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How to reopen schools

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There are two obvious ways to reopen schools. The first is to take precautions such as wearing a mask that minimize the risk of an epidemic inside school buildings. The other is to vaccinate teachers across the country as quickly as possible.

Both strategies now seem achievable – and yet neither is happening in many places.

Instead, about half of K-12 students still don’t spend time in class. School closure rates are highest in Maryland, New Mexico, California and Oregon, according to Burbio. Experts say extended absences cause big learning problems, especially for low-income students.

Today’s newsletter examines how American children can return to school quickly and safely.

The country now has enough vaccine doses to put teachers on the front line without significantly delaying immunizations for everyone else.

Nationwide, around 6.5 million people work in a K-12 school. It’s a significantly smaller group than the 21 million healthcare workers, many of whom were among the first group of Americans to become eligible for vaccines.

As a benchmark, Moderna and Pfizer have delivered an average of more than one million new doses to the federal government every day this month. That daily number is set to surpass three million next month. Immediately vaccinating every school employee would delay everyone else’s vaccine by a few days at most.

A few states have already prioritized teachers, with Kentucky apparently the most advanced, according to Education Week. He has finished giving the first dose to most K-12 staff who want one. “This will help us get our children back to school safely faster than any other state,” Governor Andy Beshear said, “and it will allow us to do so without risking the health of those who come. to serve. these children. “

Even before teachers are fully immunized – a process that can take more than a month after the first vaccine – many schools have shown how to reopen.

It involves “masking, social distancing, hand washing, adequate ventilation and contact tracing,” as Susan Dominus wrote (in a fascinating Times Magazine article on how Rhode Island has mostly maintained its open schools). It also involves setting up virtual alternatives for certain students and staff who want them. When schools took this approach, it generally worked, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others.

In one of the more rigorous studies, a group from Tulane University looked at hospitalizations (a more reliable measure than positive tests) before and after the school reopened. The results suggest that at least 75% of U.S. communities now have Covid well enough under control to reopen schools without triggering new epidemics, including in many places where schools remain closed.

The evidence is more obscure for places with the worst current epidemics, such as much of the Carolinas. And some schools appear to have reopened in unsafe conditions, including a district in Georgia that is the subject of a new CDC case study.

Yet Douglas Harris, the economist at Tulane who heads the research group, told me, “All the studies suggest that we can do it, if we think about it. He added, “We can’t do school the old fashioned way, but we can do better than that.”

One last remark: I recently wrote about the costs of the overly negative message that many people are spreading about vaccines, even though vaccines virtually eliminate severe forms of Covid. Schools are another place where you can see these costs – in Oregon.

Like Kentucky, Oregon has made vaccinating teachers a priority. But some teachers’ unions have expressed skepticism about reopening even after teachers are vaccinated, as my colleague Shawn Hubler wrote.

One morning read: After seven decades, Lucky Luke – a classic Franco-Belgian comic book – adds a dark hero.

From the review: Finding love in the pandemic is like “falling into space, time being further compressed into isolation”.

Lives lived: A Harvard-trained lawyer, Ahmed Zaki Yamani was a longtime oil minister in Saudi Arabia and the architect of the Arab world’s desire to control its own energy resources in the 1970s. Yamani has died at age 90.

Spring training has started and Major League Baseball is suffering from a strange affliction: Some top teams don’t try to win. The Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates have all dumped top players in recent trades, receiving only a modest return.

It is deeply frustrating for the fans. “Can you file a complaint on behalf of all Rocky Mountain fans with the Better Business Bureau against the Rocky Mountain leadership because it’s just awful?” one recently wrote to the Denver Post.

What is happening? Baseball teams are businesses and winning isn’t always the best way to profit. Teams make substantial income from merchandise sales, television contracts, and more. And the pandemic has crushed the form of income that depends most on performance – the people who buy tickets.

