This is the Coronavirus Schools Briefing, a guide to the seismic changes in American education that are occurring during the pandemic. Sign up here to receive this newsletter to your inbox.
This fall, even as cases increased across Europe, Germany worked hard to keep schools open, prioritizing them over other aspects of daily life like restaurants and bars.
But even in a country once considered a success, this strategy is no longer viable. German schools will close as well as non-essential shops and services on Wednesday under a strict lockdown that will be in effect until Christmas. Schools are expected to reopen in mid-January.
“The numbers were so out of control that the German leaders decided to lock everything down, even schools,” said Melissa Eddy, Times correspondent in Berlin.
Germany took an aggressive approach to containment from the start, leveraging science, contact tracing and accessible testing to keep the virus at bay. He cited research that said elementary school students were at low risk of spreading the virus, which is now a growing consensus across much of the world. But that couldn’t stop this week’s tough decision.
It is not because schools have spread the virus. Instead, it’s because the community’s spread has exploded.
“This sends the message that Germany has completely lost control of the pandemic,” Melissa said. “The schools were sacrificed because they failed to lock down everything else tightly enough.”
As in the United States, complacency, pandemic fatigue and political wrangling undermined Germany’s coordinated national restrictions. A record number of Germans have been infected or have died in recent weeks.
The coming weeks are now particularly uncertain for schools. Germany, a country long committed to data privacy, has not looked into e-learning software, making the transition to distance learning even more difficult.
“You have a weird school with the inventive technical director, but the others are really struggling,” Melissa said. “Getting into distance education is a big deal here.”
Similar trends are evident in Europe and around the world.
In LondonMayor Sadiq Khan called on schools to close early for Christmas, even as Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought to keep them open.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch Prime Minister is expected to announce a month-long lockdown during which schools will close.
In South Korea, some schools will also close in and around Seoul, the capital.
Death in university towns
At the end of the difficult fall semester, many campuses emptied. But coronavirus outbreaks remain.
Deaths in counties with high student populations have doubled since the end of August, compared to a 58% increase in the rest of the country, according to a New York Times analysis.
Deaths from coronavirus among young people are remarkably rare. Since the start of the pandemic, The Times has identified only about 90 deaths involving college workers and students out of more than 397,000 infections.
But the real toll came after the virus spread off campus, leading to deaths among the elderly, especially in nursing homes. A possible transmission route: more than 700,000 undergraduates are nurses, medical assistants and orderlies.
As our colleagues Danielle Ivory, Robert Gebeloff and Sarah Mervosh have reported, people like 94-year-old Phyllis Baukol may have in the past seemed unlikely to spread to college. Baukol, a classical pianist, lived in a retirement home in Grand Forks, ND, far from the classrooms, bars, and fraternity houses frequented by students at the University of North Dakota.
But an increase in the number of cases, first attributed to cases among college students, exploded in Grand Forks this fall. Baukol quickly tested positive. Three days later, staff members pushed her bed against a window so her daughter could say goodbye.
Around the country
Keyontae Johnson, member of the men’s basketball team University of Florida, is in critical but stable condition after collapsing on the pitch during Saturday’s game. Johnson, 21, had the coronavirus this summer.
Employees of local businesses in Ithaca, New York, home to Cornell University, have started a petition to close indoor restaurants, receive a risk premium and maintain clear safety protocols, Simran Surtani reported for The Cornell Daily Sun, the student newspaper.
Uber drivers had a frustrating semester transporting students to Emory University from dorms to bars and clubs, Ulia Ahn and Matthew Chupack have reported for The Emory Wheel, the student newspaper.
The president of the University of Iowa said that a pass / no pass grading option for the fall semester could negatively impact the future of students, Kelsey Harrell reported for The Daily Iowan. Despite lobbying from the student government, university administrators have chosen to maintain the traditional grading.
One coach recalled: Tom Burek, Head Swim and Dive Coach Monmouth College, died of complications from Covid-19 on Saturday. Burek, 62, has repeatedly led his team to victory at regional conferences and helped college athletes break records.
A columnist’s point of view: Our colleague Kurt Streeter touched on a long-standing ethical issue in varsity sport that has new urgency during the pandemic: Should athletes be paid?
A good read: Student athletes at Harvard University wrestled during a fall semester of home training and Zoom reunions, Alex Koller and Ema Schumer reported for The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper. “When you work your whole life for something, and you are told that you cannot play, or that you cannot participate in it,” said one football player, “it just complements and s ‘add to itself, sort of creating a semester-long trash can fire for mental health. “
Buffalo, New York, will delay the start of its reopening until at least February 1, due to high levels of community transmission. Students who need it will return first during a gradual reopening until mid-March.
A teacher in Bend, Ore., was suspended after being shown in a viral video shouting at a crowd of anti-lockdown protesters.
Hackers continue to target U.S. schools with ransomware attacks, U.S. intelligence officials have said.
An opinion: A group of teachers Connecticut exposed their fears and frustrations with in-person learning in an opinion piece for The Hartford Courant: “Why We Don’t Want To Teach Your Children, In Person.”
A good read: About 100 teachers in Chandler, Arizona., staged a breakout on Friday, demanding that schools close after winter recess and stay away until the region’s infection rate declines. The schools did not close: only a fraction of the 2,000 teachers in the district took part in the action. But it underscores the anxiety of many teachers in Arizona, where cases soared last week.
Tip: monitor internet usage
Connie Chang’s daughter started the school year in distance education. But without constant supervision, she could roam freely on the Internet with relative ease.
“My 9-year-old daughter was in several unauthorized Google Hangout groups and chatting with her friends,” Chang wrote. “Within minutes my phone had received 80 more notifications – all with messages like an endless stream of ‘hi’ or a parade of unicorn emojis.”
She spoke with experts and shared some tips for other worried parents about the digital overload recall. Some Suggestions: Normalize digital play and respect your child’s communication needs, while teaching children to use the Internet as a literate user.
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