Feds with­draw or­der on for­eign stu­dents

Sentinel & Enterprise - - FRONT PAGE - By Jo­ce­lyn Gecker

An ad­min­is­tra­tion or­der forc­ing them out of coun­try was scrapped.

On one side are par­ents say­ing, let kids be kids. They ob­ject to masks and so­cial dis­tanc­ing in class­rooms this fall — ar­gu­ing both could hurt their chil­dren’s well-be­ing — and want schools to reopen full time.

On the other side are par­ents and teach­ers who call for safe­guards that would have been unimag­in­able be­fore the coron­avirus pan­demic: part-time school, face cov­er­ings for all or a fully on­line cur­ricu­lum.

The im­pas­sioned tug-of-wars have put ed­u­ca­tors in the mid­dle of an in­creas­ingly politi­cized de­bate on how best to reopen schools this fall, a daunt­ing chal­lenge as in­fec­tions spike in the U.S.

“Don’t tell me my kid has to wear a mask,” said Kim Sher­man, a mother of three in the cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia city of Clo­vis who de­scribes her­self as very con­ser­va­tive and very pro-Trump.

“I don’t need to be dic­tated to to tell me how best to raise my kids.”

With many dis­tricts still fi­nal­iz­ing how they may reopen, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has ramped up pres­sure to get pub­lic schools back in busi­ness, threat­en­ing to with­hold fed­eral fund­ing from those that don’t re­sume in-per­son classes. Without ev­i­dence, he’s ac­cused Democrats of want­ing schools closed be­cause of pol­i­tics, not health.

Sim­i­lar mud­sling­ing is hap­pen­ing at school board meet­ings, in neigh­bors’ so­cial me­dia clashes and in on­line pe­ti­tions.

Some par­ents have threat­ened to pull their chil­dren — and the fund­ing they pro­vide — if masks are re­quired.

Hil­lary Sal­way, a mother of three in Or­ange County, Cal­i­for­nia, is part of a vo­cal mi­nor­ity calling for schools to fully open with “nor­mal so­cial in­ter­ac­tion.” If the dis­trict re­quires masks for her son’s kinder­garten class, she says, “I don’t know if my son will be start­ing his ed­u­ca­tional ca­reer in the pub­lic school sys­tem this fall.”

She wants him to feel free to hug his teacher and friends and can’t imag­ine send­ing him to a school where he’ll get rep­ri­manded for sharing a toy. She started a pe­ti­tion last month urg­ing her dis­trict to “keep fa­cial ex­pres­sions vis­ually avail­able” and helped or­ga­nize a protest of over 100 peo­ple out­side the dis­trict of­fice, with signs say­ing, “No to masks, Yes to re­cess,” and “Let me breathe.”

Dozens have echoed her be­liefs at Or­ange County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion meet­ings, where the five-mem­ber elected body is ma­jor­ity Repub­li­can and is rec­om­mend­ing a full re­turn to school without masks or so­cial dis­tanc­ing. The board makes rec­om­men­da­tions but not pol­icy, and its sup­port­ers ar­gue that face cov­er­ings are in­ef­fec­tive, give a false sense of se­cu­rity and are po­ten­tially detri­men­tal.

The Centers for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion says masks may help pre­vent in­fected peo­ple from spread­ing the virus to oth­ers and urged stu­dents and teach­ers to wear them when­ever fea­si­ble. Demo­cratic Gov. Gavin New­som has or­dered Cal­i­for­ni­ans to wear them in pub­lic.

Brooke As­ton Harper, a lib­eral par­ent who at­tended a par­tic­u­larly spir­ited board meet­ing re­cently, said it was “hor­ri­fy­ing” that speak­ers were “im­pos­ing their small world­view on all of us.”

“I’m not look­ing for a fight, I just want us to take pre­cau­tions,” said Harper, whose chil­dren are 4 and 6.

She also started a pe­ti­tion, calling on schools to fol­low state guide­lines that in­clude masks for teach­ers and stu­dents, con­stant so­cial dis­tanc­ing on cam­puses and other mea­sures.

“For each school board, the ques­tion is go­ing to be: What does our com­mu­nity want, and who is the loud­est?” she said.

Many par­ents, ed­u­ca­tors and doc­tors agree that the so­cial, ed­u­ca­tional and emo­tional costs to chil­dren of a long shut­down may out­weigh the risk of the virus it­self, even if they don’t agree on how to reopen safely. The Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics has is­sued guide­lines sup­port­ing in-per­son school to avoid so­cial iso­la­tion and de­pres­sion in stu­dents. But it said sci­ence, not pol­i­tics, must guide de­ci­sions where COVID-19 is spread­ing.

While chil­dren have proven to be less sus­cep­ti­ble to the virus, teach­ers are vul­ner­a­ble. And many are scared.

“I will be wear­ing a mask, a face shield, pos­si­bly gloves, and I’m even con­sid­er­ing get­ting some type of body cov­er­ing to wear,” says Stacey Pugh, a fifth-grade teacher in sub­ur­ban Hous­ton.

She hopes her Al­dine dis­trict will man­date masks for stu­dents.

“Come the fall, we’re go­ing to be the front-line work­ers,” said Pugh, whose two chil­dren will do dis­tance learn­ing with her re­tired fa­ther.

In Texas, a virus hot spot, Repub­li­can Gov. Greg Ab­bott and ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers say it’s safe to reopen schools in Au­gust.

Dis­tricts must of­fer re­mote learn­ing for stu­dents who opt to stay home, but the state didn’t is­sue safety guide­lines, calling masks a lo­cal de­ci­sion.

The Texas Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers and other unions have de­manded clear guide­lines.

“Texas AFT says a big ‘ hell no’ to what looks like a re­turn to nor­mal in Au­gust,” pres­i­dent Zeph Capo said.

“We won’t sac­ri­fice our mem­bers and stu­dents for pol­i­tics.”

The coun­try’s two largest school dis­tricts, New York City and Los An­ge­les, say schools can­not fully reopen in the lib­eral cities.

While New York City of­fi­cials say schools will likely com­bine in-per­son and dis­tance learn­ing, the Los An­ge­les school dis­trict an­nounced Mon­day that its stu­dents will start the term with on­line classes from home.

ASH­LEY LAN­DIS / AP

Hil­lary Sal­way poses for a photo with her chil­dren — Dane Sal­way, 5, Mick Sal­way, 1, and Beaux Sal­way, 3 — on Mon­day in San Cle­mente, Calif. Sal­way plans to send her chil­dren back to school in the fall.

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