This is the Coronavirus Schools Briefing, a guide to the seismic changes in U.S. education that are taking place during the pandemic. Sign up here to get the briefing by email.
Today, we’re looking at the implications of New York City’s decision to push back the start of school. And we’re taking a deep dive into a crucial question: Is it safe to send kids back into the classroom?
New York City’s last-minute delay
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City would delay the start of its school year, shortly before it was set to begin. The city’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren will not attend any in-person or remote classes until Sept. 21.
The delay “seemed inevitable for weeks,” said our colleague Eliza Shapiro, who writes about education in New York City. “The question was whether the mayor was going to acknowledge what so many educators were telling him — that they needed more time.”
The deal, which was hammered out during an overnight bargaining session, gives teachers and administrators more time to prepare for the most closely watched reopening effort in the country. It also gives the mayor a longer runway to pull off one of the most ambitious — and riskiest — city initiatives in decades:
Teachers will return to their classrooms next week to prepare, including virtual check-ins with students to make sure they’re ready for remote learning.
Fulfilling a major union demand, the city will require random monthly testing in all city schools, starting in October.
Most children who have opted for in-person school will attend on a hybrid model: one to three days per week in the classroom; the rest online.
Desks will be six feet apart, so only nine or 10 children will be in most classes at a time, about a third of the typical number.
Everyone will have to wear a mask, except during a quick lunch in classrooms.
Open windows, even on cold and rainy days, will keep fresh air moving.
New York City remains the only major school district in the country that plans to offer any in-person learning. Once the epicenter of the pandemic, the city has maintained low infection rates for months.
Public health experts generally agree that classrooms can open with testing and safety measures. And most say that the city’s low-income students —who have struggled to access remote learning, and rely on schools for meals and social services — urgently need in-person classes. Nevertheless, returns to in-person school have frequently led to spikes in cases across the country.
What it means: “New York City is learning that having the virus under control is only the first step to reopening schools,” Eliza said. “No other big city in the country has even reached that step, but as they do, they’re going to confront all these logistical issues inherent in creating two versions of school — one online and one in person.”
The school testing initiative will also be one the largest sustained efforts in the country, with implications well beyond the classroom. The federal government also just announced it will send millions of rapid coronavirus tests to states to support school reopenings.
The Times took a look inside classrooms in more than a dozen countries, including in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, above.
In Wuhan, China, the original epicenter of the pandemic, state-run news media said nearly 1.4 million students returned to school on Tuesday.
Despite a steady rise in cases, some schools in Russia reopened on Tuesday, with few precautions. Teachers and children are not required to wear masks.
The toughest call for parents
Our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli has been closely following the latest research on the coronavirus and children — both as a science reporter and a parent with a difficult decision to make.
“I’ve been updating a balance sheet in my head. Every study I read, every expert I talked to, was filling in columns on this sheet: reasons for and against sending my children back to school come September,” she wrote.
Among the latest developments:
This summer, coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths increased faster in children and teenagers than among the general population, according to data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Two South Korean studies, although flawed, suggested children can transmit the virus.
Unfortunately — maddeningly — there are no definitive answers yet. But most experts are clear about one thing: Schools should reopen only when less than 5 percent of people in a community have recently tested positive. Most U.S. districts don’t meet that standard.
School Reopenings ›
Back to School
Updated Sept. 4, 2020
The latest on how schools are reopening amid the pandemic.
- There have been at least 51,000 coronavirus cases at more than 1,000 American college campuses since the pandemic began, the latest New York Times’s survey shows.
- SUNY Oneonta canceled in-person classes and sent students home because of a coronavirus outbreak.
- Millions of college students in Latin America are leaving their studies because of the pandemic.
- Professional licensing exams have been severely disrupted by the coronavirus, making it difficult for newly trained lawyers, doctors and others to start their careers.
Through her reporting, Apoorva found some reassurance. Even with higher infection rates and a few serious inflammatory responses, children are still much less likely than adults to have a severe case. Reports from Europe hint that it is possible to reopen schools safely. And schools can take sensible precautions, including moving activities outdoors, imposing social distance rules and requiring masks.
The bottom line: “Don’t just look at one study when making decisions about education & health,” Apoorva tweeted. “Look at the whole body of evidence.”
So, what decision did she make about remote or in-person school? You’ll have to check out the full article.
Related news: Children of color are much more likely to become infected and severely ill from the coronavirus than white children. Risk factors include lower incomes, parents who are frontline workers and living in multigenerational households.
In Vermont, snow days may be less likely this year because of the complicated logistics of hybrid teaching.
A cyberattack hindered virtual learning for public school students in Miami on Tuesday, the second day in a row the school system experienced problems.
With few plans for widespread testing, educators and administrators in Texas fear outbreaks. “Unless you’re doing routine testing, you’re not going to be able to identify those kiddos who are asymptomatic and presymptomatic,” one epidemiologist told The Texas Tribune.
Tip of the day: Face masks for kids
Face masks can be annoying for kids, if not downright scary. Wirecutter, a product review site owned by The New York Times, took a look at the best cloth mouth coverings for your children.
To come up with their recommendations, they looked at some 70 cloth masks for kids, pored over scientific studies, spoke with health experts and researchers, and tested the finalists with a panel of 10 kids, ages 3 to 10.
Also: Cold season is coming. We asked three pediatricians how to parse whether your child’s symptoms might actually be Covid-19.
Have you tried to get pediatric testing?
Our colleagues Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz are looking into the availability of coronavirus testing for children.
If you’ve struggled to find a suitable testing site — or you’ve had to make a ton of calls or drive a long way to secure a test — they’d love to hear from you. Write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.