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How will Biden approach the reopening of schools?

Several months after the start of the 2020-2021 school year, things are bad and getting worse. Most American children are not in classrooms, with many ill effects. The country appears doomed to face an increase in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. There appears to be little chance of improving conditions for the rest of the year.

So what will President-elect Joe Biden do about it when he takes office on January 20?

The new president’s coronavirus task force has said it will prioritize open schools over open businesses such as restaurants, bars and gyms.

“I would consider the school to be an essential service,” working group member Dr Céline Gounder told our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli. “These other things are not essential services.”

Biden has pledged money – lots of money – to help schools operate safely. He supported plans to send at least $ 88 billion to local and state governments, which would pay for protective equipment, ventilation, smaller classrooms and other expenses.

“Schools, they need a lot of money to open up,” he said during the last presidential debate.

Biden also said his administration would create national guidelines for reopening schools. He would also provide advice on distance learning and distance learning, and conduct research on how the coronavirus affects children. Systemically, this would address the gaps “in learning, mental health, social and emotional well-being, and systemic racial and socio-economic disparities in education that the pandemic has exacerbated.”

President Trump, on the other hand, pushed to keep schools open and threatened to restrict federal funding to non-compliant districts, but failed to offer significant funds or guidance to help achieve that goal. Trump’s education department, our colleague Erica Green reported, “has done little to track the impact of the virus and come up with solutions.”

Here’s a roundup of comments from other members of Biden’s coronavirus advisory board:

  • “We are all hoping to be able to reopen schools and colleges this fall, but only if the number of new infections is extremely low and controlled,” Dr. David Kessler wrote in an editorial in The Times in April. He was Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President Clinton and President George HW Bush.

  • Dr Vivek Murthy, the former surgeon general, warned that reopening “won’t be like flipping a switch.” In September, he tweeted: “When schools / universities reopen without proper precautions, they increase the risk of a # COVID19 outbreak.”

  • Dr Atul Gawande, professor of surgery and health policy at Harvard University, said targeted closures are preferable. “Zip code by zip code, you can deploy different restrictions in order to control the virus and it’s pretty effective. We do not need to do a nationwide shelter-in-place closure. “

There are still big question marks on the Biden agenda for schools during the pandemic.

As Erica noted, “The President-elect’s closeness to powerful teachers’ unions has raised concerns. Unions have been criticized by parents and school leaders who say their opposition to face-to-face teaching conflicts with science and the well-being of students.

The president-elect could also struggle to pass a major fundraising bill unless Democrats control the Senate, which will depend on the outcome of two hotly contested second-round races in Georgia in January.

The remote school requires an internet connection. For students who live in rural areas, limited service can be a huge barrier.

Shekinah Lennon, 17, attends online classes from a kitchen table in Orrum, North Carolina, a rural community of less than 100 people with no grocery store or traffic lights. This fall, the video suddenly froze. The wireless antenna on the roof had stopped working and could not be repaired. Shekinah’s mother called five broadband companies, all of which gave the same answer: The service is not available in your area.

“It’s not fair,” Shekinah told our colleague Dan Levin. “I don’t think only city dwellers should have the Internet. We also need it in the country. “

In rural North Carolina, some kids spend school nights sneaking in to more connected parents so they can access classes the next day. In one district, parents come to school every two weeks to hand in USB drives filled with completed schoolwork and receive new ones, uploaded with lesson videos and homework.

“At school, I did all the A’s and B’s,” a 14-year-old who was forced to rely on USB sticks for schoolwork. “Now I am failing.”

For months, local education officials lobbied state and federal authorities for systemic solutions, rather than band-aid solutions like hot spots.

Today, many parents use a map of public Wi-Fi locations to help their children connect, and students can often be seen hunched over laptops in cars parked within range of wireless routers.

“It only adds insult to injury when you have to sit in the parking lot of a McDonald’s to learn,” said Monique Felder, principal of the school in Orange County, North Carolina.


  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from Michigan announced sweeping restrictions, including the suspension of in-person classes for middle and high school students, to combat what she called “the worst time in this pandemic yet.”

  • Athletes at Simmons University, Massachusetts, have kept in touch with Zoom when away from teammates, Chloe Janes and Olivia Ray reported for The Simmons Voice.

  • An opinion: “Save the season. Postpone the start. Play the league schedule and have May Madness. Spikes and protocols prevent playing at this time. This is a tweet from Rick Pitino, the head coach of the men’s basketball team at Iona College, in New Rochelle, NY

  • Two Thanksgiving readings: As cases increase, students Indiana University fear accidentally bringing the virus home with them on Thanksgiving, wrote Matt Cohen for the Indiana Daily Student. And for The Times, Tara Parker-Pope and Julie Halpert have compiled expert advice on how college students can get home safely for the holidays.

We would love to continue presenting student reports on the pandemic. Please email Amelia with links.

  • Parents and teachers in New York City Anxiously watched the city’s test positivity rate as it hovered near the 3% mark that would trigger in-person classes to stop. So far, the schools are still open.

  • In Massachusetts, some school districts are experimenting with the “pool test” – pooling samples, then testing each individually only if the “pool” is positive.

  • In Washington DC, the school district and teachers’ union have made progress towards an agreement to begin in-person learning.

  • An opinion: “The California Interscholastic Federation should drop any idea of ​​allowing high schools to start playing football in early December with the intention of playing games in January,” The Mercury News wrote in an op-ed.

  • A good read: The Pew Research Center has written a bird’s-eye view of how case flares affect school closures. “For now, the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak that is overwhelming hospitals in some states has blocked any further movement towards opening classrooms,” wrote Christine Vestal.


Researchers at the University of Texas-Austin have created a useful tool to help families and school administrators make daily estimates of the number of infected people who are likely to show up in schools in the United States.

The Times featured an earlier version of the model in July.

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