Schooled Reporting on education

Back to school under protest

Education | Unions and school districts face off over fall reopening plans
by Laura Edghill
Posted 9/02/20, 06:26 pm

Trouble started brewing in Iowa this summer when Gov. Kim Reynolds announced at least half of all schools must meet in person this fall. She pointed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance showing COVID-19 posed little risk to children and transmission rates among kids and even between children and adults remained low. “With proper tools and resources, we can reopen safely protecting students, teachers, staff, and families,” the Republican governor said.

The state’s main teachers union pushed back, particularly against a requirement that schools seek state approval before offering only remote instruction. The Iowa State Education Association and Iowa City School District sued for exemptions to begin the school year online. Des Moines Public Schools filed a similar lawsuit on Aug. 25 seeking a waiver to the 50 percent requirement. Both of those districts are scheduled to return to school on Tuesday. Iowa City schools have a hybrid schedule that would satisfy the governor’s order, but Des Moines still proposes an almost fully virtual model.

The American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union in the nation, said that to reopen safely, schools had to have a local coronavirus transmission rate lower than 1 percent, an outside authority with the power to shut down schools if cases spike, and guaranteed accommodations for vulnerable staff members working from home. At its virtual convention in late July, the union’s executive council encouraged teachers to use advocacy, protests, negotiations, lawsuits, and even “safety strikes” in states that don’t meet its reopening standards. “Nothing is off the table,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said.

Whether the AFT’s actions and Weingarten’s rhetoric ignited or merely reinforced already brewing sentiments, teachers in Iowa and across the country followed the call to action throughout the summer.

The Florida Education Association in July sued the state’s Department of Education and other officials to block an order requiring schools to open for in-person classes. Florida’s number of COVID-19 cases is high but trending downward. A state appeals court struck down Florida’s reopening guidelines as unconstitutional on Monday.

In Detroit, protests, negotiations, and the threat of a strike all came into play. Detroit Public Schools Community District officials eventually brokered an 11th-hour deal with union leaders late last week to avert a strike and pave the way for classes to resume in-person and online on Tuesday. The deal includes a hard cap of 20 students per class and up to $3,000 of hazard pay for teachers.

New York City Public Schools, the nation’s largest district, just announced a delayed start to the fall semester after failing to reach an agreement with union officials on reopening. Districts in Los Angeles and Chicago, the second- and third-biggest school systems, respectively, opened completely online. Their leaders will need to sit down and outline a return to the classroom eventually.

Meanwhile, much of flyover country quietly prepared for the new school year. School children in Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas all returned in August to a variety of scenarios: virtual, hybrid, and face to face.

Some families feel unheard in the quarreling of school leaders, unions, and advocacy groups.

Felicia Gonzalez told the Los Angeles Times that her 10-year-old daughter, Maria, thrived before the pandemic, earning awards for reading to younger students at her school in California’s Coachella Valley Unified School District. But when her school shut down, Maria had to use Gonzalez’s cell phone to access lessons. They ultimately gave up on the patchy solution, leaving Maria to complete printed worksheets the remainder of the year. Gonzalez said they are apprehensive about the district’s plans for a virtual start this fall: “She feels like she’s going to stay behind.”

Associated Press/Photo by Darron Cummings (file) Associated Press/Photo by Darron Cummings (file) Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks to educators about reopening in Indianapolis.

Stimulus package tug-of-war

A federal judge last week temporarily halted the U.S. Department of Education’s rules for distributing more than $13 billion from the coronavirus relief package to the nation’s schools. A coalition of states and school districts filed several lawsuits this summer alleging the department’s rules contradicted the original legislation passed by Congress in March. The lawsuits have left the funds in limbo as schools prepare for the upcoming year.

States initially planned to release the funds based on the number of Title I low-income students in both public and private schools. But in April, the Education Department issued additional guidance that appeared to skew the formula in favor of private schools by accounting for all their students while only counting low-income students in public schools. The plaintiffs complain the new interpretation will unfairly redirect millions of dollars from struggling public schools to well-funded private ones.

Congress had “familiar and uncomplicated” language in its bill, and its intent was “plain as day,” U.S. District Judge James Donato of California wrote. He noted private schools had access to additional pandemic resources that public schools did not such as the Paycheck Protection Program.

But private schools said they will lose out if the lawsuits prevail.

“Congress included nonpublic schools in the CARES Act to ensure all students are treated equally, without prejudice due to the school they attend,” said Paul Long, president and CEO of the Michigan Catholic Conference. —L.E.

iStock.com/Paul McDougall iStock.com/Paul McDougall

Flushed away

Several schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania last week reported they found Legionella bacteria in the water of sinks and drinking fountains following months of disuse. The bacteria breed easily in the stagnant water left in pipes for extended periods. When water flow restarts, the burst of pressure pushes the tiny bacteria into the air in inhalable droplets, potentially causing Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned schools about Legionella back in May and recommended flushing pipes in preparation for reopening buildings.

