President Trump has announced his three-stage “Opening Up America Again” COVID-19 recovery plan, which is intended to move at a pace governed by infection numbers in any given state. Stage One maintains shelter in place and closed schools. If 14 consecutive days show a downward trend (any downward trend) in new infections identified, the state is supposed to move to Stage Two, which reopens schools, theaters, gyms, bars, churches, and entertainment venues but still encourages maintaining physical distance and bans gatherings of over 50 people. If numbers continue to decline for another 14 days, Stage Three reopens everything, including visiting nursing homes and hospitals.
But educators see a large problem with step two.
“If you think you’re going to keep kids 6 feet apart during the course of a school day, you’re dreaming,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). Domenech, speaking for the AASA, issued a sharp criticism of the new federal guidelines, calling them “inconsistent and incongruous guidance.”
“It almost shows a disregard for the safety of kids, because what seems to be the most important element here is that schools be open to serve their childcare function, so that parents can get back to work,” Domenech continued.
Regardless of the federal guidance, 35 states and Washington, D.C., have either suggested or ordered that schools remain closed through the rest of the 2019-20 school year. Schools in particularly hard-hit places like New York City are even considering remaining closed into the fall. In Idaho and Wyoming, two rural states with low COVID-19 rates, authorities are still hoping to reopen schools in May.
The Department of Education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have refrained from giving any specific guidance for schools, as has the CDC. A spokesperson for DeVos has only said that schools should make their reopening decisions in consultation with local health authorities.
While children, statistically, have been mostly safe from the worst symptoms of COVID-19, schools are known hot zones for transmission of any respiratory illness, and health officials fear a large surge of new infections if they reopen schools too early.
“If we want to get kids back in the fall, we need to talk about what that’s going to look like today,” said Mario Ramirez, a New York emergency room physician and former acting director of the Office of Pandemic and Emerging Threats under President Obama.