As schools and universities grapple with resuming in-person classes, one governor compared it to a Navy SEALs mission.
With no national strategy in place, K-12 school districts and universities across the country have been left to their own devices on reopening this fall.
In Florida, for instance, 13 counties began the new school year last week offering some form of in-person instruction as mandated by the state. At least three districts have already reported coronavirus cases among their students or staff, according to the New York Times.
During a recent press conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis used a reference to the U.S. Navy’s special operations force in an effort to inspire teachers and administrators.
“Just as the SEALs surmounted obstacles to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, so, too, would the Martin County school system find a way to provide parents with a meaningful choice of in-person instruction or continued distance learning all in, all the time,” DeSantis said, referring to one county that’s reported nearly 300 students and teachers in quarantine because of potential COVID-19 exposure.
Sylvia Vera-Leon is a first grade teacher in the Miami Dade School District. She explained in a statement to COURIER that the governor’s comments were laughable.
“[His comments] were comical. Navy SEALs or anyone in the military sign up knowing that their lives are in danger. Teachers make no such commitment,” she said. “There is no similarity. Schools are for children whose lives should not be endangered at all.”
Meanwhile in Georgia, schools that reopened in early August have also reported outbreaks. Several staff members in Ware County Schools and Brantley County have tested positive for COVID-19, according to News 4 Jax, and three schools in Cherokee County have shuttered altogether because of the virus. President Trump’s coronavirus task force designated Georgia last week as leading the nation in the rate of new cases.
Keeping schools closed for younger students poses a unique challenge for parents and families. As schools try to reopen, much of the national discussion has centered on anxiety about sending students back.
“I hear it from so many of you: the frustration of parents juggling work while they support their children’s learning or are afraid that their kids might get sick from school,” Dr. Jill Biden said in her remarks at the Democratic National Convention.
Colleges and universities that have welcomed students back to campus aren’t faring much better. The University of Notre Dame announced this week that it was suspending in-person classes and moving instruction online after the campus saw an increasing number of confirmed cases.
The institution explained in announcements that the two-week suspension period will allow local leaders and school officials to reassess reopening plans.
“Upon receiving recent results, we began to make plans to send you home and continue instruction online, as we did last spring,” said Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins. His announcement was streamed online. “We have decided to take steps short of sending students home, at least for the time being, while protecting the health and safety of the campus community.”
The campus will close public spaces, and residence halls will be restricted to those living in them while students living off campus will not be allowed to come to campus for the two-week suspension period. The university will resume in-person classes if officials document a decrease in
Rev. Jenkins explained that the university will resume in-person instruction if the rate of infection is contained; otherwise, students will be sent home.
Michigan State University, which had planned to start the fall semester in early September, also announced this week it will transition to remote learning. MSU president Samuel L. Stanley was already backing off reopening plans in early August when he sent an email to students and families encouraging them to stay home if they can.
“If you can live safely and study successfully at home, we encourage you to consider that option for the fall semester,” he wrote. Stanley noted his encouragement was particularly directed at first year students who will have course schedules that are completely online.
Just in the past few days, college students at schools in North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Vermont, Kansas, Colorado, and at the Air Force Academy have tested positive for coronavirus.