Safely Reopening America's Schools
School Data Survey
Enhancing COVID-19 Testing
Education Blockchain Initiative
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Safely Reopening America's Schools
On February 12, in response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) release of its Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation (see below), President Biden issued the following statement.
"One of my goals as President is to reopen America's schools as quickly and as safely as possible. In our first three weeks in office, we've made progress. Today, more schools are open to more students during the pandemic than was the case under my predecessor.
But we can do more. Shortly before taking office, I set an ambitious but achievable goal of opening most K-8 schools by the end of my first 100 days. I've said all along that this is a national imperative — one that can only be achieved if Congress provides states and communities with the resources they need to get it done safely through the American Rescue Plan.
It is also a goal we can meet if we follow the science. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided the best available scientific evidence on how to reopen schools safely (fact sheet and Science Brief on Transmission of COVID-19 in K-12 Schools).
These scientific guidelines tell us that our schools are safer when we have appropriate distancing in classrooms and on school buses, when masks are worn consistently and properly, when handwashing occurs regularly, when we are able to effectively respond to cases through testing and contact tracing, and when we follow other recommended steps. To meet these guidelines, some schools will need more teachers and support staff to ensure smaller class sizes, more buses and drivers to transport our kids safely, more spaces to conduct in-person instruction, and more protective equipment, school cleaning services, and physical alterations to reduce the risk of spread of the virus.
These needs cost money. But the cost of keeping our children, families, and educators safe is nothing when compared with the cost of inaction. Today, an entire generation of young people is on the brink of being set back up to a year or more in their learning. We are already seeing rising mental health concerns due in part to isolation. Educational disparities that have always existed grow wider each day that our schools remain closed and remote learning isn't the same for every student. Our educators are frontline workers who are doing everything they can to protect and educate our students, despite a lack of resources and as districts face budget crises that risk education jobs. Moms — and dads — are exiting the workforce in astonishing numbers in order to care for and manage the school experience for their children at home, hindering their own opportunities and further undermining the health of our economy.
We have sacrificed so much in the last year. But science tells us that, if we support our children, educators, and communities with the resources they need, we can get kids back to school safely in more parts of the country sooner.
When my Secretary of Education is confirmed, I will task him with working alongside school administrators, educators, and parents to safely accelerate the process of school reopenings. As many states continue to follow the CDC's recommendation to prioritize teachers for vaccination, I urge all states to follow suit.
And given the irreversible costs of inaction, Congress needs to pass the American Rescue Plan right away, for our children, our families, our community, and our country.
We know what we need to do. We need to move fast."
Consistent implementation of mitigation strategies during all school-related activities is critical for reopening schools — and keeping them open. To that end, the Department released a COVID-19 Handbook, with implementation guidance, strategies, and considerations for the education community. The handbook is being released in two volumes.
The first volume supplements CDC's operational strategy with practical examples and roadmaps for educators and staff to implement CDC's recommended safe practices for in-person learning — archived presentation. Highlights include:
- Masking Practices. The handbook has strategies to promote universal and correct use of masks in schools by utilizing signage and school announcements to remind students and staff how to use masks. It also guides educators through working with students with disabilities who cannot safely wear a mask (consistent with CDC guidelines).
- Physical Distancing Practices. The handbook details a variety of practical ways that educators and schools can practice physical distancing, from grouping students into a pod that stays together all day (including for lunch and recess) with their core teacher and using auditoriums and cafeterias for classes to staggering the use of communal spaces and reconfiguring bell schedules to minimize foot traffic. For transportation to school, it outlines seating one student per row and assigning each rider to a seat that is the same very day.
- Effective Stakeholder Engagement. A successful school reopening strategy requires engaging the entire school community to promote actions that will lead to a safe learning environment for students, educators, and staff. The handbook lays out a roadmap for who should be at the table and suggests ways that school leaders and educators can conduct individual outreach activities and use surveys and virtual town halls to engage the community.
The second volume, to be released in the coming weeks, will offer specific strategies to address the extraordinary disruption created by COVID-19 for students, educators, and families — especially for historically underserved students and communities that preliminary data suggests have been hit hardest by the pandemic. These strategies will be tailored around the following topics:
- meeting the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students;
- supporting educator and school staff well-being;
- addressing lost instructional time for students;
- stabilizing a diverse and qualified educator workforce;
- ensuring equitable access to broadband and the devices needed to participate in remote learning;
- supporting the effective use of technology for in-person learning and periodic shifting to remote learning;
- providing school nutrition, regardless of the educational setting;
- providing all students with access to a safe and inclusive learning environment;
- extending learning time;
- addressing resource inequalities to provide all students with the educational opportunities they need to succeed, including access to a well-rounded education (such as advanced courses, the arts, and music), quality educators, and integrated student support services; and
- using data to inform students, educators, and families about progress and areas requiring support.
