Why Reopening Schools Has Become the Most Fraught Debate of the Pandemic
October 28, 2020 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Can we safely reopen schools? These debates over the science have grown more charged, as leaders seek to bring more students back to the classroom, but as Congress continues to drag its feet on stimulus funding. Many cash-strapped districts are struggling to implement the kinds of mitigation strategies that experts say have worked well abroad and that more-affluent schools have adopted. As COVID-19 cases rise nationwide, the question remains if reopening schools is a tolerable risk or a dangerous gamble, especially for communities of color ravaged most hard by the virus.
posted by toastyk (50 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Popular writers and academics have dismissed words of caution from epidemiologists about coronavirus transmission among children.

As an academic in Education, I say we have absofuckinglutely not.
posted by oflinkey at 12:47 PM on October 28, 2020 [33 favorites]

oflinkey I believe they're referring to people who are popular/famous and have big public profiles online like Chris Hayes and Emily Oster.
posted by toastyk at 12:55 PM on October 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

If only Betteridge had a law about headlines.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:27 PM on October 28, 2020 [10 favorites]

If that article is even half fair, Oster is cheating both morally and intellectually - even if she wasn’t an experimental economist, she should know better than to extrapolate from unrepresentative data.
posted by clew at 1:31 PM on October 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Of fucking course they can't. Does that mean they're going to do the sensible thing and not try? Hell to the fucking no.

My wife teaches, and she returns to the classroom tomorrow. The entire faculty is in a blind panic about it, because there's no coherent plan for distributing PPE or checking that kids' families aren't sick when they send them to school. Their plan to get around the logistics of viral spread through HVAC systems is literally "keep the windows open and the fans on." (For the record, there's snow in the forecast for tomorrow night)

The town in which she teaches is under the magic 4% threshold, but is surrounded on all sides by towns that are heavily in the red. We're in Massachusetts, one of the ostensibly-sensible places that kept its Rt below 1 for most of the year. But our governor is a goddamn Republican, so the state board of education sent the town's school board a strongly-worded letter telling them what would happen to their state funding if they kept their schools closed while the local rate was low enough. Oh, and MA is right-to-work, so the union can't legally call a strike, even when sending teachers into classrooms is literally risking their lives so we can give the illusion that things are returning to normal.

This is a literal death cult. A quarter million people have died, and a whole bunch more are going to die in the next few months, because half the country thinks their orange messiah has everything under control. Fuck these fucking assholes with a fucking pinecone.
posted by Mayor West at 1:37 PM on October 28, 2020 [90 favorites]

"Congress continues to drag its feet" no, the Senate i.e. Mitch McConnell continues to drag its feet.
posted by phliar at 1:49 PM on October 28, 2020 [41 favorites]

our daycare used the shutdown to completely rebuild the schoolhouse.

toys and equipment were tossed and re-purchased, walkways were expanded and limited, about six sinks were added, as well as custodial and educational staff were expanded, thanks to federal grant money.

they were closed for two months, and during those months, teachers were paid to learn how to produce videos.

as parents, we attended three two hour plus trainings on all the new rules.

there was one case where teachers traveled out of state, and one teacher tested positive before they could even get to campus.

i have been greatly impressed by our daycare, and their ability to respond to covid.

But it makes me realize that opening schools is a massive infrastructure project that the federal government has been too weak to initiate.

we are expecting teachers to install these new sinks on their own?
posted by eustatic at 1:57 PM on October 28, 2020 [18 favorites]

"Whitney Robinson, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, also noted the federal government has given no additional funding to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a decision, she says, that reflects the government’s deprioritization of young people." I did not know this and it really hit home for me.
posted by House of Leaves of Grass at 1:59 PM on October 28, 2020 [13 favorites]

One thing we know about controlling spread of disease is that testing is crucial. We've known this all along. Knew it from the first. It's been consistently important.

I've noted a very, very conspicuous absence of a plan for testing students. There's even been a very small amount of press about the fact that we aren't testing kids.

And absence of evidence is NOT (!=) evidence of absence. It seems like a lot of "schools are safe! kids don't get sick!" come from the former, not the latter.

If we're not going to test -- the very basic thing -- then no, we can't open schools. No matter how much sanitization theatre and plexiglass we throw at it.

No tests? No schools.

