In order for schools to remain open and safe, President Biden said Thursday, they must require vaccinations for teachers and staff, regularly test unvaccinated people and have a universal mask. So far, many large districts have succeeded in doing one – masking – but only a minority offer the others.
In a sample of 100 large urban districts, including one district in each state, nine in 10 require students to wear masks, according to the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, which tracked district responses to the pandemic since its inception. Only a quarter ask teachers to be vaccinated. Fifteen regularly test the students. And student quarantine policies are generally much less stringent than they were last spring.
New York City Public Schools, which start Monday, are an anomaly on several measures, including the lack of a remote option and a stricter approach with quarantines.
So far this school year there have been temporary closures, but none of the 100 districts have stopped offering full-time in-person school due to Covid reasons. But many plans were hastily revised as school approached and the Delta variant spread. (Children under 12 cannot be vaccinated and likely won’t be eligible until November. Nationally, less than half of 12-18 year olds are fully vaccinated.)
The biggest change has been to provide a remote option for families who are not ready to go back to school. Ninety-four of the 100 major districts now have this option – all except New York; Newark; El Paso; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Dayton, Ohio; and Manchester, NH In more than half it is available to all students, with no restrictions or enrollment caps.
Another change was in the mask rules. Eighty-nine of the 100 major districts now require masks, up from half in mid-August. (One, Mesa Public Schools in Arizona, only needs it if at least 3% of the school population is positive.)
Twenty-seven of the districts require staff to be vaccinated, up from four in mid-August. Only one, Los Angeles, has required vaccines for eligible students since last week. Fifteen regularly test students, compared to seven in mid-August.
The Biden administration said Thursday it would require teachers employed by the federal government, such as those at Head Start and Bureau of Indian Education schools, to be vaccinated, and called on governors to require vaccines for school staff in their schools. States. (Nine states and Washington, DC, are already doing this.) Mr Biden said federal funds could be used for drug tests. And those funds could also go to all districts facing funding cuts because they need masks in states that prohibit it, like Florida.
Quarantine policies are perhaps the biggest change from last year. Now, in many cases, students who share a classroom with an infected person will not have to stay home to self-quarantine – and their families will not be notified that a classmate has been infected. .
That’s because many districts follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which are more lenient about who should be quarantined in K-12 schools than in other settings. Inside schools, only unvaccinated children who are within six feet and unmasked, or within three feet and masked, should be quarantined, and only if they have been exposed for more than 15 minutes over the course of a day, according to the CDC Since most districts require masks and aim for a distance of three feet, it’s less likely that even students in the same class will qualify.
Public health experts have said it is safe, especially when it comes to balancing the risks of keeping children out of school for longer.
“I think we should let the exposed children come to school, if they were actually wearing their masks,” said Dr. Danielle Zerr, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Seattle Children’s Hospital, who has said masks and vaccines for everyone eligible in the lives of students are the most important for preventing Covid in schools.
Dr Jeanne Noble, director of the Covid response at the University of California at San Francisco, agreed and said quarantines should not take place at all: “We should allow close contacts to stay in school, masked and with rapid antigen testing every few days. . “
Due to the guidelines, quarantines have been relatively rare in many places. In Denver public schools, 0.4% of students are quarantined, according to the latest data. In Nashville, where the infection rate is four times that of Denver, 4.3% of public school students are quarantined. Both school systems started in August.
Some districts are even more lenient than the CDC recommends. Twenty-eight – including in Austin, Texas; Hawaii; and Sacramento – exempt students from quarantine as long as they wear masks. Of the eight major Florida districts listed in the database, seven allow students to return from quarantine as early as two to five days after exposure. Miami-Dade County public schools require a 10-day quarantine.
Again, New York is an exception. Entire elementary classrooms will be quarantined if anyone in the class tests positive. While this is one of the more cautious approaches, it is more lenient than district policy last year, when two cases shut down entire schools.
Districts are trying to avoid widespread quarantines, which have been a major disruption to children’s education. They are also a source of uncertainty for parents; some say they can’t return to work if they unexpectedly have to be home with their children for two weeks.
Still, some parents are concerned that even if someone in their child’s classroom is infected, they won’t know, assuming their child was masked and left behind. For reasons of confidentiality, many schools inform parents only that there is a positive case in a school, but not in what class or in what grade it was.
After pressure from parents and school staff, Denver Public Schools recently allowed principals to identify the classroom in which there was a positive case, even to families who did not need to bring up. quarantine. In other districts, such as Portland Public Schools in Oregon, where there were 89 positive cases and 74 people quarantined in a district of 49,000 students as of Sept. 5, principals cannot share any details about them. positive cases due to student confidentiality.
“We have been very careful with our mitigation strategies and our layered approach, so we are very confident about who is potentially exposed and who is not,” said Brenda Martinek, Head of Human Support Services. district students. “So what I hope is that our school communities will have confidence in this. “