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Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

October 07, 2020 8 min read
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COVID-19 Rates Go Up Among Schoolchildren as Schools Reopen

The coronavirus is increasingly infecting American children and teenagers in a trend authorities say appears fueled by school reopenings and the resumption of sports, playdates, and other activities.

Children of all ages now make up 10 percent of all U.S cases, up from 2 percent in April, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported last week. Also last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the incidence of COVID-19 in school-age children began rising in early September as many youngsters returned to their classrooms.

About two times more teenagers were infected than younger children, the CDC report says. Most infected children have mild cases; hospitalizations and death rates are much lower than in adults.The CDC report does not indicate where or how the children became infected. Public-health experts say the uptick probably reflects increasing spread of the virus in the larger community. While many districts require masks and other precautions, some spread in schools is thought to be occurring, too. Experts also say many school-age children may be contracting the virus at playdates, sleepovers, sports, and other activities where precautions aren’t being taken.

The CDC report says more than 277,000 children ages 5 to 17 were confirmed infected between March and Sept. 19, with an increase in September after a peak and a decline over the summer.

The new data came out the same week that federal officials announced plans to distribute 100 million point-of-care coronavirus tests to states and territories. Rather than waiting days for a laboratory-processed test, users will get results in minutes.

Governors can use the tests as they see fit, President Donald Trump said, but officials hope they will use them to “reopen their schools and their economies immediately, as fast as they can,” he said.

However, Michael Mina, a Harvard University epidemiologist who has advocated the expansion of rapid virus testing, tweeted that the number of tests federal officials plan to distribute is “nowhere near what’s needed” to test on the level Trump has touted.

About 50.8 million students are enrolled in U.S. public schools, and about 3.2 million full-time teachers, according to the most recent federal data.

Despite All the Talk, Southern Schools Still Clinging To Names of Confederate Figures, Segregationists

Four months ago, what with all the protests going on over police misconduct and racial injustice, it looked like schools across the South at last were going to bury their Confederate names.

So far, not much has changed.

An Education Week analysis shows that just 11 of 211 of the nation’s Confederate-named schools have been renamed since June.

The most celebrated change occurred in Virginia, when the school board in Fairfax County renamed Robert E. Lee High School for John Lewis, the late civil rights icon and longtime Democratic congressman. Schools in Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, and West Virginia also took on new names. At least 11 other districts across the South have started the name-change process or approved plans to consider renaming schools. That list includes Duval County, Fla., where six buildings are named for Confederate figures.

Many of these schools were built or dedicated between 1950 and 1970—decades after the Civil War—amid coordinated efforts by white Southerners who opposed the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that deemed racial segregation in schools unconstitutional.

Other schools bear the names of individuals with racist histories, including 22 named for politicians who signed the Southern Manifesto opposing school integration after the Brown decision.

As schools have turned away from Confederate figures, some celebrate civil rights figures such as Lewis and educators who persevered against racial bigotry.

In July, the Grand Prairie Independent district in Texas renamed its Robert E. Lee Elementary School for 89-year-old Delmas Morton, a former student, teacher, and principal in the district. As a teenager, Morton was forced to attend high school in nearby Dallas because Grand Prairie did not have high schools for nonwhite students.

That same month, the Prince William County, Va., school board renamed a middle school that commemorated Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson as Unity Braxton Middle School, to honor the contributions of civil rights activists and residents Carroll and Celestine Braxton.

Three Court Rulings Later, DeVos Surrenders In Quest to Expand Private School COVID-19 Aid

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seems to have gotten the message: Courts and Congress don’t want her spending coronavirus-relief aid on all students in private schools.

In a recent letter to chief state school officers, DeVos said the U.S. Department of Education will not appeal a Sept. 4 ruling from U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich that vacated her July 1 interim final rule. In essence, that rule sought to direct significantly more federal coronavirus aid to private school students—under a part of federal law called equitable services—than is typically required.

Public school officials had argued that DeVos was deliberately misinterpreting the CARES Act in order to ultimately provide private schools a federally backed bailout. Members of Congress weighed in as well, including some Republicans, saying the law was not meant to cover all private school students.