I really don't understand why this is getting elided.
posted by Dashy at 2:02 PM on October 28, 2020 [25 favorites]

My children have been in in-person school in Ontario since the third week of September.

What that looks like:

High school
- masks required for all
- moved to quadrimester system, so takes 2 classes at a time for half a term, then the next two.
- attends class in person on alternate mornings (3 one week, 2 the next) in cohorts of 15 students per subject, so Class A 15 kids, morning working at home, Class B of 15 possibly different kids, morning at home, desks as far apart as you can get with 15 in the classroom
- has a Zoom synchronous class every afternoon, also alternating
- loves it
- teachers also only teach two classes in-person, so their total risk= 60 students (2 cohorts of 15 x 2 classes), most have tape on the floor giving themselves at least 6 feet
- windows are open and students are requested to wear jackets (we'll see how this goes in winter)

Experience: I feel that although any in-person class is a risk, this method has given us the biggest bang for our buck between safety and learning. My son can't do a lot of lab work due to the rules but he can at least observe in a lab for science. It's made a difference to his learning but I think he would be okay remotely.

Elementary school
- masks required on school property (taken off for supervised physed activities outdoors)
- desks as far apart as they can get them
- my son started in a class of 14 which was great but after the first switchover date to virtual his class was collapsed into a 4/5 split grade with 22 students
- he has a travelling teacher for math and one for science, and his teacher teaches french in an english classroom - those teachers are exposed to 50-100 elementary students which I consider somewhat appalling. The kindergarten teachers are wiping bums still.
- my observation is that the kids are doing as well as they can which means "not super great"
- windows open, again, winter is coming

My assessment is that the risk is higher and I was going to transition my child to virtual in November but the board removed that option mid-game which is grrr. However, with this particular child the difference in his learning and mental health is very, very visible and that's one reason we didn't switch at the first switch date.

My thoughts and feelings: Toronto community transmission is not great and they had to stop contact tracing for a bit which I think was criminal. Everything that happens at school really depends on what's happening in the community and if you are not tracing you don't know what that is.

However, I really thought my younger son was "okay" learning remotely and...he wasn't. I mean, a bad year is nothing compared to a life (my MIL lives with us and she's high risk). But if my privileged, relatively engaged child was having that hard a time, it kind of put me at a different place in thinking about reopening schools.

Employment/society-wise, we could stay mostly reasonably gainfully employed with schools remote-only except I think I would have had to cut my hours further than they already are to really make sure my little guy was learning.

I also have experience with operating a greatly reduced AFter School Program at my two martial arts academies, one of which is stage 2 modified shut down and one of which is in operation at 1/4 capacity. Formerly we had 100 students in two locations from about 17 schools; now we have 10 students per location limited to just a few schools. They are required to wear masks and unless they are siblings, to be 6 feet apart. My team is good at this and even so occasionally they are too close.

Through that program, we've had a situation where one child was in a class at school where a classmate had Covid; he stayed home and was tested, never developed it nor did any other student in that classroom. So in that case, everyone's protocol held.

One thing that annoys me a lot is that my martial arts workplace has to operate with basically 1/4 capacity and protocols that are very serious (I am in favour of this, we do not want to transmit anything if at all possible), and yet schools are clearly not under the same restrictions at. all. I am not arguing against the restrictions, I am pointing out that the Ontario government refused to allow the Toronto school board to implement a plan that would have had students spaced out to the same extent my workplace is legally required to because they wouldn't let schools get out 40 minutes early.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:05 PM on October 28, 2020 [20 favorites]

I can't find any information on what countries that have successfully fought COVID did regarding children. Some closed schools, but it doesn't really say what they did with the children of essential workers/medical professionals -sent them all off to Grandma?