In response, several teams have chosen to reduce the payroll. Their leaders promise fans that this is part of a plan to add exciting young players later. “The idea of ​​dismantling – some call it tanking – is not new,” Tyler Kepner of The Times told us. “But it’s definitely more prevalent now.”

As Tyler points out, many gamers are also frustrated, believing the owners to behave like a cartel that keeps wages low. The bargaining deal expires after this season and the next round of bargaining could be difficult.

In Tyler’s Recent Columns, he’s looking at three teams trying to win: the San Diego Padres, the New York Mets and the New York Yankees.

Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was dormitory. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can play it online.

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Biden reduces ambitions on promise to reopen school

WASHINGTON – President Biden appeared to give many educators and parents what they had been looking for for nearly a year when he pledged in the early days of his White House to reopen schools by his time. 100th day in power: a plan.

But as the White House struggles to turn the president’s lofty speech into reality, Biden’s aides find it difficult to stand up to new variants of the coronavirus, teacher union protests, and student fears and frustrations. and parents.

In the weeks following his election, Mr Biden reduced his calls for the reopening of all schools to elementary and middle schools. And last week, the White House sought to temper even those expectations, setting a benchmark of reopening “the majority of schools” – 51%.

On Tuesday, in response to questions about what “open schools” means, White House press secretary Jen Psaki set the threshold for more than 50 percent of schools offering in-person instruction at least one day per day. week. When asked why the threshold is so low on Wednesday – around half of the country’s students attend school in person and a majority of districts across the country already offer at least one in-person learning – Ms Psaki said it ‘was a starting point, but said it was part of a’ bold and ambitious agenda ‘.

“We don’t plan to celebrate at 100 days if we achieve this goal,” she said. “But we certainly hope to go from there.”

On Thursday, she clarified that Mr. Biden “will not rest until each school is open five days a week”, but wanted “schools to open safely and in accordance with science.”

Education officials say they weren’t terribly surprised by the administration’s reluctance, as the 100-day plan was still vague and largely symbolic. They also noted that the federal government had no say in opening schools and no power to force them to do so.

Yet Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, said even some of its members were surprised by the low threshold of one day a week. She said the union’s ties to the administration – Jill Biden, a university professor and Mr Biden’s wife, is a member – allowed her to allay concerns.

“We understand that what they are trying to say is that schools need the resources, the flexibility, the transparency, the collaboration, so that we can get ever closer to reopening our schools. full-time schools, ”she said.

But Republicans criticized the clarifications as a flashback to the noble promise of opening up the administration.

“The Biden administration’s stated goal of reopening 50 percent of classrooms one day a week is unacceptable,” said California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader. said on twitter. “Our students deserve more.”

A group of Republican lawmakers who work in the the healthcare industry sent a letter to Mr Biden, arguing that his own public health experts have expressed the urgency of reopening schools, even before all teachers are vaccinated.

The administration said its willingness to reopen schools will depend on new directions expected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

This focus has already been a source of tension in the White House after Mr Biden’s CDC director Dr Rochelle P. Walensky told reporters in a briefing this month that “there is growing evidence suggesting that schools can safely reopen “and that” vaccinating teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools. “

Ms Psaki said the next day that Dr Walensky was speaking in a personal capacity.

The administration is banking on billions of dollars in relief funds for schools that are part of the massive coronavirus stimulus bill making its way to Congress.

House Democrats this week introduced a bill that includes $ 129 billion in education assistance funds, which can be used for various reopening measures such as repairing ventilation systems and reducing the size of classes to allow students to move away socially. The measure includes a requirement that districts use 20 percent of their funding to mitigate learning losses related to the pandemic through initiatives like summer school and extended days.

The bill also includes nearly $ 40 billion for colleges and universities, and requires that half of funds allocated to schools be spent on direct payments to financially troubled students.

The bill’s dollar numbers are close to what primary and secondary education advocates have been pushing for, but have fallen short of the expectations of higher education officials.

