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July 9, 2020

Will political pressure affect the way schools open in the fall?

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Directions: Read the news summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. To read the transcript, click here.

Summary: The summer surge of COVID-19 has raised more questions about reopening schools in the fall. While state and local leaders develop new plans in response to infection spikes, the Trump administration began stepping up pressure on all schools to resume full, in-person classes.

  • President Donald Trump threatened to cut off federal funding to states where schools are not fully reopened to in-person learning.
  • After Trump complained that CDC guidelines for school reopening were too expensive and restrictive and would have to be revised, the CDC announced that it would provide additional guidelines, though has pushed back on revising existing guidelines.
  • Many local governments and school districts are developing or announcing their own plans. In New York City, for instance, Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced a plan that will put students in classes “two or three days a week” as part of a hybrid in-person and remote learning schedule.
  • Meanwhile, a summer spike in cases has led to a testing backlog, with results taking a week or longer to process. Without faster testing results, officials fear tracking the spread of cases in time to prevent outbreaks will be difficult.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: What competing interests are guiding choices about school openings this fall?
  2. What challenges will students, teachers and families face if schools do not open in the fall or only open part-time?
  3. What are the risks of opening schools during coronavirus surges or without adequate planning and resources?
  4. Who else aside from students and families might benefit from schools fully reopening in the fall?
  5. Do you think the potential risks and educational drawbacks of remote learning outweigh the danger of reopening despite coronavirus case surges? Why or why not?
  6. What do you think are some federal, state or local guidelines that could help make school safe for everyone?
  7. Media literacy: Are political leaders or other prominent voices in your community arguing for looser or stricter reopening guidelines?
    • Do they seem to use the advice of scientists or doctors to make their arguments? Where can you go to find out whether scientific claims used for policy arguments are truthful or being accurately represented?

Extension activities: Have students review school guidelines, city or state guidelines and federal guidelines put out by the CDC. Use this tracker to help figure out the latest guidelines in your state. Note any differences between your school’s policies and governmental guidelines. Then, answer the following questions.

  1. Do you think your school’s guidelines are practical and effective? Why or why not?
  2. Do you find any guidelines confusing or even contradictory between the federal and state levels?
  3. Do you think state and federal guidelines are practical and effective? What else could or should be done?
  4. Are your school guidelines being followed in your school? If not, is it because the guidelines are too impractical, or is it because the school lacks the resources to implement them?
  5. What resources could the federal government, your state or city or your local community provide that would make education in your school safer, more effective or less stressful?

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