I think that is the difficulty - we have no back up option for essential workers.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:07 PM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

it's not actually a fraught debate. it's simple. give schools the money for facilities, ventilation, distancing , testing, stringent isolation, and PPE. problem solved. the 'fraught' illusion is mostly 'how much can we consistently lie about the actual risk to teachers and families to not spend money or change anything?'
posted by j_curiouser at 2:08 PM on October 28, 2020 [58 favorites]

The_Vegetables, for South Korea, they ordered schools to provide emergency child care for parents who needed it, and limited it to 10 students a classroom, with punitive measures for refusing to provide emergency child care. In California, the state government offered a website for parents to find available childcare services.
posted by toastyk at 2:14 PM on October 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

The_Vegetables, I know I’ve read about workplace schools in hospitals especially - essential worker parents bring the kids in on their work schedule, I think there are child-minder adults with the expert teaching happening over Zoom. But I think it was always institutions organizing internally, not governmental.
posted by clew at 2:15 PM on October 28, 2020

Ontario’s case count has literally gone up by a factor of 10 since schools reopened, so while it may be possible to safely reopen schools, I’d say we haven’t. The premier wants us to blame reckless party people but our contact tracing runs from shit to nonexistent and people were surely having parties back in June, July.
posted by rodlymight at 2:21 PM on October 28, 2020 [14 favorites]

I have a middle schooler in the local county public school and a high school senior in a public arts school in another district (the city). The county reopened schools two weeks ago against the advice of the county health department. Thankfully, they maintained a virtual-only option, and that is what we are doing. The in-person kids are there two days a week (half on Mon/Tues, half on Thurs/Fri, with an all-virtual day on Wednesday for cleaning) and it appears to be a difficult adjustment. We have heard through the grapevine that 11 students and teachers have been quarantined for possible COVID exposure, but we have received no word from the school or the board of education regarding that. We feel horribly for the teachers and administrators having to deal with this, given that the decision was handed down by the board without any assistance or consideration of how it would work.

The art school in the city has not reopened.

Virtual education is not working great for either of my kids, but I would rather they be safe. Both of my kids are dancers, and a lingering respiratory infection could end that in an instance. As difficult as it is for my kids to be missing out on in-person school (especially the high school senior), their safety is our sole priority.

It kills me that my children are suffering because other people have not taken this disease seriously.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 2:23 PM on October 28, 2020 [11 favorites]

Checking in from Providence RI here, already a district that was at a crisis point pre-covid.

Our governor was adamant that schools would reopen. It's... not going great. It's currently a damp 51 degrees and teachers in buildings without HVAC systems (most of them) are being told that they must keep windows open and fans on to increase circulation.

Public school families were given the choice between all virtual or in person; the virtual option was more popular than they were able to handle (on the order of over a thousand kids) and is a total clusterfuck, with kids switching back and forth constantly and overcrowded virtual classrooms.

Schools are often having 10+ of their adult staff out daily for quarantines but are not closing.

I totally understand the need to have schools open-- imo most importantly to deliver basic needs and stability to the most vulnerable students and families. But this is not sustainable. And there was so little work put into planning for a virtual fall (because all the energy went into prepping the buildings) that it feels like there's really no going back.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:25 PM on October 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

"I think that is the difficulty - we have no back up option for essential workers."

Exactly, my family's only option was for one of us to quit our job, or do private child care. The economic impact was nearly identical, so my wife quit her job. We are getting by, we are frugal, but we still had to cut back on A LOT. The stress of being sole provider in a pandemic has also taken my anxiety to new heights. If only these bootstraps paid the bills, but hey at least we are avoiding the evils of socialism and a safety net. /s.......
posted by remo at 2:29 PM on October 28, 2020 [7 favorites]

Anyone who says kids can't transmit the virus is absolutely wrong. I did a story back in the summer where I interviewed five people who had been sick with COVID. One of them definitely got it from her one-year-old grandson. Note than another one of my subjects, the musician Rev. John Wilkins, has since died from post-COVID complications.
posted by vibrotronica at 2:29 PM on October 28, 2020 [15 favorites]

MayorWest's note that Baker has gone from taking a careful consideration of the pandemic to a Full steam schools should be open is... It is a 100% about face from where we were in June. He hit 164 cases on a day, raised the 'Mission Accomplished' banner and took his place as a Republican lapdog for the first time on Coronavirus. He threatened our city when the Superintendent closed the high school for 2 weeks due to an outbreak that occurred *right* before school. He's been lackadaisical about mayors enforcing mask mandates and large gatherings. And he's put pressure on our city that went full remote last week (we're on our second week) to be back to in person lessons for as many as possible... which will happen next week when K-2 is sent back to in person for those that didn't opt in to 100% remote learning. (Keep in mind, those kids would require full time assistance by parents to manage zoom, reading, using a laptop and all the other train wrecks that are occurring). Keep in mind... we're in a coronavirus RED zone... which last week was at an 18.8 incidents per 100K per day for the last 14 days (above 8 is what is considered Red) I just... I can't understand how Baker is pushing Mayors, school districts, and just the shit show of this to send kids back into school.

