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Reopen schools before a children’s vaccine

This is the Coronavirus Schools Briefing, a guide to the seismic changes in education in the United States that are occurring during the pandemic. Sign up here to receive this newsletter to your inbox.


The first adult coronavirus vaccines are almost here, but children’s vaccines will take much longer. Pfizer and Moderna pediatric trials are only just beginning for children over 12 years old.

So what does this mean for the timetable for the full reopening of schools?

For once we have some good news. Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, told Adam last month that it is “an added benefit when we get the vaccine for children”, but it is not a prerequisite. upon reopening. This has been echoed by many groups of teachers and medical experts.

“There is very little concern or feeling that the school should not be open because the children are not immunized,” said Colin Sharkey, executive director of the Association of American Educators.

Dr Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the FDA’s Vaccine Advisory Board, said: “It is extremely rare for a child to die from this virus, so teachers are the ones who need it. must be vaccinated.

Teachers will be part of an initial group of people to receive vaccines, after health workers and people living in long-term care facilities. Even before teachers are vaccinated, their unions say elementary schools can be safely reopened, provided districts enforce testing, personal protective equipment, physical distance and ventilation protocols. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Young children are not at high risk of infecting others.

“You can reopen elementary schools before you have the vaccine for teachers, but the vaccine will create an assurance that everything is safe,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Above all, it is not only teachers who need to be protected. Day care staff and meal attendants, receptionists and bus drivers are all part of the school community.

“The equity angle is really important,” said Dr. Grace M. Lee, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Practice Innovation at Stanford Children’s Health. “Everyone who helps open a school will be essential to this workforce.”

Similar questions about access and equity for children, however, are months later. The vaccination process and timing for children will inevitably be very different, as researchers would only begin large-scale testing if they found no serious side effects.

“Vaccine developers are very much aware that children are not just miniature adults,” our colleague Carl Zimmer explained earlier this fall. “Their biology is different and can affect how vaccines work.”

For example, young children have a more active immune system than adults and may have stronger reactions, including more fever, body aches and fatigue.

Even once vaccines are available, conspiracy theories and mistrust could slow their adoption. Some governors have already said they will not impose vaccines. While the warrants promote herd immunity, medical and teacher groups fear it will simply distract from the main problem: keeping children learning.

“We will lose the war over whether to vaccinate if we strike up a conversation about whether it is mandatory,” Weingarten said. “Above all, we have to create trust.”


As the fall semester draws to a close, final evaluations and mid-term grades are due. And many, many children will have failed their lessons.

  • In Houston, the seventh largest public school district in the country, 42% of students failed two or more courses during the first grading period, compared to 11% in a normal year.

  • In Fairfax County, Va., Internal analysis found that the percentage of middle and high school students earning Fs in two or more classes rose to 11% in the first term of this year, from 6% a year ago. a year.

  • In Washington, DC, internal testing data shows a sharp drop in the number of kindergarten through second-graders who meet literacy criteria.

  • In Chicago, the nation’s second largest district, 13% of high school students failed math in the fall term, up from 9.5% last fall.

“We are obviously facing unprecedented learning losses and course failures,” said Brian T. Woods, a Texas superintendent, “and it will take years to mitigate them. In his district, the proportion of students failing at least one course in the first grading period has risen to around 25% from 8% last year.

But in many cases, it is the schools that have let their students down. Few of the children in the above districts have spent time learning in person this semester. Many have had difficulty accessing online courses. The most vulnerable and disadvantaged students suffer the most from continued distance learning.

In the spring, districts made major changes to student report cards – removing grades, securing A’s, or ensuring that performance during the pandemic is not factored into students. But many have since returned to normal scoring schemes.

A strong rebuke: Seven families sued the state of California on Monday for the quality of the education their children receive at home this year. In the lawsuit, they said distance learning exacerbated inequalities in schools and deprived minority students from poor families of their right to education.

A careful look: The Washington Post reported on one school where about 90% of first graders met the reading goal in March. In the fall, every child had fallen behind.


  • More than 200 faculty members at University of Florida requested a stay of in-person teaching the following semester. But only 78 will be allowed to teach remotely, Corbin Bolies reported for The Alligator, the student newspaper.

  • Male community college enrollments are dropping, especially among students of color, The 74 reported.

  • Colleges across the country are urging Congress to pass a $ 120 billion higher education relief bill.

  • The student government at the University of Maryland will distribute over $ 400,000 to classmates in need.

  • Students pursue both the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech for a partial refund of tuition and fees after the transfer of online courses.

  • An open letter: “We have every reason to expect the University to be – once again – swamped with infections when classes resume,” wrote the faculty of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professors are asking the university to cancel most in-person classes in the spring semester.

  • Parents in Washington DC, should schedule the return of children to classrooms in February, the Chancellor said.

  • In-person learning has temporarily ceased in 47 of the 50 largest districts in Minnesota, as cases climb.

  • Several districts of Virginia began to gradually progress to face-to-face instruction.

  • Maine plans to keep schools open even as cases increase. “This is largely not due to transmission at school,” the state education commissioner said. “It’s community based. It wouldn’t be the safest thing to do to close schools, even though people might think we should be closing schools.

  • A good read: In South Korea, the pandemic has added anxiety and protocols to the already grueling nine-hour college entrance exam. Thirty-five students who tested positive for the virus took the exam in negative pressure rooms in hospitals across the country.


Independent play is an important skill for kids, but winter could put a wrench in things. Here are a few ways to help promote a guide-less activity, even when the temperatures drop. Above all, give them space to make a mess.

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