Ted Mitchell, chair of the American Council on Education, which represents college and university presidents and higher education leaders, said in a statement that at least $ 97 billion in critical needs did not been dealt with by the latest bill on combating the pandemic. He added, “The plight of students, colleges and universities – public and private, large and small, urban and rural – continues to be a crisis of almost unimaginable magnitude.”

A document detailing the proposed funding, which is part of a larger $ 1.9 trillion package Mr. Biden is pushing, is circulating in Congress. He calls for $ 60 billion to avoid teacher layoffs, $ 50 billion for more staff to reduce class sizes, $ 7 billion to help bridge the “digital divide” that prevents virtual learning for teachers. low-income students and $ 6 billion to purchase personal protective equipment. It also includes billions of dollars for more counselors and on-call staff, and to cover transportation costs.

But the demands have caught the attention of Republican lawmakers who say they read like a union wish list for challenges that were neither created nor relevant to the coronavirus crisis. A Republican aide noted that some of the demands were higher than those made by sources for the estimates cited in the document – in some cases billions of dollars. These sources include the CDC and the American Federation of Teachers. The document states that applications must cover the current school year and the next.

Last week, Mr. Biden’s candidate for education secretary Miguel A. Cardona rejected the suggestion, made by Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, that applications were free.

“The funds we’re talking about are really meant to help us in the long-term recovery process, avoiding layoffs, when we need more teachers, not fewer,” said Dr Cardona, whose appointment was advanced from the Senate Education Committee Thursday.

Ms Pringle said her union had been in contact with the Biden administration over plans to reopen the school. She said her plan recognizes that “if you have the unions behind what you want to do, it gets done”.

Mr Biden’s close relationship with the teachers’ unions, which aided his election, has raised concerns that it could ultimately thwart his ambitions of a full return to school for all children.

Ms Psaki was asked bluntly about recent clashes in cities like Chicago and San Francisco, where teacher unions and school districts have struggled to come to an agreement on how to greet students in buildings.

“If it’s a binary choice, if it comes down to a binary choice, who would choose the president: the children or the teachers?” asked a reporter.

“I think it’s a little unfair to ask that question,” she replied. “But I will say the president thinks schools should be open. Teachers want schools to be open. Families want schools to be open. But we want to do it safely. “

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Chicago teachers reach tentative deal to reopen schools.

The Chicago Teachers Union has reached an agreement in principle with Mayor Lori Lightfoot to reopen schools across the city for in-person classes, the mayor said on Sunday.

If finalized, the deal would avert a strike that threatened to disrupt the education of students in the country’s third largest school district.

Under the deal, the preschool and some special education students would return to classrooms on Thursday. Kindergarten to Grade 5 class staff would return on February 22, and students in those classes would return on March 1.

The deal must be approved by the union’s elected governing body, the House of Delegates, the mayor said. The union leadership is expected to meet its base on Sunday afternoon and then the House of Delegates will meet, according to a person familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the union did not want the deal to go through. audience before members had a chance to see it.

The Chicago Tribune reported on the deal’s existence on Sunday morning. Shortly after, the union published on Twitter: “We don’t have an agreement with the Chicago public schools yet. The mayor and his team made an offer to our members late last night which deserves further consideration. We will continue our democratic baseline review process throughout the day before a deal is reached.

Mayor Lightfoot and the union have been locked in one of the most intense battles for reopening across the country. The mayor argued that the city’s most vulnerable students needed the opportunity to return to school in person, while the union condemned the plan to reopen the city as dangerous.

A similar fight is underway in Philadelphia, where K-2 teachers are expected to show up at school buildings on Monday to prepare for the return of students on February 22. The teachers’ union has told its members to continue working remotely, saying it is not yet safe to return to school buildings.

Ms Lightfoot said on Sunday the battle with the union in Chicago had been bitter. She said she heard from parents who believed they were being held hostage and their voices had been muffled. She sought to put the vitriol in the past.