Keep in mind. Today. A friend of my son's. Who is also fully remote. tested positive. (and was all kinds of chatty about it in their home room zoom this morning).

Even the kids who are 100% remote are still at risk of Covid. This is a firewall preventative measure and families can still get infected - which people still don't seem to wrap their heads around... And baker refuses to use this as a community firewall.

I just can't explain how problematic Baker now is in this state. 2022 is the next gubernatorial election. Straw Man Democrat for Massachusetts Governor 2022.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:54 PM on October 28, 2020 [8 favorites]

Los Angeles Unified is rolling out testing and plans to test all students and staff before they return to in-person learning, which won't be happening anytime before the end of the year, it sounds like (LA times link).
posted by mogget at 3:42 PM on October 28, 2020

Victoria, Australia here. I just remember how early on in the pandemic there was a drum beat of "close the schools!!" On social media. Big relief when schools did. Once home learning was in place for a little while, the same people were demanding that the schools reopen...
posted by freethefeet at 3:59 PM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Ontario’s case count has literally gone up by a factor of 10 since schools reopened, so while it may be possible to safely reopen schools, I’d say we haven’t. The premier wants us to blame reckless party people but our contact tracing runs from shit to nonexistent and people were surely having parties back in June, July.

I also suspect that the real reason new case #s shot up in Ontario is schools opening; an idea the government refuses to entertain. Because contact tracing was stopped, we have no idea where people are catching the virus and Ford can point to dance studios and weddings instead of addressing the thorny school issue. (Which, let's be honest, the provincial government and Lecce are just not capable of tackling. Some kids learning online still don't have teachers yet and it's almost November.)
posted by Stoof at 4:00 PM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

"In the Covid-19 economy, you’re allowed only a kid or a job."
If wages weren't so appauling that you needed 2.5 FTEs to run a house with a small family, this wouldn't be anywhere near as bad of a problem.
posted to MetaFilter by krisjohn at 11:12 PM on July 2, 2020 [19 favorites +]
posted by krisjohn at 4:09 PM on October 28, 2020 [16 favorites]

I've noted a very, very conspicuous absence of a plan for testing students. There's even been a very small amount of press about the fact that we aren't testing kids.

And absence of evidence is NOT (!=) evidence of absence. It seems like a lot of "schools are safe! kids don't get sick!" come from the former, not the latter.

Kids seems to be more resistant to becoming ill from it, 'tis true, but so far as I can see this doesn't mean they cannot be carriers. And decades of defunding of education means that I have heard people state bluntly and without exception that "asymptomatic" and "healthy" are synonyms.

Like a couple of other commenters above, I am in Ontario and gave been watching our numbers climb steadily for a month. Our assistant to the Minister of Education has possibly never set foot in a school, having been a homeschooled evangelical teenager when first elected. Last week he posted photos of a recent family gathering of his where he and some forty relatives, maskless, clustered together to grin for the camera. He has since taken the photo down, but our premier maintains the young fellow will face no demotion or firing as he is "doing a great job."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:15 PM on October 28, 2020 [8 favorites]

In my job I spend time observing student teachers in virtual classrooms of my urban public school district, and everyone is doing the best they can, kids, teachers, parents, and community, but my heart goes out to everyone. Public school teachers were already my heroes because of everything they have to put up with in normal times. And kids need schools.

I also teach a college practicum class that normally meets in public schools, and what I'm doing is a pale shadow of what I normally do. It's not preparing them in a meaningful way for being in classrooms.

But I don't want to die yet, and honestly if they open up the schools and ask me to go back in, that's when I really retire for good. And I don't want my grandchild to be in daycare yet, so I'm babysitting him while his parents work from home.

