CDC recommends universal masking in schools
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing the highly transmissible Delta variant, recommended Tuesday that K-12 schools adopt universal masking for teachers, staff, students and visitors regardless of vaccination status. The move marks a change from CDC guidance in May that said vaccinated people no longer needed to mask or physically distance in most indoor and outdoor settings. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said this change is "not a welcomed piece of news" and "was not a decision that was taken lightly," noting only 30% of children 12-17 are currently fully vaccinated. The new recommendations say children do not need to mask when they head outdoors for recess or physical education, for example, unless they will be standing in a crowd for long periods of time. That also puts the health agency in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which last week recommended that everyone over the age of two wear masks in school. Becky Pringle and Randy Weingarten, presidents of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers respectively, welcomed the move. "The science is clear that masking, COVID-19 vaccinations, appropriate ventilation, social distancing and handwashing, all in combination, is the best way to keep students, families, and educators safe and keep community transmission rates low," Ms Pringle commented.
Wall Street Journal
CalSTRS reports record-high investment gains
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) has reported a 27.2% return on its investments for the fiscal year that ended in June, a record high driven by a booming stock market and private equity gains. The return drove the total value of its investment fund to $308.6bn, up from $246bn a year earlier. The system, which administers retirement benefits for about 975,000 teachers, retirees and beneficiaries, is the second-largest state-run pension system in the U.S., after the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. The record-high returns follow a volatile year during which stocks initially plummeted as a result of the coronavirus before rebounding to new record highs as corporations thrived and the federal government took actions to stimulate the economy. CalSTRS’ stock holdings grew 41.8% for the year, while its private equity investments returned 51.9%, according to the release.
Judge rules against SFUSD over mover to cover mural
A Superior Court judge ruled yesterday that the San Francisco USD school board violated state law when it voted to cover up a historic 1930s mural. The ruling means that the sprawling artwork, created by Victor Arnautoff in 1936, inside George Washington High School, which depicts the nation’s first president and the high school’s namesake, will remain visible and unaltered for the time being. The controversy centers on parts of the mural depicting slavery and white settlers stepping over a dead Native American. The George Washington High School Alumni Association sued the board over its failure to conduct an environmental review for removing the mural, despite it being required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The school board even voted on the mural removal twice: first to remove it in June of 2019; then in August, the board voted not to remove it, but to cover the decades-old mural with panels. “The Board and SFUSD failed in their primary duty to follow the requirements of the law,” Judge Anne-Christine Massullo wrote in her decision. “California, as a matter of long-standing public policy, places enormous value on its environmental and historical resources and the People are entitled to expect public officials to give more than lip-service to the laws designed to protect those resources.” She ruled that the board and the alumni association must meet and prepare to conduct an environmental review on the mural before the next court hearing on August 26th of this year.
CBS SF Bay Area
San Francisco Chronicle
Advocacy group clashes with O.C. Board of Education over ethnic studies
As more than 200 residents met for an Orange County Board of Education forum on ethnic studies, a new group gathered to say it will push back against what they termed the board’s “misinformation” and “lies.” Members of “Truth in Education” on Tuesday said their group was formed to counter the Orange County school board’s opposition to ethnic studies and critical race theory. They also said they will emphasize the importance of teaching ethnic studies, not just in Orange County but nationwide. Members said ethnic studies brings people together rather than apart, noting that the subject entails students learning about individuals from other cultures and their struggles and contributions. “I know that some people are concerned that teaching ethnic studies and accurate history about oppression teaches kids to hate the U.S., or that it is about putting down white people. (But) it’s none of those things,” said Sapna Chopra, a parent from Orange USD.
Orange County Register
'Heated discourse' shouldn't disrupt boards' business, attorneys say
School attorneys have underlined a trend of increasingly disruptive school board meetings nationwide, with members even experiencing threatening and insulting behavior, which can obviously seriously impede proceedings. Debate, discourse and conversations about controversial topics are all normal aspects of school board meetings, school attorneys say, though polarizing opinions over controversial and political issues, as well as new awareness of local education decision-making as a result of access to virtual board meetings during the pandemic, can be incredibly challenging for school board members. Bobby Truhe, a school attorney who has been practicing for 10 years and is now with KSB School Law, which mainly represents school systems in Nebraska and South Dakota, comments: “We've had a lot of schools that have been asking questions about, OK, exactly how do we structure a public comment period? What are the reasonable rules that we can have? What decorum expectations can we have?"