“My fellow Chicagoans, we have to move forward and we have to heal,” she said.

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Video: Schools in Virginia to reopen by mid-March, says Northam

new video loaded: Virginia schools to reopen by mid-March, says Northam

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Virginia schools to reopen by mid-March, says Northam

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia said on Friday that schools across the state are expected to begin offering in-person classes by March 15, adding that many students are suffering academically and emotionally.

When the pandemic started, believe it or not, 11 months ago, schools across the country closed. When school divisions started making plans for the current school year, we told them we wanted students and we wanted our teachers and staff to be safe. But we encouraged in-person teaching for those students who needed it most. But we’ve seen more data now, and it suggests schools don’t have the kind of rapid spread we’ve seen in other congregational settings. This tells us that it’s time to find a path to in-person learning. We also know this clear fact, children learn best in classrooms, and this is where they need to be. Last month, we provided advice to our school divisions on how to plan for a safe return to in-person learning. And today I say it has to start on March 15th. By this date, I expect each school division to offer in-person learning options as per guidelines.

Recent episodes of Coronavirus pandemic: latest updates

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Video: New York’s indoor dining room to reopen on Valentine’s Day

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NYC Indoor Dining will reopen on Valentine’s Day

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday announced that dining in New York City could resume to 25% of capacity as of Valentine’s Day.

Restaurants in New York City, on our current trajectory we can reopen indoor restaurants at 25% on Valentine’s Day. Restaurants want a period of time to be able to educate workers. They can prepare to eat inside, order supplies, etc. So we are talking about eating inside. 25 percent on Valentine’s Day. In the future, we are very excited about the possibility of reopening places with tests. The restaurants are open on Valentine’s Day. You can make a reservation now or plan a dinner on Valentine’s Day, which you offer on Valentine’s Day. And then you can have the wedding ceremony on March 15th, up to 150 people. People will actually come to your wedding because you can tell them with the test, it will be safe. Everyone will be tested there and everyone will be safe.

Recent episodes of United States and politics

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Biden plans to reopen the Obamacare scholarships in many states.

The Biden administration plans to reopen registration in many Affordable Care Act markets, both to help those who lost health insurance during the pandemic and to provide coverage for those who did not. and who want it now.

The White House announced Thursday that President Biden will sign an executive order outlining the administration’s policies on strengthening health insurance coverage.

The so-called Special Enrollment Period is intended to help people who have lost coverage within the past year, but it will be open to those who want health insurance for any reason in the 36 states that use Healthcare. .gov. The decision was reported earlier by the Washington Post.

Typically, Americans without special circumstances can only purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, for a six-week period in the fall, a restriction intended to encourage people to have coverage even when they are in good health. This year’s cover enrollment period ended in mid-December, with enrollments barely higher than last year. But the Trump administration hasn’t done much to publicize it. The Biden administration plans to mount a major marketing campaign to announce the new opportunity and encourage people to sign up for health plans, according to two people familiar with the details.

The insurance industry, which generally supports strict limits on insurance underwriting, now supports the additional enrollment period. According to a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately 15 million Americans are uninsured and may benefit from market coverage. Most would be eligible for some form of financial assistance if they purchased such coverage – and about four million could go into a high-deductible plan that cost them nothing in premiums.

“For the four million people who could get free coverage and who are not insured instead, this, for me, is crying out for awareness,” said Cynthia Cox, vice president of the foundation and author. analysis.

It is still unclear how many people lost their health insurance in the past year due to the pandemic, but most working-age Americans are covered by their employers and millions have lost their jobs.

Enrollment in Medicaid, the public health insurance program for the poor and disabled, has increased dramatically during the pandemic. And consumer advocates say there are also many Americans who weren’t insured before, but might want coverage now because of the public health crisis. Several states that operate their own markets established special listing periods last year and reported an increase in listings.

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Biden plans to reopen the Obamacare scholarships in many states.