This whole thing is appalling. We should have absolutely shut down completely for long enough to guarantee that the disease wouldn't flow through the community, and things like wanting kids to go to school and wanting to be able to go to restaurants and hang out with friends have to come after that.
posted by Peach at 4:25 PM on October 28, 2020 [8 favorites]

My local school has been slowly reopening and is regularly saying "covid will come into our community. " Like, they have a good plan in place i guess, but it's a shame the taking point isn't "we have to stay closed so it doesn't spread in our community. "
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:01 PM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I feel like I should have known better than to trust an economist with epidemiology.
There are over 50 million K-12 students in 130,000 public and private schools across the United States, but the database used in the Post story had just 550 public and private schools nationwide voluntarily reporting data, including at least 200 schools that were fully remote. And of the 550,000 students in the Insider article, less than a third (about 175,000) were learning in person.
This is just impressively bad data though. I get her wanting better data sets, but this is not a good one. And her usual schtick of deciding for yourself what risks you consider worth it don't work in a pandemic. If you decide to eat deli meats while pregnant, the risks are all to yourself, there's no public health implication.
posted by jeather at 5:32 PM on October 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

'maximum occupancy' is not meant to be a 'recommendation'. but sure, let's just drop it, say *personal responsibility* and *freedumb*, and let employers say, 'quit if you're afraid of fire, libtard.'
posted by j_curiouser at 6:25 PM on October 28, 2020

What I find so frustrating about this and similar articles, is that it is approaching the question from the wrong direction. The framing of "Should schools stay open or closed?" just normalizes this idea that schools/children can be considered separately to everything else.

We cannot consider the decision to open or close schools separately from the decision to open or close every other part of the economy and society. It was never inevitable that schools closed but bars stayed open.

The choice COULD have been to keep schools open (along with funeral homes, mental health and addiction services, religious services, homeless shelters, and other genuinely essential services) and closed down EVERY other avenue of potential transmission. In such circumstances, it would be significantly lower risk for children to go to school, particularly if it was properly planned and funded (PPE, ventilation, small classroom 'bubbles', etc).

In fact, we COULD even have taken this as an opportunity to put in the infrastructure work so desperately needed in public schools across the country. It is shameful that so many school children in the US have to sit in classrooms with no AC or no heating. And let's not even talk about how many school buildings don't even have clean water. (Why is this such a crazy thing to contemplate? What the hell is wrong with this country, that we are apparently ok with such conditions?? When dangerous and unsanitary conditions have been tolerated for decades, are you really that surprised that children and teachers' health is not a priority now?)

The bars, gyms, hairdressers etc have campaigned loudly to be allowed to re-open -- and I don't blame them. We COULD have provided monetary support to individuals and businesses that were closed, and paid them to stay shut. Instead, the only thing to shut down has been the thing that makes no profit, and therefore has no bargaining power with amoral politicians: public schools.

I get frustrated, because talking about schools as a special thing apart from the rest of the economy just normalizes these decisions. As if the only data relevant was the epidemiology of children, when we are where we are because of economics and shi**y, evil, death-cult republican politics.

(Apologies. I have been stuck at home with an unhappy 5 year old for 7 months, and I am waaay past breaking point.)
posted by EllaEm at 6:43 PM on October 28, 2020 [41 favorites]

Throughout this thing, I don't know if I've been more amused by "ban homeschooling now!" progressives temporarily understanding that there are cases when in-person instruction at public schools is not the best option, or by seeing "school choice" conservatives acting as fiery defenders of public schools.
posted by cinchona at 8:03 PM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I am having a very, very hard time even finishing the article. I am a little shocked that it was an FPP, without at least a little bit of intent on why it was shared.

I'll try and make it through at least the first eight sentences that just made me wonder what the author was on about.

Article quotes in Bold/Underline and blockquote for ease of reading. I'll comment in plaintext.
Many families are desperate to get their kids back to school, and many political leaders agree, worried about harm to children’s educations and believing that key to fixing the economy is making it easier for parents to work.
"Many families" and "many political leaders" is vague enough to be worthless. "desperate to get kids back to school for.... education and fixing the economy" is straight up bullshit. I would argue that parents who are working from home are ready to have the kids out of their hair for peace and quiet and getting their work done.

As far as "fixing the economy"... many of these parents are already being as productive at home as they were in the office.

The whole premise of parents needing to work and worried about the economy working is .... odd to see here.

But the pandemic, which is still raging and getting worse nationwide, has made many of these school plans more challenging, if not elusive. It’s also led to one of the most politicized and divisive debates in America: Can we safely reopen schools?

