Battle to fully reopen schools in fall intensifies

The White House repeated its calls today to have schools reopen in the fall for in-person, daily instruction. The topic was the main focus of a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing in Washington on Wednesday. 

"We want to get our kids back. We want to get them back in the classroom, we want our teachers in the front of the classrooms," said Vice President Mike Pence. "It is imperative every state and territory in the U.S. take steps to get kids back in the classroom to the fullest extent possible. Every state has the ability to do that."

Pence said the Centers for Disease Control will be issuing new guidance next week, and a five-part series of recommendations for schools to reopen. 

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos echoed those calls, citing recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

"Keeping schools closed places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity, and in some cases, mortality," DeVos read from the AAP guidance. "The pediatrics guidance concluded that everyone should start with the goal of having students physically present in school."

Yesterday, at a National Education Meeting, President Trump suggested federal funding for schools could be at stake if they do not fully reopen. Today, the Vice President struck a milder tone.

"As we work with congress on the next round of support, we're going to be looking at ways to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back to school," he said.

But Troy Flint, Chief Information Officer with the California School Board Association said that state and federal leaders have not given school districts the resources needed to make daily, in-class instruction a reality.

"You have the highest, most-powerful political leaders in the state and in the country, saying we need to go back to school on campus, full-time, or close to it, yet they're not providing anything close to the resources needed to make that a success.

The CSBA represents more than 1,000 school districts and county education offices throughout California. Flint said in a recent survey of the group's members, about 70 percent of districts are planning on starting the academic year with a hybrid model - where students will spend part of their day or week in class, and part, learning at home.

Flint said most school districts in the state begin the school year in about five weeks, and switching to all in-person instruction is not realistic.

"How are we going to get sanitation stations? How are we going to do deep cleaning that has to be done on a regular basis," He said. "Is there going to be sufficient PPE? Masks, gloves, for every school in California, for the next, year or it could be 18 months?" 

Even though schools do get some federal funding, most of it comes from states and localities. The decisions about how to reopen schools is mostly made at the local level.

California lawmakers passed AB 77, a bill that requires districts to provide a specific amount of daily instruction for students in order to receive state funding. However, it's unclear how much of that instruction needs to be in class, as opposed to online.

There is a growing amount of medical evidence that a majority of children don't get seriously ill from COVID-19, but teachers and staff members are concerned about their safety and potential exposure to the virus.

The CSBA said roughly a third of California teachers are over age 50.