Schools try to jug­gle new plans, Trump de­mands

The News Tribune - - Nation & World - BY JOHN SEEWER AND JEN­NIFER SINCO KELLEHER As­so­ci­ated Press

With lit­tle more than a month be­fore mil­lions of U.S. school­child­ren are due to go back to class, much is still up in the air – and not just be­cause of the surg­ing num­ber of coro­n­avirus cases na­tion­wide.

Last week, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion de­manded schools fully re­open right away, call­ing for new guid­ance from fed­eral health of­fi­cials and slam­ming schools that want to bring students back for only a few days a week.

At the same time, some states are just now is­su­ing their own di­rec­tives, and school dis­trict lead­ers say they ex­pect those guide­lines to be re­vised again be­fore the class­room bells ring.

While there’s no in­di­ca­tion school ad­min­is­tra­tors are changing their plans yet be­cause of the lat­est word from the White House, they are work­ing on mul­ti­ple re­open­ing sce­nar­ios. Those cover every­thing from where students will eat lunch to nav­i­gat­ing on­line learn­ing.

Here is a look at what sev­eral school dis­tricts are plan­ning and dis­cussing.

NEW DANCE

Like many schools, the Forth Worth In­de­pen­dent School Dis­trict in Texas will give par­ents a choice be­tween in-person and re­mote learn­ing. So far, about 40% have opted for vir­tual school, said Clint Bond, dis­trict spokesman.

The dis­trict is de­sign­ing its plan with guid­ance re­leased by the Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency on Tues­day, but ad­min­is­tra­tors are pay­ing at­ten­tion to the de­bate in Washington and wait­ing to see whether any new rules or clar­i­fied guid­ance comes from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion, Bond said.

“It hasn’t caused us to do any­thing right now,” he said.

Schools will ad­just to al­low for so­cial dis­tanc­ing de­pend­ing on the num­ber of students who opt to attend. Among the con­sid­er­a­tions: plex­i­glas sep­a­ra­tors for multi-stu­dent desks, sep­a­rat­ing in­di­vid­ual desks and even us­ing gyms, cafe­te­rias and au­di­to­ri­ums as spa­ces dis­tanc­ing students.

“This is a dance we’re learn­ing as we go,” Bond said.

HOLD­ING PAT­TERN

In sub­ur­ban Cincin­nati, the Lakota School Dis­trict’s re­open­ing frame­work has four dif­fer­ent out­lines, from nearly all students re­turn­ing to their class­rooms to en­tirely on­line in­struc­tion.

While the in­tent now is for class­rooms to re­open fully next month, Su­per­in­ten­dent Matthew Miller’s message to par­ents has been this: “What I’m telling you now could change in an hour.”

The dis­trict’s de­ci­sions, he said, are be­ing based on ad­vice from ed­u­ca­tion and health ex­perts, not politi­cians. A lot of what’s com­ing out of Washington and the state cap­i­tal isn’t help­ing, he said.

“It just puts us in a bad sit­u­a­tion be­cause we know how po­lar­iz­ing this can be,” Miller said.

For now, the dis­trict is “in a hold­ing pat­tern” while it waits to see whether there is any new guid­ance, he said.

“This is prob­a­bly go­ing to change two or three times be­fore school starts.”

TWO AP­PROACHES

All students in Ten­nessee’s sec­ond-big­gest dis­trict will start the year vir­tu­ally, an an­nounce­ment made Thurs­day on the heels of Trump’s threat to hold back fed­eral money if dis­tricts don’t open their build­ings.

Metro Nashville Pub­lic Schools Di­rec­tor Adri­enne Bat­tle said students won’t re­turn to class­rooms un­til at least af­ter La­bor Day.

“This will al­low so­cial dis­tanc­ing, mask man­dates and other mea­sures to take ef­fect and re­duce the spread of COVID-19 be­fore tens of thou­sands of students and staff re­turn to our schools,” she said.

Nashville has seen some of its worst daily to­tals for COVID-19 con­firmed cases in the past week.

In north­east­ern Ten­nessee, schools in Sul­li­van County are on sched­ule to fully open as long as the coro­n­avirus cases don’t rise, said David Cox, the di­rec­tor of schools.

The dis­trict is work­ing off a plan it de­vised with lo­cal health of­fi­cials and is mod­eled af­ter the Nashville dis­trict’s plan, he said. “I don’t think any plan is rigid,” he said.

LUNCH LIM­ITS

Davis School Dis­trict, just out­side Salt Lake City, is work­ing to re­con­fig­ure its class­rooms to al­low more space be­tween students, but that’s prov­ing to be a chal­lenge.

“You know, we don’t have the abil­ity, un­for­tu­nately, to move our class­room walls,” said spokesman Chris Wil­liams.

There will be no salad bars at lunch, and students will no longer be able to spoon out their own food serv­ings in the cafe­te­ria. Lunches will be “gra­band-go,” eaten dur­ing mul­ti­ple pe­ri­ods so fewer students are min­gling in the cafe­te­ria.

The dis­trict, he said, hasn’t al­tered its plans be­cause of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­cent state­ments, but it now will re­quire masks af­ter Utah Gov. Gary Herbert an­nounced a man­date.

MOV­ING TAR­GET

“It’s an ever-mov­ing tar­get,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Chris Knut­sen said about the re­open­ing frame­work for the Florence Uni­fied School Dis­trict, south­east of Phoenix.

He, too, said Trump’s com­ments haven’t af­fected the dis­trict’s in­ten­tions, but he does want more guid­ance from state of­fi­cials, es­pe­cially on wearing masks when so­cial dis­tanc­ing isn’t pos­si­ble in class­rooms or on buses, he said.

The dis­trict, which has students com­ing from across 1,000 square miles, can’t re­duce ca­pac­ity on its buses.

“We would have to run our buses 24 hours a day to try to get our kids back to school,” he said.

CHARLES KRUPA AP

A worker passes buses in Manch­ester, N.H. As the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pushes to force schools to re­sume in-person ed­u­ca­tion, health ex­perts warn that a one-size-fits-all re­open­ing could drive in­fec­tion and death rates higher.

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