The go-to academic
Wait, what? We only talk to one person on this question? Well, certainly that person must be qualified. Let's see...
on this question has become Emily Oster, a prominent economist at Brown University.
As a parent, I have a bias on when schools re-open. Medical professionals I know have a bias on when schools most things re-open. Ours are based upon safety for the general populace. It appears this economist is more concerned about "re-starting" the economy which could just as easily be done with another stimulus package which would reduce the time things are closed, since SO MANY could just stay at home and not be vectors.
Oster doesn’t have a background in public health,

So, why should I be listening then?
but over the last decade she has earned a reputation as a data-driven, empathetic, and trusted parenting expert, writing best-selling books on pregnancy and child-rearing.

I'll just note that Jenny McCarthy became a "trusted parenting expert" on Autistic children, and here we are with Anti-Vaxx.

I am not saying ALWAYS credentials matter. But.... sometimes it makes sense to look at credentials.
Her email newsletter, ParentData, is one of the most highly subscribed publications on Substack.

Is Substack a thing people really follow? Honest question. I haven't seen a lot of buy-in to it yet. I saw way more buy-in when Medium first came out. (And, of course, Facebook is still the big dog, sadly.)

Oster tells her audiences that she’s using data to help inform the best decisions possible, though at times she’s adopted more explicit advocacy on the need to reopen schools. Occasionally, she has downplayed negative research findings that complicate the picture, and amplified studies that experts say were weak.

I'm tired. I'M WEARY!

I thought Economists always followed the data? (I don't buy it, but I thought they always said they did.)

Life is hard and complicated enough with this damn CoVid that we don't need to try ANOTHER early "reboot" of the economy in the US and say it is because parents are begging for it... "FOR THE ECONOMY!" (says an economist).

If the author for prospect.org wants to come my little area in Texas and change PPE several times a day to see how CoVid is affecting us in a hospital, have them memail me.

ugh. time for me to collapse.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 8:04 PM on October 28, 2020 [16 favorites]

I thought Economists always followed the data? (I don't buy it, but I thought they always said they did.)

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

(Current attribution of this quote is questionable, but it predates Mark Twain... so I'm attributing it to 'Stan' the Economist)
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:53 PM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Amid the current resurgence of contagion in Italy, right on the heels of the same happening in the rest of Europe that reopened, thinking their near-eradication had reached manageable levels, the region of Puglia (which is about the size of New Jersey, but with about half the population) has just decided to reclose all schools for at least two weeks, following the request and recommendation of the national association of pediatricians, as laid out in this (Googletranslated) local article.

As pandemic expert Peter Piot succinctly put it yesterday, there is no kidding ourselves about the consequences untimely reopening causes.
posted by progosk at 12:11 AM on October 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

We cannot consider the decision to open or close schools separately from the decision to open or close every other part of the economy and society. It was never inevitable that schools closed but bars stayed open.

That is the choice that has been made in the UK (different approaches in the four home nations but the approach on schools is essentially the same): schools are the first thing to re-open and the last thing to close. Even in Wales which has currently closed almost everything for a short-sharp "firebreak", many schools will re-open next week (this week is the half-term holiday) and the rest the week after.

This is the right thing to do and almost universally endorsed by medical and educational experts.

The reason it is the right thing to do is that education can not be deferred the way that economic output of various sorts can. A year is a long time for a seven-year-old.

Ultimately we have a certain "transmission budget" that gets used up by physical interactions. All over Europe, the measures that are currently in place are enough to substantially reduce Rt but not, it seems, below 1. I get slightly irritated by newspaper commentary that "transmission is now exponential" - no, transmission is always exponential and that word does not mean "a lot". What we have seen is the mathematically inevitable consequence of measures which reduce R but not below 1 - a slow growing pandemic rather than a fast one.

