans to open schools announced on Friday, July 17th supersedes any county or local decisions.  Those state mandates include:

  • ·       Schools in 32 counties on the state COVID 19 watch list must start the school year with remote learning
  • ·       Schools in the 32 counties may not open for any on campus classes until the county they are located in are off the watch list for 14 consecutive days
  • ·       All student’s 3rd grade and above in schools that do have in-person classes will be required to wear face coverings. Students who do not wear face coverings will not be allowed on campus and must enroll in distance learning
  • ·       Open schools will have student “cohorts” that make quarantine easier if a student tests positive
  • ·       Any open schools with 5% of staff or students testing positive in a two-week period will be required to close.
  • ·       Any school district with 25% or more of its schools closed from positive tests will be required to close to in-person teaching
  • ·     Open schools will be required to enforce social distancing for staff and students, have hand washing stations and have quarantine procedures

Newsom also addressed criticisms of online classes. Newsom stated that with distance learning, students should have “live daily interaction” online with other students and teachers. The Governor also mandated that all students will have access to devices and that lessons must be adapted for students who are English language learners or have special needs.  Newsom also mandated that distance learning should be equally challenging as in-person instruction.

LBUSD decision to start online

On Tuesday July 13th the Long Beach Unified School District announced that the school year will start on September 1, 2020, and will be completely online.

The LBUSD decision and the Governor’s mandate means that parents and guardians will not have to immediately make a decision on what option of learning their students will participate in when local schools begin.  The two options choices were all online learning or a combination of online and in-person learning.

Under the new LBUSD plan, all distant learning will continue at least until October 5, 2020.

Both Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College had already announced that most Fall classes would start online.

Politics vs science in school openings

 As President Trump and his administration continued the pressure on state and local officials this week to reopen schools, comments made by his White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany caused a political firestorm.  

On Thursday July 16th during a press briefing explaining the President’s position on schools opening, McEnany said “science should not stand in the way” of schools reopening. She added that “the science is on our side here and we encourage for localities and states to just simply follow the science, open our schools.”

The pressure campaign to open schools to in person learning started last weekend when Trump’s controversial Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made the rounds on last Sunday’s political programs. On  CNN’s State of the Union program, DeVos  blasted proposed hybrid teaching models ( a rotation of in-person and distance learning) that Long Beach Unified and some school districts are planning  saying that the hybrid model  is  not a “valid choice for families”. That same day on FOX’s Fox News Sunday DeVos stated “There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.”

In May of this year, the U.S. National Institutes of Health started a study to determine the rate of COVID 19 infections in children.  The six-month study is following 6,000 children with results expected in November 2020 months after most schools have started the school year.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) children and teens under 18 account for 2 percent of the corona virus cases nationwide while making up 22% of the total population. 

Actual COVID infection rates for children in states that are surging are much higher than the CDC rate.  With infection rates surging, Florida is reporting 31% of children who are tested are positive for COVID 19.  Washington state is reporting 10.7 % infection rate for those under the age of 13, while both California and Mississippi are reporting 10% of children under 18 that are tested are positive.

This week health authorities in Nueces County, Texas reported that 85 babies under the age of one have tested positive for COVID 19.  No conditions of any of the infants was released.

Israel’s lesson on opening too soon 

In her defense of President Trump’s call for schools to return to traditional open schools 5 days a week, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany called the U.S. an “outlier” in the western world regarding opening schools.

Across the globe, there has been no universal approach to schools opening during the pandemic.  Some countries like Sweden never closed their schools. Others like the Philippines announced they will not reopen schools until there is a vaccine.

The country school opening model that many in the U.S. are pointing as a warning is what happened in Israel.

Unlike the U.S. that is debating reopening when the virus is surging, Israel opened its schools after an apparent victory in defeating COVID 19. After a nationwide reopening their schools in May, Israel has seen an unchecked surge in COVID 19. 

The county’s May opening was done when Israel had appeared to have almost eradicated the virus after a two-month country-wide lockdown.  When Israel reopened its schools on May 17th, that day only 10 new cases of the disease in the entire country of 9 million were reported. Within a few weeks, the virus had surged back.

Two weeks after opening schools, Israel had 244 COVID positive cases in students and school staff.  By the end of June, those cases grew to over 2,000 students and staff and over 28,000 in quarantine for contact with a positive person.   Since July 1st, almost 400 schools that opened for summer have been closed.

Israel is now dealing with an average of 1200 new COVID 19 cases daily. The government reported that of the total Israeli cases diagnosed in the month of June, 47% were traced back to school infections.

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