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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

K-12 students throughout the southern region of the U.S. are returning to school during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in crowded halls, quarantines and chaos.

The big picture: Students across the country are gearing up to hit the books once again while managing social distancing and mask mandates. Districts and communities are taking a variety of approaches, some of which include hybrid online, at-home class models or schooling-from-home.

  • States including Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi largely opted to begin sending students back to class as usual, promising to implement coronavirus safety measures.
  • Reports from students' first weeks back have been mixed.

The state of play: A Georgia sophomore was issued a suspension tis week — which was later rescinded — for posting a photo on Twitter of crowded hallways with few masked faces at North Paulding High School.

  • Also in Georgia, at least 260 students in the Cherokee County School District were quarantined after 11 students and two staffers tested positive for the virus after reopening for in-person learning on Aug. 3, KTLA notes.
  • Schools in Corinth, Mississippi welcomed students last week, but sent 116 students to quarantine by week's end due to exposure, the New York Times reports.
  • A wave of schools in northern Alabama have seen staff test positive since school re-started, WAAY 31 reports.
  • Five high schoolers in south Alabama entered quarantine this week after a single day back following exposure to a positive COVID-19 case, the website "AL" reports.

Between the lines: Many school districts made an effort to guard students and staff from exposure, implementing plastic barriers and grab-and-go lunches.

What to watch: Districts will continue to start the academic year over the next few weeks. But ongoing coronavirus spikes could change whether that happens in-person or virtually.

  • The Barrow County School System in Georgia, which was slated to begin class on Aug. 17, already moved its start of the school year online after more than 90 staff members were forced to quarantine due to a coronavirus exposure or case, per CNN.

Go deeper

Nov 14, 2020 - Health

America's unequal reliance on school resources

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC/Getty Images

Environment deeply affects adolescent wellness, and families have come to rely heavily on schools to help them meet challenges ranging from poverty and discrimination to societal pressures to succeed.

The big picture: Black, Latino and Native American students need different kinds of support beyond the classroom to do well in school and for sound emotional development into adulthood.

The public school funding divide

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Bettmann, Barbara Alper/Getty Images

Property taxes are the oxygen that makes public schools thrive, allowing districts with large, wealthy tax bases to offer better educational opportunities to their students while leaving districts with smaller tax bases starved for cash.

Why it matters: The gap plays an outsized role in perpetuating inequality in U.S. schools. Black and Latino students are likely to live in poorer neighborhoods and therefore attend poorer schools — shortchanging their education and producing consequences that snowball throughout K-12 and beyond.

A reckoning with teaching race and history in America

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Library of Congress, Warren K Leffler/Getty

American history classes have failed to represent the experiences that children of color live, leaving some students struggling to see themselves or their cultures as part of America.

Why it matters: Accurate historical teachings on slavery, indigenous peoples and immigration help all students understand how people of color have shaped American society. Ethnic studies courses can narrow the learning gap and boost the academic performance of some students of color at risk of dropping out, experts say.