How that budget gets used up is a political choice. In many places, the decision has been made that education is the most important thing and therefore we will only close schools as a very last resort. I do fear that it may be necessary, that keeping schools open at all, even using the elaborate scheduling and other modifications that I have seen here in England (and which I'm sure are happening elsewhere) just doesn't get you below 1. I think we'll soon see. A few parts of England have now been in Level 3 restrictions which is almost everything except schools for just long enough that we'll know by the end of this weekend if it's enough. If rates keep rising (albeit more slowly) in level 3 then more will have to be done. It looks like rates in Liverpool are now falling but probably too early to know that rigorously. If they are then we'll have the answer - it is possible to keep schools open if you close almost everything else.
posted by atrazine at 3:48 AM on October 29, 2020 [6 favorites]

100% agree with you atrazine. As I wrote that, I was thinking about Nicola Sturgeon's recent statement to the effect that, even in the most extreme lockdown, Scotland's aim was to close everything except schools. My nephew's primary school in England has 10-student bubbles: one of the kids in his 'bubble' got a positive test result, all ten plus his teacher were notified, stayed home, and tested. When it was safe, they came back.
posted by EllaEm at 5:32 AM on October 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Let me talk about how my school district re-opened. It published a 134 page communicable disease plan laying out how exactly what expectations were in place all stakeholders. It also gave parents the opportunity to choose whether to return to campus or remain in virtual learning.

Seems like they're on top of everything, right? Not so much.

Students came back to our campuses last week on Monday. By the next day, 16 campuses were being closed for cleaning due to confirmed or presumed positive cases.

The district responded for changing the criteria for closing campuses for cleaning, including, most notable, that there is no number of presumed positive cases that will close a campus.

This week, we started the week by exceeding the positivity rate designated in the CDP in order to cause a district-wide return to virtual. The district responded by rolling that back. There is now no published rate that will cause a district-wide return to virtual.

Then the district added to that by changing their quarantine length after a close-contact experience to 10 days instead of 14. They claimed that they did this while in cooperation with the CDC (despite the fact that CDC guidelines still say 14 days).

No. I don't think schools can safely reopen.
posted by parliboy at 8:15 AM on October 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

For what it's worth, a lot of the people who I see advocating for school opening in the US are people who are profoundly concerned with educational inequality and who argue that educationally-disadvantaged children will literally never recover from missing a year of school. Those kids don't have access to the technology they would need to do distance schooling, and their parents don't have the flexibility or resources to supervise remote learning. I don't think this is just about lazy parents who want their kids out of their hair or evil economists who are willing to sacrifice lives for profit.

I don't know. It's all such a complete clusterfuck.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:31 AM on October 29, 2020 [9 favorites]

Here in Alberta, we've had so many cases in schools. It's so common the only news story I ever saw was after the first case in a school (which I think happened during the week after school began on a Thursday).

Nevertheless, only 16 schools in the province have closed, most of which are in a First Nations community, I think due to extreme caution because of poor and crowded living conditions. Looking at schools in my city only (Edmonton) currently has 28 schools on "watch" - which means they have had 5+ cases in the last two weeks. That's out of about 315 schools (so between 8 and 9 percent).

That feels like a lot to me, but no one is talking about it, at least not on local news or radio, or reddit. Maybe they are talking on Facebook?

My child's school had their first case last week, in a grade 1 class. 26 kids and 3 teachers have to isolate for two weeks. My child is learning from home, and I don't know what other parents are thinking or saying. I'm just numb about it. It's weird, I can even see the school from my front window where I'm working. Everyone looks happy, I see the kids play at recess. There was a lot of fear and discussion before schools opened, but now it's crickets. Does this mean things are going well, or poorly? I have no idea, no opinion. I'm confused. I just know that cases are rising and I'm not comfortable sending my child yet. But as warriorqueen said of their child, this situation is not good for her.
posted by kitcat at 9:44 AM on October 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

EllaEm, how was your nephew's school pod decided? Are children whose parents interact podded together, or is it a section of what would have been a conventional-year class?
posted by clew at 11:42 AM on October 29, 2020

literally never recover from missing a year of school

Well, if the options are "literally never recover from missing a year of school" or "people could end up dead or permanently handicapped," I'd pick "year of school" every damn time, because you really can't recover from dead.

Maybe holding kids back in school will become the Hot New Trend in education. It might have to be.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:20 PM on October 29, 2020 [10 favorites]

clew, I would have to ask, but I think its just his normal year group (i.e., class) divided up into sections. He is a primary school kid. But here are the UK gov guidelines. My siblings say that it's all been working really well - all my many nieces and nephews are back at their various English and Scottish schools, and much happier as a result. A few of them were always in school, even during the spring lockdown, because their parents were counted as essential workers (or because they lived in Scotland).

