Mar 15, 2020 - Health

School districts face pressure to close

Data: Axios reporting; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

At least 57,000 K-12 schools across the U.S. have closed or will close for up to weeks at a time due to the novel coronavirus, affecting at least 25 million students.

The big picture: As school systems face pressure to close, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines admit the closures could significantly pose their own risks and negatively affect the academic outcomes for students.

  • Hong Kong, which closed its schools, has not had more success in reducing spread than places like Singapore that did not.

The state of play: Children do not appear to be at risk for the virus, but there is concern that they could pass it on to older, more vulnerable individuals. Practicing good hygiene and addressing the situation in calm language can help prevent panic or anxiety among children.

  • Depending on whether a positive case was detected in a school district or building, counties can assess the appropriate amount of time off — from two to four weeks or, if needed, four to eight weeks, per the CDC guidelines posted last week.
  • Still, if districts or even entire states decide to include school closures in their mitigation plans, some children can be at a disadvantage if they depend on free-reduced lunch programs for their main meal or if they don't have access to the internet.

What they're doing:

  • In San Francisco, recreation centers and libraries will halt regular programming and operate as emergency care facilities to provide low-income families with recreation, learning and food.
  • After much debate, New York City's public schools system will close after it's become largest hot spot for coronavirus cases in the U.S.
  • The Department of Education announced several measures last week that would temporarily relax federal accountability standards for states on annual testing.

What's next: "While we have data that can contribute to decisions about when to dismiss schools, there is almost no available data on the right time to re-start schools," per the CDC.

The bottom line: In classrooms, children can ideally be graded on an equal level. But as teachers depend on millions of students to learn from home, the factors that come with that new reality — like inadequate meals, lack of internet access and general distractions — could sink some students' performance levels.

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Parents are pressuring their communities for better preparedness, resources and action plans to keep their children safe in schools.

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School districts are exploring ways to keep their homebound pupils connected to the classroom, even though many students don't have the internet service or devices they need to do assignments.

Why it matters: All teachers face the problem of "summer slide" — when students lose skills during summer breaks. This year will be doubly hard because students are losing between one and three additional months of in-classroom instruction due to coronavirus-driven closures.

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Many of America's cities are gaining population, but the number of school-aged children is dwindling as families opt for the suburbs.

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