Dive Brief:

  • As curve continues to flatten in the coronavirus pandemic, some states are entering reopening stages and allowing schools to provide limited in-person instruction or services.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Friday allowing the state to resume in-person special education instruction and services, though all other instruction will remain remote and the education sector won’t officially reopen until the state reaches the last of a four-stage process. Cuomo is also allowing socially distant graduations to take place in groups of no more than 150 people beginning June 26. 
  • In Illinois, Gov. ​J.B. Pritzker ordered public schools partially reopened for limited in-person instruction, such as summer school, as long as groups are limited to 10 or fewer people who remain six feet apart. Districts are continuing to provide meal and other non-educational services. 

Dive Insight:

According to a recent cost analysis by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, reopening schools could take an average district nearly $1.8 million in unbudgeted expenses. The report suggests, in some cases, school districts can expect to spend an additional $490 per student to cover costs associated with purchasing required cleaning supplies and protective equipment. 

Dan Domenech, the organization’s executive director, is skeptical of how practical it is for leaders to reopen schools without a federal bailout. 

Not only is PPE expensive, but district leaders are also concerned about whether equipment like thermometers and masks will be in stock and delivered on time for reopenings. On top of that, budgetary concerns due to the pandemic’s impact on state tax revenues have districts trying to limit expenses.

At the same time, many educators are itching to get back into the classroom, especially those in special education or who teach populations particularly facing the negative impacts of prolonged closures, which have widened academic gaps. Some leaders are hoping summer in-person instruction and after-school programs can help to minimize learning loss, in addition to providing some relief to parents who must return to work as the economy reopens. 

The Cut reports North Dakota and Texas are also among states allowing schools to reopen for in-person summer programming, and Pennsylvania is allowing elementary and secondary schools to resume on July 1. 

In a Senate hearing last month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said developing a vaccine by the time schools reopen in the fall would be a “bridge too far.” He also told CNN that not opening schools in the fall due to safety concerns would be “a bit of a reach,” suggesting the decision would need to be made based on individual communities.

Many education and government organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have released guidelines for reopening. While some guidelines are feasible for educators, like routinely washing hands and disinfecting areas, other practices — like requiring young children to wear masks and keeping them 6 or 7 feet apart at all times — will be more of a challenge. 

In Illinois, Pritzker is telling educators to discourage physical interaction and the exchanging of personal belongings as much as possible. Students over the age of 2 will be required to wear a face covering if medically possible, while schools will be required to provide masks for all staff who cannot remain socially distant. If possible, students will also be provided masks.

Educators say the logistics of some of these requirements make them impractical. Not only is it difficult to make younger children wear masks, but PPE can also be scary for some children and get in the way of student-teacher connections.

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