The Biden administration plans to reopen registration in many Affordable Care Act markets, both to help those who lost health insurance during the pandemic and to provide coverage for those who did not. and who want it now. The move will be announced Thursday as part of a decree outlining administrative policies to boost health insurance coverage, according to three people familiar with the details.

The so-called Special Enrollment Period is meant to help people who have lost coverage within the past year, but will be open to those who want health insurance for any reason, in all 36 states that use Healthcare.gov. The decision was reported earlier by the Washington Post.

Typically, Americans without special circumstances can only purchase Obamacare insurance for a period of six weeks in the fall, a restriction intended to encourage people to have coverage even when in good health. This year’s cover enrollment period ended in mid-December, with enrollments barely higher than last year. But the Trump administration hasn’t done much to publicize it. The Biden administration plans to mount a major marketing campaign to announce the new opportunity and encourage people to sign up for health plans, two of the people said.

The insurance industry, which generally supports strict limits on insurance underwriting, now supports the additional enrollment period. According to a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately 15 million Americans are uninsured and may benefit from market coverage. Most would be eligible for some form of financial assistance if they purchased such coverage – and about four million could go into a high-deductible plan that cost them nothing in premiums.

“For the four million people who could benefit from free coverage and who are not insured instead – this, for me, screams for awareness,” said Cynthia Cox, vice president of the foundation and co -author of the analysis.

It is still unclear how many people lost their health insurance in the past year due to the pandemic, but most working-age Americans are covered by their employers and millions have lost their jobs.

Enrollment in Medicaid, the public health insurance program for the poor and disabled, has increased dramatically during the pandemic. And consumer advocates say there are also many Americans who weren’t insured before, but might want coverage now because of the public health crisis. Several states that operate their own markets established special listing periods last year and have seen an increase in listings.

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Biden pledges to reopen schools quickly. It won’t be easy.

During his first 48 hours in office, President Biden sought to project an optimistic message about the return of the many homebound students to classrooms. “We can teach our children in safe schools,” he pledged in his inaugural address.

The next day, Mr Biden signed an executive order promising to put the strength of the federal government behind an effort to “reopen the doors of schools as quickly as possible.”

But with about half of America’s college students still practically learning as the pandemic nears its first birthday, the president’s push is far from certain to succeed. His plan is unfolding just as the local battles for the reopening have become fiercer in recent weeks.

Teachers do not know exactly when they will be vaccinated and fear contagion. With an alarming number of cases across the country and new variants of the coronavirus emerging, unions are battling efforts to fire their members into crowded hallways. Their reluctance comes even as school administrators, mayors and some parents feel an increased urgency to restore educational activities as usual for the millions of students who are struggling academically and emotionally.

Given the seemingly intractable health and work issues, some district officials have started saying out loud what was previously unthinkable: that schools may not function normally for the 2021-2022 school year. And some union leaders are seeking to lower expectations raised by Mr Biden’s words.

“We don’t know if a vaccine stops transmissibility,” said Randi Weingarten, the powerful president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second largest teachers’ union.

Some virus experts, however, have said there is reason to be optimistic on this issue.

Ms Weingarten said that one of the keys to returning teachers to classrooms in the coming months would be the promise to allow those with health problems or whose family members have weakened immune systems to continue. to work remotely; centralized data collection on the number of Covid-19 cases in specific schools; and assuring districts that they would close schools when cases did arise.

Struggles for these same demands have slowed down and complicated reopening across the country. But Ms Weingarten also indicated that Mr Biden’s efforts to fill classrooms would be welcomed more favorably than those of Donald Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who have been widely vilified by school teachers. public.

“Don’t underestimate the bully’s pulpit,” she said. “Truth and trust are so important.”

Mr Biden’s executive order directs federal agencies to create national guidelines for reopening schools, support the tracing of viral contacts in schools and collect data measuring the impact of the pandemic on students. The White House is also pushing a stimulus package that would provide schools with $ 130 billion for costs like testing for viruses, upgrading ventilation systems and hiring staff.