There is now a dramatic and heartbreaking gap between how the UK cousins and the US cousin (i.e., my kiddo) are coping this year.
posted by EllaEm at 12:51 PM on October 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

To add to the educational inequality equations, I was just reading a pair of articles last week that argued that those advocating for return to school for educational inequality reasons are really just white saviors not listening to the kids and parents they're ostensibly trying to help. They looked at the demographics of who is sending their kids to in-person schooling when given a choice. It was overwhelmingly the white kids going back. White kids are more likely to be in better funded schools that can implement better COVID protocols. Black and brown families are more likely to know someone (or many someones) who have died from COVID, and thus are more likely to take greater precautions. Black and brown families are more likely to live in multi-generational households and have family members who are in high risk categories. A few of the people interviewed also said that virtual schooling had non-COVID advantages -- their kids were experiencing less racism (subtle or not) from teachers and classmates, and the parents had the opportunity to compensate when a teacher ignored their kid in favor of the white classmates.

This is not either article I read, but it covers some of the same ground: In D.C. wards hit hardest by covid-19, sending kids to school is a risk some parents won’t take.
posted by natabat at 12:59 PM on October 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

a non mouse, a cow herd: "I am having a very, very hard time even finishing the article. I am a little shocked that it was an FPP, without at least a little bit of intent on why it was shared."

The part that you read was the set-up, establishing the status quo. All of the things you find objectionable are presented to be objected to. The rest of the article explains why you shouldn't be listening to the foremost "expert" that people are currently listening to.
posted by team lowkey at 1:08 PM on October 29, 2020 [6 favorites]

Emily Oster responds to the article (not, I think, substantively).
posted by jeather at 1:55 PM on October 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

> Emily Oster responds to the article (not, I think, substantively).

Ah, yes, the "we're doing the best we can with the data we have" defense. The first refuge of an extremely online academic who can't stay in their fucking lane and leave interpretation of the data to those with the experience necessary to do so.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:17 PM on October 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ugh, that was just basically, "haters gonna hate" instead of actually addressing the criticisms.

Stanford Peds did a seminar on children and COVID that they've posted to YouTube, and they did a session on trade-offs with COVID and schools. Anyway, if you watch it, their findings: transmission is lower with lower community transmission, masks can mitigate, the largest outbreaks were where kids and adults did not mask. Children were found to transmit to non-facility contacts (12/46 non-facility contacts according to the slide). They also go into disparities with people of color - over 40% of pediatric patients are Latinx. I did not watch the whole thing, but I think they cover a lot of ground that are not being covered as much such as mental health and lack of child care.

My district is considering re-opening in January. We've opted to keep the kids home for the whole year because we are able to, and also we are just plain terrified of COVID; it feels like it would be a death sentence for either adult, knowing our own health and risk factors.

It is beyond comprehension to me that people are just carrying on as normal, going to see people, having weddings and gatherings, and it feels like Americans just will not believe something until it literally happens to them, and the fatalistic attitudes we've been seeing "oh if I die I die" is just mind-boggling.
posted by toastyk at 5:25 PM on October 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh, I also forgot the point I was going to make. Public schools have never had the resources to deal with anything close to this. I live in one of the "best" school districts in CA, where funding in normal times isn't an issue, but we still have to pull a huge chunk of funding from parent donations in order to have things like school counselors, and parents are asked to still donate hundreds every year to fund a lot of teacher school supplies, which includes things like soap/paper towels/etc. They have done an extraordinary job in a very difficult year in mitigating harms, allowing English language-learners to attend class on-campus, distributing laptops, providing free lunches to everyone, and making Zoom engaging for the kids. So, on the one hand, they have updated all the ventilation for the schools, and I trust them to require and enforce masking. On the other hand, the last thing I read about testing for COVID-19 was that staff are expected to test about only about every month or so, and they were expected to do it on their own and self-report.
posted by toastyk at 7:41 AM on October 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

The announced upcoming month-long UK lockdown does not include closing schools or universities; in response to a call by the largest teacher, lecturer and support staff union to close them, Labour leader Starmer says he ”does not agree”. So, fraught, indeed...
posted by progosk at 5:57 AM on November 1, 2020

Thanks, team lowkey! I didn't realize.... The set-up just had my blood boiling so bad, I had to quit.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 3:56 PM on November 2, 2020

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