Some school districts are finding ‘every excuse we can to stay open’ for U.S. children
Mary Margaret Olohan, DCNF
- Many school districts in the United States have opted to only offer remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic, but some school districts are fighting to remain open.
- Data collected globally indicates that school openings did not cause a surge in coronavirus cases, but schools in major cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and San Diego have not reopened — despite Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recommendations.
- “We will find every excuse we can to stay open,” Queen Creek Unified School District board president Ken Brague said. “While others are finding excuses to close, let them. We will stay open.”
Many school districts in the United States have opted to switch to virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic, but some school districts are fighting to preserve in-person learning, with one district finding “every excuse” they can to “stay open.”
Elected officials enacted executive orders in the spring requiring Americans to lockdown and stay-at-home, resulting in school closures and remote learning as early as March. Officials have quarreled over whether schools should reopen in this fall, and many teachers unions have taken strong stances against reopening, arguing that it puts teachers at risk.
Data collected globally indicates that school openings did not cause a surge in coronavirus cases, yet schools in major cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and San Diego have not reopened — despite Dr. Anthony Fauci’s late-November recommendation that schools should reopen.
A number of school districts have opted to go back to in-person learning while still offering remote options to families, particularly in Georgia and Florida. One such district is Queen Creek Unified School District in Arizona, which returned to in-person learning on Aug. 17, though it still offered an online option for students.
“We will find every excuse we can to stay open,” Ken Brague, the district’s governing board president, said in mid-November according to KTAR News. “While others are finding excuses to close, let them. We will stay open.”
The district did not respond to a request for comment.
“Our kids are incredibly safe,” he added, noting that out of the 10,000 students and staff, there have been less than 70 coronavirus cases within the school district and only five cases reported on average per week.
In Nebraska, Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Joel issued a Thanksgiving message to the school’s 50,000 students and staff in which he thanked them for abiding by the school’s rules and urged them to continue following safety protocols.
The district is the second largest public school district in Nebraska and has remained open for in-person learning since August. Officials from the district did not respond to requests for comment.
“As we head into the holiday week, I want to implore each of our students and staff members to heed the safety protocols so we can drive case numbers down,” Joel told the school district ahead of Thanksgiving. “Our ability to continue having in-person school and getting our athletics and activities back is directly related to the manner in which we each take on this responsibility.”
Another school district that has fought to remain open is Rutherford County School District in Tennessee, which reopened in August for in-person learning. The school also offers a remote learning option for families that are not comfortable sending their children back to school.
The school district occasionally has turned to remote learning for several days at a time due to a shortage of substitute teachers, a Rutherford County school teacher told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The teacher suggested that contract tracing may be causing a shortage of teachers in the district.
“If we just get too many teachers out with not enough subs, then we have to shift to temporary distance until the people can return from quarantine,” the teacher told the DCNF.
The teacher asked to remain anonymous out of fear of backlash from his school district and Tennessee teachers unions, which he described as hostile to conservative viewpoints and angry that schools are in-person rather than remote.
“There’s a clear distinction between teachers who were in the union, and teachers who are not,” the teacher, who is not part of the local union, told the DCNF.
He expressed frustration at those teachers who push for schools to return to remote learning, emphasizing that children cannot learn properly at home. Families who have the means to hire private tutors, to homeschool or to put their children in private schools are at an advantage, he said.
All Metro Nashville Schools will be moving to distance learning following the Thanksgiving holiday amid the surge in new coronavirus cases across Middle Tennessee, school officials announced Monday. https://t.co/A69XiLwcBM
— TN Education Assoc. (@TEA_teachers) November 24, 2020
“These people are supposed to be trying to help the most vulnerable among us,” he said. “I mean, that’s the goal of public schools.”
“I’m seeing across the board, if you’re an underprivileged kid, it’s almost impossible to do well in distance learning,” he continued. He described the high school he works at as “a good school” that is now suffering from “unprecedented failure rates” — children getting bad grades because “they turn in nothing.”
“It’s a majority of the distance learners,” he added. “They’re just not doing assignments.”
Rutherford Education Association President Laura L. Schlesinger told the DCNF that the generalization that most teachers unions wish to move to virtual learning is an “accurate portrayal.”
“Like quite a few other school systems, including a neighboring school district, we were hoping Rutherford County Schools would be moved to distance learning the week before winter break so as to give educators like me time to quarantine that we might be able to reunite with loved ones we have not seen since the beginning of the school year,” Schlesinger said.
She said that a week of remote learning following winter break would let educators and students quarantine before returning to school.
“By and large,” Schlesinger continued, “educators are increasingly feeling as though distance learning is the safer option until the numbers of positive cases decline, not to mention less disruptive to learning than the on again off again, comings and goings of educators and students having to quarantine.”
Schlesinger said “the pandemic has had more devastating effects” than any negative impact on students’ learning caused by virtual education.
“Educators and children are resilient,” she said. “I believe the pandemic that has necessitated distance learning has revealed that our society has become over reliant on schools to raise our children.”
“As with anything, there is always going to be a learning curve, and change is not easy,” Schlesinger continued. “If this is the wave of the future, then in the longterm we may be better preparing our students and ourselves for the future.”
Remote teaching requires significant preparation that wasn’t afforded in the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, teachers told the DCNF in March, and constraints such as limited access to adequate technology, a lack of meals and unstable home lives have severely hampered education.
A study from Virginia’s largest school system published in November found that virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic is tanking academic achievement in Fairfax County Public Schools. The district saw a “widening gap between students who were previously performing satisfactorily and those performing unsatisfactorily.”
“Students who performed well previously primarily performed slightly better than expected during [Quarter 1] of this year,” the report said. “In contrast, students who were previously not performing well, performed considerably less well.”
Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a statement that the school system is working quickly to help repair the damage done to students’ learning, adding that many students who were doing well academically before the pandemic hit are still doing well, while others “who previously struggled in school … continue to do so.”