Principals are eagerly awaiting additional money from Washington, which could run into the thousands of dollars per student. But they stress that it will be just as important for federal officials to directly address the in-person work anxiety that has swept through faculty and been given an influential voice in places where unions teachers are powerful.

The Trump administration has fueled this anxiety by demanding the opening of schools while issuing vague and contradictory guidelines on how to do so safely.

Robert Runcie, superintendent of public schools in Broward County in South Florida, the nation’s sixth largest district, said he would like to see Dr.Anthony Fauci hold a press conference to discuss schools and “alleviate the fear of people ”.

Broward does not do surveillance tests, but has published a dashboard tracing known cases of the virus in its schools – around 2,000 among students and staff since the system reopened in October, serving about a third of its 260,000 students in person. Contact tracing suggested that only 10% of those cases could have been caused by transmission in schools, Mr Runcie said, and that the majority of those transmissions were likely related to athletics.

This is in line with other research suggesting that measures such as masks can effectively mitigate the spread of the virus in schools.

The district forced some teachers with health problems to return to school buildings earlier this month, to avoid a situation where some students were learning online, even in school buildings. In response, the local union sued; the matter is currently in arbitration. Bus drivers, food service workers, wardens and district employees work full time without complaint, Runcie said.

The system lost 9,000 students this year as parents sought alternatives to virtual education. If some families choose to stay in private and chartered schools permanently, district funding could plummet, forcing layoffs, Runcie warned. He argued that the union’s struggle was shortsighted.

Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, said most teachers in the county are ready to get the shot and work in person following this with safety precautions in place. Florida, like the majority of states, has yet to make teachers eligible for the vaccine.

Disputes over teachers’ health exemptions are also at the heart of Chicago, where the union has threatened to refuse to work in person due to what it claims to be unsanitary conditions in school buildings, which the district is currently reopening by steps.

Kenzo Shibata, a high school civics and English teacher, was denied a request to continue working remotely. His wife has breast cancer and is about to start chemotherapy again. He also manages distance learning for his second grade son, a neighborhood student.

Mr. Shibata, an official with the Chicago Teachers Union, said he would be ready to return to class after being vaccinated, even if his students were not yet vaccinated. The district has promised to distribute vaccines directly to educators from February.

But Mr. Shibata suggested that a safer course of action would be to postpone in-person learning until the fall, especially given the reluctance of black and Latino parents in Chicago to send their children home. school. He was skeptical, he added, of President Biden’s willingness to reopen schools within 100 days.

“I think it’s arbitrary and a political statement, not an educational statement or a scientific or health statement,” he said. “It doesn’t inspire much confidence in me.”

Under the Trump administration, unions and public school advocates argued that schools could only reopen with a huge infusion of federal funds to purchase sanitation equipment, smaller classrooms to maintain social distancing, and hire nurses and psychologists.

The money is starting to flow, but Marguerite Roza, a school finance expert at Georgetown University, said it was perhaps even more important for the federal government to build the capacity of districts to negotiate forcefully with their students. unions.

The Biden administration could set a clear threshold for virus transmission in the community, below which it would advise schools to stay open, Dr Roza said, or even require them to do so in order to access federal dollars.

Research has highlighted the potential of making schools operate safely before teachers and students are vaccinated, provided that practices such as wearing masks are followed, and especially when transmission rates and hospitalizations in the community are monitored.

Tying the stimulus money to opening schools might be a more onerous strategy than the new Democratic administration is comfortable with, especially given the reluctance of unions. A White House spokesperson said on Friday that partnership and cooperation with teachers’ unions would be essential for the successful reopening of schools.

But Mr Biden could also tackle teacher anxiety by speaking directly to the grassroots.

“The money supply? I don’t know if that will really be what keeps people coming back right now, ”Dr Roza said. “The fear is real.”