A different kind of flushing piqued the interest of scientists at the University of Arizona in recent weeks. Following the lead of researchers in Israel and the United Kingdom, the university started testing campus wastewater for the coronavirus when students returned in mid-August. It successfully identified several asymptomatic COVID-19 cases in one dormitory, allowing health officials to head off an outbreak. —L.E.

Overshooting safety

A group of eight teachers sued northern Indiana’s White County Sheriff’s Department over the use of excessive force during a January 2019 active shooter drill at their school.

The teachers arrived at Meadowlawn Elementary School in rural Monticello, Ind., carrying cups of coffee and notebooks for scheduled professional development. They described feeling completely unprepared for the sudden onslaught of “verbal threats, expletives, and screaming” as representatives of the sheriff’s department conducted the training drill.

The officers lined up teachers and shot them in the back execution-style with airsoft guns. The high-velocity plastic bullets caused numerous injuries, including bruises and bleeding welts. Teachers also reported serious psychological trauma.

“The teachers displayed obvious signs of anguish and physical pain but were humiliated to find the law enforcement officers joking and laughing at them,” according to the complaint. “The terrifying and inexplicable experience left the teachers with lasting physical and emotional injuries.”

Two of the plaintiffs left teaching afterward. Several are still in counseling, and one was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The sheriff’s department stated at the time that the training was voluntary and teachers were briefed on what to expect. —L.E.

Vigilante editor

Students everywhere groan at the sight of an essay covered in red ink but comfort themselves knowing one day they’ll escape the constant corrections of teachers.

No such escape exists for writers at The New York Times. Since late 2019, an anonymous Twitter user with the handle Typos of the New York Times has let nary a misplaced comma or disagreeing subject and verb escape without comment. The account regularly tweets out errors. Times reporter Adam Liptak said he can appreciate the account holder’s fastidious flair, but “he has yet to master a civil tone, has no sense of proportion, and seems to have no understanding of the pressures of deadline journalism in the internet age.” —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura is an education correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and serves as the communications director for her church. Laura resides with her husband and three sons in Clinton Township, Mich. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Wed, 09/02/2020 09:43 pm

    Regarding the back to school protest: what are private schools doing? What do the actual parents of these children want (not to mention the tax payers who pay for the schools)? Do they get any say? If the government won't provide an acceptable form of education, can they take their  education dollars elsewhere? I can't help but think that these teachers want a few more months off. The teachers pictured are likely at a .0000001% risk of dying of Covid.

  • RC
    Posted: Thu, 09/03/2020 11:59 am

    Based on the picture it looks like one teacher and two students in the front line. While I am sure your percentage is meant to overstate the lack of risk.  If 250,000 of our 331,000,000 USA population is to die from Cov-19 that is  0.0755287%.  Since percentages like this are confusing to most people, it is better expressed it as, “odds of”, which is 1 out of every 1,324 Americans will die from Covid-19, assuming the 250,000 total is correct. Still, a really really low level of risk.  

  • Idaho ob
    Posted: Thu, 09/03/2020 12:02 am

    The teacher unions will do anything to defeat Trump.  All of the science supports school openings.  When will World report instead of repeating the liberal lies? 

    Children under the age of 15 don’t show up on the CDC numbers of being affected by COVID. From ages of 15 to 24 it is 99.8% that ther is no complications.  More danger in riding the school bus.  Kids don’t transmit to teachers, UK study. Most western countries opened schools last spring, sweden  never closed.

    how about real reporting?

  • JimVC
    Posted: Thu, 09/03/2020 01:16 pm

    They are reporting the facts. What "liberal lies" are they repeating?

  • khusmann
    Posted: Thu, 09/03/2020 01:17 am

    New York Times reporter Adam Liptak seems to have no understanding of how weary readers are of seeing errors everywhere in the internet age. The primary blame lies with publishers who fired their proofreaders when "spell check" software became widely available. It was true then, and is true now, that one cannot effectively proofread one's own work. "Spell check" and "autocorrect" software are not very effective, either.

  • Janet B
    Posted: Thu, 09/03/2020 02:10 pm

    I am totally amused!  It seems the "vigilante editor" is giving The New York Times a taste of their own medicine.  He is "shaming" errors in conventional written English, which those who write for a living should know, while The Times is "shaming" any behavior that does not conform to their belifs.  Yet The Times thinks that they have a really good reason for these errors, while ignoring any reason for the nonconformity of those they "correct."

    Can anyone spell "hypocrisy?"

  • GOVTEACH
    Posted: Sun, 09/06/2020 08:25 pm

    I think its hilarious that many districts in CA want to go back to school but are prevented by their governor, while in Florida the governor is forcing schools to re-open despite some teacher protests.  Both of these states are too big for a one size fits all rule.  Since school districts have trustees who are elected locally, why don't governors allow them to make the decision whether to go back to school?  Even counties can be too big to apply one rule for all.  Riverside County in Southern California includes Palm Springs with lots of COVID deaths, keeping relatively COVID free Murrieta and Temecula schools from opening.  The governors are over extending their power and using it with too broad a stroke.

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