California’s two largest public school districts said Monday that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers.
The Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts, which together enroll some 825,000 students, are the largest so far in the country to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August.
“There’s a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a petri dish,” said Austin Beutner, the school superintendent in Los Angeles.
The joint announcement came as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continued to press the Trump administration’s case to quickly reopen public schools, not only for students’ social and emotional development, but also to allow parents to return to work fully.In television appearances over the weekend, she downplayed both the virus and the school reopening guidelines issued by the administration’s own public health officials. “I think the go-to needs to be kids in school, in person, in the classroom, because we know for most kids, that’s the best environment for them,” Ms. DeVos said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
She also reiterated the administration’s stance that guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deeming in-person classes the “highest risk” option were not mandatory. President Trump threatened last week to cut off federal funding to schools that did not reopen their campuses.
The recommendations from the president and Ms. DeVos have been disputed by many public health officials and teachers. On Friday, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and AASA, the School Superintendents Association issued a statement saying that reopening recommendations should be “based on evidence, not politics.”
The groups added that “we should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”
In the Los Angeles and San Diego districts’ joint statement, they noted that research is incomplete and recommendations have been contradictory.
But “one fact is clear,” the statement said. “Those countries that have managed to safely reopen schools have done so with declining infection rates and on-demand testing available. California has neither. The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control.”
The bigger problem is that COVID-19 is spreading in 48 of 50 states right now, and New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are all getting close to reversing that progress. Only Maine and New Hampshire are seeing fewer cases right now.
We'll see if Trump and DeVos move to punish school districts, but I doubt they will, hell I doubt they even can, legally.