District officials in dark over this year's kindergarten enrollment
Public school enrollment dipped across the board in the last school year, according to preliminary federal data shows, with the largest changes seen in the youngest grades, as kindergarten enrollment fell 9%, and pre-K enrollment fell 22%. District leaders are now preparing for a year of unknowns, faced by factors such as a surge in numbers if those missing students show up anew. "Are we expecting those kids to return this fall? And if so, what is that going to do to this next cohort?" asks Beth Tarasawa, executive vice president of research at the education nonprofit NWEA. Some leaders say it is too soon to tell if this will happen. Although in Portland, Oregon, officials say early enrollment is higher than average, in Indianapolis, officials report preliminary numbers aren't significantly higher than a normal school year.
U.S. sees surge in home schooling
Since Spring 2020, when the pandemic began to seriously disrupt life across the U.S., the number of families opting to homeschool their children has continued to increase. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in March that the rate of households homeschooling their children had risen to 11% by September 2020, more than doubling from 5.4% just six months earlier. Black households saw the largest jump; their homeschooling rate rose from 3.3% in the spring of 2020 to 16.1% in the fall. Joyce Burges, co-founder and program director of National Black Home Educators, said the 21-year-old organization had about 5,000 members before the pandemic and now has more than 35,000. Many of the new families experienced difficulties, including lack of internet access, that limited their children’s ability to benefit from virtual learning during the pandemic, Ms. Burges said. “It got so they didn’t trust anything but their own homes, and their children being with them,” she said. “Now they’re seeing the future, seeing what their children can do.” For some families, the switch to homeschooling was influenced by their children’s special needs. That’s the case for Jennifer Osgood of Fairfax, Vermont, whose 7-year-old daughter Lily has Down syndrome. Having observed Lily’s progress with reading and arithmetic while at home during the pandemic, Osgood is convinced homeschooling is the best option for her going forward.
Cal State System to require COVID vaccinations
The California State University System said Tuesday it will require faculty, staff and students who come to campus in the next school year to be immunized against the coronavirus even if federal regulators have not yet given full approval to a vaccine. "The current surge in COVID cases due to the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant is an alarming new factor that we must consider as we look to maintain the health and well-being of students, employees and visitors to our campuses this fall,” Cal State Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said in a written statement. Its decision follows a similar recent action by the University of California system.
Walmart to cover 100% of college tuition for its workers
In an effort to help decrease the growing student debt nationwide, Walmart announced Tuesday that the company will begin offering free college tuition and books to its 1.5m US employees, effective August 16th. It will drop a previous $1 a day fee paid by Walmart and Sam's Club workers who want to earn a degree and also begin covering the costs of their books. The program includes 10 academic partners ranging from the University of Arizona to Southern New Hampshire University. Participants must remain part-time or full-time employees at Walmart to be eligible. "We feel that eliminating the dollar a day investment removes the financial barriers to enrollment, and it will increase access", said Lorraine Stomski, Walmart's senior vice president of learning and leadership.
Remington offers $33m to families of Sandy Hook victims
Remington Arms Co. has offered to pay nearly $33m to nine families to settle lawsuits claiming that its marketing of firearms contributed to the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 people died. The Sandy Hook families have sought to prove that Remington violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act by marketing what it knew was a weapon designed for military use to civilians such as the shooter, who used a Bushmaster AR-15 in the attack. Remington had filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2018 and emerged the same year under the control of its creditors. It filed for bankruptcy again in July 2020, after more retailers restricted gun sales following other school shootings.
Back-to-school spending set to surge - but shortages could impact shoppers
School districts in many parts of the U.S. are mandating in-person attendance in the coming school year, prompting analysts to forecast a massive surge in spending on supplies. A recent survey from the National Retail Federation found that families with children in elementary school through high school say they plan to spend nearly $850 for on back-to-school shopping this year, including clothes, shoes and electronics, up nearly $60 on average from last year. Total spending is expected to reach a record $37.1bn. At the same time, high demand could lead to shortages of products such as backpacks, stationery and electronics. “While we are unlikely to see apocalyptic shortages, the continued pressure on supply chains means that not all retailers will get an optimal amount of supply", said GlobalData managing director Neil Saunders. "What this means is consumers will have less choice, and some may not be able to get exactly what they want, especially towards the end of the back-to-school season".
Wall Street Journal