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In rural Montana, hope Biden will reopen the tracks

DEER LODGE, Mont. – For nearly a century, passenger trains rumbled three times a week through this vast, grass-rich mountain valley in central Montana, home to more cattle than people, until Amtrak stops taking on the north coast of Hiawatha in 1979.

But with a new president known as “Amtrak Joe” and Democratic control of both houses of Congress, a dozen counties across the sparsely populated state are hoping for a return to passenger train service through the towns of Billings. , Bozeman, Helena and Missoula, and Whistle Stops like Deer Lodge in between, is closer than it has been in four decades.

“Residents of very rural parts of the state have to travel 175 miles to catch a plane or to seek medical services,” said David Strohmaier, a Missoula County commissioner who is one of the people responsible for the new Big Sky. Passenger Rail Authority. fundraising and lobbying for a return to passenger rail in southern Montana. “Rural communities see it as an opportunity for economic development, but also a social lifeline for residents who may have no other way to travel long distances for necessities.

Traveling between Chicago and Seattle, the Hiawatha served the largest cities in Montana. Its absence has left a void in a state where cities and services are widely dispersed and public transportation is poor or nonexistent, especially for low-income residents.

The Empire Builder, a daily Amtrak train reduced to three times a week during the coronavirus pandemic, travels from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, Oregon, through northern Montana, serving only small towns in one of the regions the most remote in the state.

Defending Amtrak’s current route funding is an ongoing battle, so the notion of adding new ones is seen as a long road. This is less true now, some say, due to the new president and Democratic control of both chambers.

President Biden’s infrastructure plan, for example, promises to “spark the second great rail revolution.”

“Passenger rail transport is a vital part of the US transportation network,” new transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement to the New York Times. “I believe the department should promote, help develop and fund passenger rail transportation in order to bring US railways into the 21st century.”

Expanding the service to new cities “is a tough step for a lot of people,” said Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of policy and government affairs for the Rail Passengers Association. “At the same time, it feels like the stars are starting to align. We could get an honest infrastructure bill from God and that could mean money for expansion.

Amtrak officials have said they “support” the efforts of local officials to expand the service. “There are many places in the country that could benefit from a service restoration or a new service,” said Marc Magliari, a spokesperson for the company.

There has been some encouraging news for passenger rail transport recently, including the newly renovated Moynihan Train Hall next to Penn Station in New York City and the new generation of Acela trains scheduled to enter service this year in the Northeast Corridor.

The pandemic, however, has wreaked financial havoc on Amtrak, as it has on other forms of transportation. Attendance fell by 80%. The railroad received $ 1 billion from the 2020 stimulus.

And once-ambitious plans for high-speed rail in California have been drastically curtailed amid skyrocketing cost overruns, which may hurt the cause of rail expansion.

The new long distance service in Montana, if it did occur, would not be high speed. Amtrak long-distance trains have a maximum speed of 79 miles per hour.

Small communities across the country see economic hope in an Amtrak connection. Northern Montana still has the Empire Builder, which according to recent analysis contributes up to $ 40 million a year to the small communities it serves. It is the busiest of Amtrak’s intercity routes and last year carried some 433,000 passengers.

A rough figure for the start-up cost of re-establishing new service along the southern Montana route, Mr. Jeans-Gail said, is $ 50 million for better signage, track upgrades and l improvement of the station.

Nostalgia is not a small part of supporting train travel. The history of the past 150 years in the West has been linked to railroads, the first mode of transportation to cross long distances on trips that took days rather than weeks or months. They brought a radically different world to a wild and isolated land – for better or for worse. Farmers, miners, buffalo hunters and others came to develop and plunder a rich landscape and occupy the land.

Railways were also instrumental in creating national parks and park infrastructure, which their designers saw as destinations for passengers.

The town of Deer Lodge was an integral part of the early days of the Montana railroad and is steeped in rail history. The North Pacific came into being in the 1880s, and in 1907 the now defunct Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, known as Milwaukee Road, established its headquarters here from the Rocky Mountain division.