The Department welcomes input on Volume I, as well as the topics for Volume II, at ReopeningK12@ed.gov.
The handbook does not have the force or effect of law and is not binding in any way — except where statutory or regulatory requirements are referenced.
School Data Survey
Also, to understand the status of school reopening and how students are learning nationwide, the Department's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) announced a project — the NAEP 2021 School Survey — to collect high-quality data from a nationally and state-representative sample. IES's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) will oversee the survey collection, which is designed to collect vital data with the least possible burden on schools. The project will maximize the existing data collection systems and infrastructure used for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Among the data to be gathered in the survey:
- the share of the nation's schools that are open with full-time in-person instruction, open with in-person and online instruction, or fully remote;
- enrollment by instructional mode by race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, English learner status, and disability status;
- attendance rates by instructional mode by race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, English learner status, disability status, and housing status;
- frequency of in-person learning for students;
- average number of hours of synchronous instruction for students in remote instruction mode; and
- the student groups prioritized by schools for in-person instruction by selected school characteristics.
The survey will collect data monthly — from approximately 3,500 schools that enroll fourth-graders and an equal number of schools that enroll eighth-graders — beginning this month and running through June.
Enhancing COVID-19 Testing
On February 17, as part of his national strategy for COVID-19 response, President Biden announced a series of actions to expand COVID-19 testing, improve the availability of tests, and better prepare for the threat of variants. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), partnering with the Department of Defense (DOD), will make a $650 million down payment to expand testing opportunities for K-8 schools and underserved congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, through new coordination "hubs." HHS and DOD will establish regional coordinating centers to organize laboratories across the country, including universities, into COVID-19 testing networks to collect specimens, perform tests, and report results to the relevant public health agencies. This effort will begin to bring more testing to teachers, staff, and students — supporting President Biden's goal to reopen the majority of K-8 schools for in-person learning within his first 100 days in office — and serve as a bridge to the comprehensive, $50 billon COVID-19 testing investment in the American Rescue Plan.
Education Blockchain Initiative
The American Council on Education (ACE) announced four Phase 1 winners in the Blockchain Innovation Challenge, a $900,000 competition funded by the Department to explore the potential of distributed ledger technology to equitably empower learners to translate their educational outcomes into economic opportunity. ACE partnered with the Presidents Forum, which managed the application review and selection process, to provide technical assistance to the winners. Independent reviewers and an initiative steering committee evaluated proposals using a rigorous process emphasizing quality of design, technological approach, and sustainability. Phase 1 winners each received $150,000 to establish a minimum viable project this spring that demonstrates potential to implement their solution. Those selected to continue to Phase 2 will share in an additional $300,000 to fully implement their pilot projects.
Odds and Ends
- Last week, by a bipartisan vote, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the nomination of Miguel Cardona to serve as Secretary of Education to the full Senate.
- Also last week, three top Administration officials — Dr. Jill Biden, Deputy Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council for Economic Mobility Carmel Martin, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education Michelle Asha Cooper — addressed the Community College National Legislative Summit (recap).
- This week, in a meeting with labor leaders, President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to expanding registered apprenticeships to reward work, rebuild the middle class, and connect the diverse workforce to family-supporting, living wage jobs (fact sheet).
- By executive order, President Biden re-established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to promote collaboration with both religious and secular organizations to better serve people in need (fact sheet).
- Last month, with a beautiful visual display and an engaging online presentation, the Department and the National PTA recognized a remarkable group of young artists in multiple disciplines who responded to the 2019-20 Reflections program theme: "Look Within."
Quote to Note
"Three years ago today, a lone gunman took the lives of 14 students and three educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In seconds, the lives of dozens of families, and the life of an American community, were changed forever…. These families are not alone. In big cities and small towns. In schools and shopping malls. In churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples. In movie theaters and concert halls. On city street corners that will never get a mention on the evening news. All across our nation, parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends have known the pain of losing a loved one to gun violence. And, in this season of so much loss, last year's historic increase in homicides across America, including the gun violence disproportionately devastating black and brown individuals in our cities, has added to the number of empty seats at our kitchen tables…. Today, I am calling on Congress to enact common sense gun reform laws, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets. We owe it to all those we've lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change. The time to act is now."
President Joseph Biden (2/14/21), in a statement three years after the Parkland shooting
Read Across America Day calls for every child, in every community, to celebrate reading on the March 2 birthday of beloved children's author Dr. Seuss.
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