Top education officials in two states warned this week that schools may have to continue online education in the fall if the spread of the coronavirus continues or resurges.
The cautions in Maryland and Washington came as Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a White House briefing Tuesday that the country would be “in good shape” to reopen schools in the fall.
“I’m not sure we are going to be doing school in the same way going forward,” Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon told state lawmakers Wednesday, according to the Baltimore Sun. “We’re not sure that [school building closures] is not something that we’re going to revisit in the fall or the winter.”
“I’m really focusing much of our resources on the expansion and accountability wrapped around online learning and distance learning. That’s going to be a our focus right now, because it has to be.”
A day earlier, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said in an interview with My Northwest that schools in the state, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus, may continue distance learning into the fall.
The Maryland-District of Columbia region has been identified as a possible hot spot as cases of the coronavirus continue to surge there.
Even as officials issued stay home orders and closed schools to slow transmission rates, public health officials have cautioned of a likely reemergence of the virus as the nation awaits a vaccine.
If it’s not feasible to keep Washington students safe and spread far apart in classrooms and “if not enough of us have gotten the virus and built the antibody, or we don’t have a vaccine, the return to schools are really tough considerations right now,” Reykdal said in his interview. “We have time. We have a lot of science working hard to figure it out, but I already have to start thinking about how to continue to strengthen our online model, which has gotten exponentially better over the last two weeks, but there’s a lot of work to go.”
Washington extended its school closures through the end of the school year this week.
Maryland has closed its school buildings until April 24, and Gov. Larry Hogan has said the state will revisit that decision on an ongoing basis.
According to Education Week’s tracker, 15 states and 2 U.S. territories have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the academic year. But most leaders and educators have discussed the shutdowns with the assumption that buildings would reopen in the fall.
Around the country, the approach to school closures has shifted along with federal guidance. Many states started with two-week shutdowns or targeted specific areas with higher infection rates, but the decisions quickly become broader and longer term.
Fauci, one of the key members of the federal team that is responding to the pandemic, said at the Tuesday White House briefing that there is a lot of uncertainty about how disease rates will respond to aggressive measures to contain the virus. He has suggested previously that the country won’t be “back to normal” until there is a broadly administered vaccine. Federal officials have suggested policy measures may become more targeted to heavily affected areas as understanding of the virus deepens.
Despite those cautions, Fauci predicted schools will largely be able to reopen in the fall.
“Bottom line is, no absolute prediction, but I think we’re going to be in good shape,” he said.