But DeVos and her team said that Congress intended to help private school students as much as their public school peers through the law, which provided roughly $13 billion in direct coronavirus aid for K-12 schools.

The fight also renewed long-running and intense disputes over the extent to which DeVos supports traditional public schools versus private schools.

A total of four federal lawsuits were filed in federal courts to stop the rule. Two judges granted preliminary injunction to halt its implementation before Friedrich, a judge appointed by President Donald Trump, ordered that the rule be voided nationwide.

In her letter, DeVos said that even though her department will not appeal the rulings, private school students and the people they serve still deserve aid and consideration. She stood by her view that Congress never intended for CARES aid to benefit some students but not others and added that this “did not stop some from suing us, attempting to deny private school children and teachers help they needed.”

With DeVos’ rule no longer in effect, schools will still have to set aside CARES money for equitable services but only to provide support for certain at-risk and disadvantaged students in local private schools

Principals’ Union Seeks State Takeover of N.Y.C. Schools

The union representing New York City’s school principals last week called for the state to take control of the school system from the mayor for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic as hundreds of thousands of children reported to classrooms.

The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators declared a unanimous vote of “no confidence” in Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza over their handling of safely reopening the nation’s largest district.

“All summer long, we’ve been running into roadblock after roadblock, with changing guidance, confusing guidance—often no guidance,” Council President Mark Cannizzaro said.

The mayor twice delayed the start of in-person classes, and most of the city’s 1.1 million students started the school year remotely. Elementary students returned to classrooms Sept. 29 and middle and high school students Oct. 1, even as virus rates ticked up.

De Blasio said that 3.25 percent of coronavirus tests citywide came back positive Sept. 28, the highest proportion in months. The level had hovered around 1 percent through the summer.

In the summer, the teachers’ union said schools weren’t ready to open because of safety issues. But after most of its demands were met, the union supported the reopening plan.

The principals’ union has warned of a major staffing crisis created by a deal between the de Blasio administration and the United Federation of Teachers that mandated schools create three groups of teachers—one to handle all-remote students, another to teach hybrid students in the classroom, and a third to teach hybrid students at home. The city later agreed to allow more teachers to work from home.

In a First, Sex. Ed. Goes On Ballot in Wash. State

Democrats in the Washington state legislature thought they had passed a routine sex education requirement for public schools earlier this year.

But a coalition of Republicans and religious conservatives have decided otherwise. They have launched a campaign to overturn the measure on the November ballot—the first time in the country that such a decision on sex education will be decided by voters.

Democrats say they want to protect young people from sexual abuse and disease. But Republicans have taken issue with the content of the standards as they rally for local control.

Under the wide-ranging measure, kindergartners were to be taught how to manage feelings and make friends, while older students were to learn about consent and how to respond to violence. The curriculum was also to address issues faced by LGBTQ students.

At least 29 states plus the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education, but the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Education Commission of the States say the subject has never appeared on a statewide ballot.

A group funded by GOP leaders called Parents for Safe Schools forced the issue onto the ballot by submitting more than 264,000 signatures, the most gathered for a referendum to overturn an existing bill or law in four decades.

Roman Catholic Church parishes served as signature-gathering locations while the pandemic limited traditional petitioning activities.

Republicans have slammed the mandate as an affront to local and parental control of education. Though school boards have the authority to create or adopt their own curriculums, opponents say the requirement still dictates what must be covered in classes.

State Sen. Claire Wilson, a Democrat, said she was moved to sponsor the bill based on her experience as an educator working with preteen mothers and by hearing from men and women who said they didn’t even know the words needed to describe sexual abuse they endured as children.

“This is not about teaching sex. It never has been and it never will be,” Wilson said

Briefly Stated Contributors: Associated Press, Evie Blad, Maya Riser-Kositsky, Corey Mitchell, Holly Peele, Andrew Ujifusa, and Madeline Will. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the October 07, 2020 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed


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