WASHINGTON, D.C. (News Nation) — Across the country, the balance between getting students back in the classroom this fall and following public health guidance amid the COVID-19 pandemic is changing day-by-day and looks different across the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued several recommendations for schools, including testing, dividing students into small groups, serving packaged lunches in classrooms and minimizing the sharing of school supplies.
“It’s time for us to get our kids back to school,” Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday after a White House coronavirus task force meeting at the Department of Education.
Pence said the CDC plans to issue new guidelines on schools, but stressed they were not meant to replace local school district decisions.
President Donald Trump, however, threatened to cut off funding to schools that do not open in the fall and criticized the CDC guidelines as “very tough & expensive.”
It was not clear what specific federal aid Trump was referencing, and the White House has not elaborated on which guidelines the president took issue with.
States are responsible for primary and secondary education under the U.S. Constitution, but the federal government provides some supplementary funding.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease doctor, participated in a news conference this week with Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama about the growing number of cases in the state. Fauci acknowledged each school district will need to make its own plans.
“We should try as best as possible to get the children back to school and the schools open,” Fauci said.
Trump this week said that he would pressure state governors to reopen schools in the fall.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the federal government has no authority on schools and his state will announce reopening plans in the first week of August.
The state will release finalized guidance for school districts next week. The districts will then submit their safety plans for reopening by the end of month, News Nation affiliate WSYR-TV reported.
There are nearly 700 school districts in New York. A state committee has held several meetings in recent week about regional variations for school safety plans, meaning not every district will necessarily have its own plan.
Cuomo said state officials will either approve, deny or suggest changes to those plans.
“We want to make that decision with the best available data. The facts change here day to day, week to week,” said Cuomo. “As we see a week could be a lifetime with this virus.”
In the St. Louis region, guidelines were released this week to help maintain consistency among area school districts.
News Nation affiliate Fox 2 Now reported the guidelines were developed by a working group of area school superintendents, health care professionals and health department officials.
The plan details face mask use for children over the age of nine and staff, and establishes protocols for various activities like gym, lunch and recess.
Las Vegas area planned to reopen schools, but the initial plan brought some controversy. Now, the Clark County School District is seeking advice from the community.
The district, which educates 320,000 students, received more than 600 hundred recommendations for the district to consider, News Nation affiliate KLAS reported.
One idea came from a teacher. Her proposal focuses on offering classes all year long, instead of students taking four courses a semester.
“We tried to stay within the parameters that they already have for their plan, except make it so that the kids have all of their classes all year,” explained Kim Ritzer, choir teacher at Green Valley High School. She’s been with the school for 29 years.
Ritzer disagrees with CCSD wanting to condense year-long courses into a semester for secondary students.
“Kids taking AP classes, IB classes, even special learners. They need to have that information all year long to help them retain the information,” she said.
She submitted an alternative reopening proposal to the district. It keeps the three cohorts of blended and distance learning but offers six- and eight-period schedules for students to take classes all year.
It’s an idea for the Board to consider when modifying the current reopening proposal.
A union for teachers and school employees in Austin, Texas, is pushing for 100% online classes in the fall.
Education Austin demanded, at minimum, a two-month stoppage on physical re-entry to schools beginning August 18, News Nation affiliate KXAN reported.
During that time, the union would ask the district to look at the latest COVID-19 trends in the area before deciding whether to continue with virtual classes or move to in-person learning.
Earlier this week, the district’s superintendent announced families could choose whether their students would attend classes 100% online or entirely in person for the upcoming semester.
On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency announced students across the state would be given that same option, but teachers have not been given a choice about whether they want to return to an in-person setting.
For some Tennessee districts, the first day of school is less than a month away. In Wilson County, located just east of Nashville, it’s Aug. 3.
This week, Wilson County Schools officials outlined plans to return to the classroom.
The district will offer parents a traditional learning setup, plus a virtual option for families who wish to learn from home for the first semester, News Nation affiliate WKRN reported.
“We had an overwhelming number of parents who wanted to see an in-person or a return to school based on a traditional classroom model but modified,” said Dr. Donna Wright, Director of Schools.
She added that 70% of parents in the district who completed a survey said they’re comfortable sending their children back to school. But nothing has been finalized.
“We could see changes within 24 hours, as we try to stay abreast of what’s happening locally, and across the state,” Wright said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday he planned to reopen state schools in the fall, but reserved the right to “tweak that if it means saving lives.”