“My grandfathers and my father were both locomotive engineers on Milwaukee Road,” said Terry Jennings, who lives at Deer Lodge and sits on the board of directors of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority. “When Milwaukee Road pulled out, it financially destroyed the back of this city.

Since then, the city’s population has declined from nearly 5,000 to less than 3,000, and there is an aspiration to reclaim some of its rail past and support its tourist economy. Deer Lodge is home to the State Prison, and the imposing stone castle-like Territorial Prison, removed in 1979, is a tourist attraction. The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site on the outskirts of town operated as a cattle ranch in the 19th century.

Even if rail service reverts to the southern route, Deer Lodge might not get service right away, although the train likely stops nearby. If the railroad gets here, it will need new infrastructure. The town’s two wood-frame railway stations are now the Depot Church and the Powell County Seniors Center.

While some towns in Montana have exploded in recent years, many small towns are in an existential battle. The long distances and the sparse population of parts of Montana, sometimes called the Big Empty, make travel difficult and expensive.

Flying from Missoula to Billings, for example, requires a flight to Salt Lake City or Seattle first and a connection; a return flight can cost $ 500 or more. The bus service is irregular. Spending hours behind a wheel is often the only alternative.

A new train service would open up isolated parts of the vast state. “There’s a lot of Montana that’s virtually untouched that can only be seen from the railroad,” Mr. Jennings said.

And with an aging population for whom driving long distances becomes more and more difficult, rail service seems more and more attractive. “My husband’s family lives in Terry, 400 miles east,” said Deer Lodge Mayor Diana Solle. “We’re 70 years old and it’s a long journey.”

Montana is just one of many countries working on a new long-distance train service. Research and planning is underway to provide Amtrak service along the Colorado Front Range; new service between Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans; and additional service between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota. Virginia is adding tracks to expand high-speed train service between Richmond and Washington, connecting to the Northeast Corridor.

Mr Strohmaier said officials in Montana would like to open a new rail service to connect to places like Salt Lake City and Denver, especially for people who cannot afford to fly.

“There are economic and social disparities” in travel, he said. “This is the definition of fairness in transportation. This would provide more affordable transportation for a larger portion of the public than what is currently served. “

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Wave of student suicides pushes Las Vegas schools to reopen

This fall, when most school districts decided not to reopen, more parents began to speak out. Parents of a 14-year-old boy from Maryland who committed suicide in October described how their son had “given up” after his district decided not to return in the fall. In December, an 11-year-old boy in Sacramento shot himself in his Zoom course. Weeks later, the father of a teenager in Maine attributed his son’s suicide to isolation from the pandemic.

“We knew he was upset because he could no longer participate in his school activities, football,” Jay Smith told a local television station. “We never guessed it was so bad.”

President Biden has presented a robust plan to speed up vaccinations, expand coronavirus testing and spend billions of dollars to help districts reopen most of their schools in his first 100 days in office.

By then, children in districts like Clark County, with more than 300,000 students, will be out of school for over a year.

“Every day we feel like we have run out of time,” Dr Jara said.

As the pandemic approaches, youth suicide rates have been on the rise for a decade; by 2018, suicide had become the second leading cause of death among young people and young adults, behind accidents. And the most recent Behavioral Risk Survey, released last year by the CDC, which tracks trends in high school student health, shows a steady increase over the past decade in the percentage of students who report having lingering feelings of sadness or hopelessness, as well as in those who planned and attempted suicide.

Since the lockdowns, districts have been reporting clusters of suicides, CDC’s Dr Massetti said, and many said they were struggling to connect students to services.

“Without in-person instruction, there is a gap that is currently not being addressed,” she said.

Suzie Button, senior clinical director of high school programming at the Jed Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that works on suicide prevention, said hundreds of schools and colleges – including the county de Clark – are teaming up with the organization to better serve students during the pandemic.