In a Sunday interview with CNN, Deborah Birx—the physician charged with overseeing the White House’s coronavirus response—warned that the United States had entered a “new phase” of the pandemic, per The Washington Post, in reference to the climbing infection and death rates across the country.
Things are bad, to put it bluntly, and they’re only sure to get worse as students pile into classrooms this fall without any top-down guidance or health safety mandates from the Trump administration or even many state officials. What will the coming academic year look like? One school in Indiana—a state where the number of daily cases has risen steadily since July—might give us an idea.
Greenfield-Central Junior High School resumed classes last week, bringing students back into school buildings for the first time since March. The Indianpolis Star reports that midway through the first day, the local health department informed school officials that a student had tested positive for covid, forcing Greenfield-Central to follow its protocol for such a situation, prepared entirely without guidance from the state’s health department. That protocol involved isolating the student and ordering everyone who came into contact with them to quarantine for two weeks, The New York Times says.
“We knew it was a when, not if,” Harold E. Olin, superintendent of the Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation, told the Times. “[But we were] very shocked it was on Day One.”
While children make up less than 10% of all cases in states that report cases by age and are statistically unlikely to require hospitalization or die from covid, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, their relatives, their teachers, and all the other adults who populate their lives certainly are susceptible to the virus’ worst possible outcomes. That’s one of the many reasons why teachers’ unions in many districts are urging state and local governments to extend school closures, The New York Times reports. Some, like the American Federation of Teachers, have authorized union members to strike if key safety conditions—like required mask usage, updated ventilation systems—are not met.
In the absence of federal guidance on how to reopen schools this fall—or even state guidance in many places, as the Star says that only about half of all states make districts even submit a reopening plan, while only 12 require approval from the state before reopening—school districts have been left scrambling to figure things out on their own. The result has been a patchwork of policies, ranging from full-time, in person classes for all students to totally remote learning as well as hybrids of the two, all of which weighs heavily on teachers no matter which system they’re stuck with.
“It’s been a terrible disservice to parents, to kids, to educators, who basically are left holding the bag and trying to figure this out,” Randi Weingarten told the Times.