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28th July 2021
CDC recommends universal masking in schools
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended 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.
Schools considering changing face-mask rules amid rise of Delta variant
The rise in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant is prompting school districts across the country to consider changing their face-mask requirements, in an effort to stick to their plans to bring back students for in-person learning this fall. With the now-dominant Delta variant of the virus feared to be far more contagious than earlier ones, coronavirus cases are sharply rising among Americans who have not been vaccinated. Health officials say there is no evidence that the Delta variant affects children and adolescents differently than earlier strains, but also warn that, because it is more contagious, more children could get it and carry it home to people who aren’t vaccinated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that vaccinated students and adults do not have to mask in schools but that all unvaccinated people should. President Joe Biden said on July 21 that the CDC would “probably” recommend that all children under 12 wear masks in school. But the American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation’s leading association of pediatricians, as well as some other health experts, have recommended that everyone over two wear masks indoors, including those who have been vaccinated.
No evidence of COVID-19 spread on school buses
A new small study out of Virginia, just published in the Journal of School Health, indicates that school buses didn’t contribute to the spread of COVID-19 between students or adults when physical distancing, universal masking and simple ventilation practices were in place. "Universal testing and contact tracing revealed no transmission linked to bus transportation," reads the study, which makes no mention of viral variants. Before the pandemic, around 26 million kids used 480,000 buses daily, according to the study authors, two of whom also serve on the Virginia American Academy of Pediatrics school re-opening task force.
Florida schools' pandemic aid 'largely unused'
Florida schools have been awarded around $15bn in federal aid funds to address the impacts of COVID-19, but, writes Danielle J. Brown, most of the dollars have yet to be allocated by the state legislature for this past school year and this coming school year, and the 2021-22 academic year is just "weeks away." All three funds — the HEER, the GEER, and the multiple ESSER funds — total about $13.2bn dollars, she notes, though Florida has used just $1.7bn from early 2020 to now. One unused pot of about $2.3 billion, the one-third left from the ESSER III funds, sits idle because state officials missed the deadline for the U.S. Department of Education to approve a plan describing how these funds will be used. “Every minute these funds sit in Tallahassee is time that the funds are not being used to help Florida’s students,” wrote Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, a statewide teacher union, who sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on July 21. Gretchen Saunders, chief financial officer for the St. John’s County school district, says her district hasn’t received any information from the state about the American Rescue Plan dollars, meaning the ESSER III funds, while Polk County Schools has confirmed that it has not had access to American Rescue Plan COVID relief funds. Same goes for the Miami-Dade County school district. A staffer from the Orange County Schools says the district has not received any information from the state regarding these funds.
New national effort to address achievement gaps
The Advanced Education Research & Development Fund has announced a new national effort to analyze and mitigate achievement gaps between low-income and higher-income pre-K-12 students. With a total of $200 million, the fund will support project proposals from teachers, researchers, parents or product developers on how assessment could be done better. Between now and 2023, the program will select about five research ideas to span three to five years with budgets of $20 million to $40 million. Temple Lovelace, director of the Assessment for Good program, comments: “As districts embark on leading-edge, innovative formats for instruction this fall, assessment must also evolve in a complementary fashion. It is time for our assessment practices to foster promise and ignite learning in new and imaginative ways.”
Tiered supports for special education can help reopening efforts
School leaders should assert a balanced priority on both emotional and instructional interventions, according to panelists at the Office of Special Education Programs’ Leadership and Project Directors’ Conference. Schools can best maximize the effectiveness of interventions to help students, staff and families with a "multi-tiered system of support" during this year of pandemic recovery, panelists agreed. Jennifer Freeman, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut, suggested that, while schools may want to put more emphasis on student emotional well-being right now, maintaining academic routines and expectations too can reduce stress and uncertainty for students.
California working to counter expensive special education disputes
In a bid to avoid any potential post-pandemic special education litigation, a new initiative in California is encouraging parents and schools to resolve disputes before heading to court. The state budget, signed Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, sets aside $100 million for resolving special education conflicts between parents and school districts, which, predictably, escalated significantly during the incredibly challenging pivot to remote learning last year. Notably, none of the money can be spent on attorney fees. The funding will go toward outreach, such as brochures, meetings and presentations, to help parents and school staff better understand the rights outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that requires districts to educate students of all abilities.  In addition, the state has set aside $450 million for extra tutoring, therapy and other services that students with special needs missed during remote learning.
Access to tech changes education system for good
Around the nation, virtual learning needs have spurred rapid adoption of one-to-one policies across K-12 education. While the final numbers on device adoption aren’t in yet, there’s clearly been a huge effort to secure more devices, says Keith Krueger, CEO of the nonprofit Consortium for School Networking. Going forward, educators say, this broad availability of computers will change the way teachers interact with students and it will change how kids learn. Applications such as Canvas, Schoology and Google Classroom give teachers the power to monitor what students are doing on their devices and to interact with learners outside the classroom.


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