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CDC Issues New Guidelines in Favor of Reopening Schools

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  • The CDC announced new guidelines on Thursday that heavily push for schools to reopen, citing the importance a school has on a child’s health and well being.
  • The CDC gives multiple reasons for the recommendation, notably that children are believed to be at low-risk of catching and spreading COVID-19.
  • The announcement comes at a time when the Trump Administration has threatened to withhold federal funding from school districts that refuse to allow in-person classes.
  • Despite the threat and CDC guidelines, some of the nation’s largest school districts will still only offer online classes for the foreseeable future.

CDC Plans to Reopen Schools

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines Thursday that heavily encourage a quick reopening of schools.

The guidelines emphasize the importance of school in a child’s life, stating, “Aside from a child’s home, no other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than their school.”

The move comes amid pressure from President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly said he was in favor of students returning to a classroom setting sooner rather than later.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there have been widespread concerns that reopening schools could lead to spikes in COVID-19 infection rates. The CDC preempted those concerns, writing, “The best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children. Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults.”

The agency added that minors only account for 7% of all COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1% of related deaths. Regarding whether or not this relatively low infection and death rate could be because students have been isolated since March, the CDC states, “Scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low. International studies that have assessed how readily COVID-19 spreads in schools also reveal low rates of transmission when community transmission is low.”

“Based on current data, the rate of infection among younger school children, and from students to teachers, has been low, especially if proper precautions are followed.  There have also been few reports of children being the primary source of COVID-19 transmission among family members.”

However, the agency does distance itself from any black and white statements, as they followed the prior statements with, “No studies are conclusive, but the available evidence provides reason to believe that in-person schooling is in the best interest of students…”

The Benefits of In-person Instruction

In general, the CDC pushed for students to go back to school not only because they believe the risk of infection is relatively low, but also because attending school has tangible benefits. To state the obvious, attending school means a better education for students. The agency emphasizes that “the need for in-person instruction is particularly important for students with heightened behavioral needs.”

Additionally, there are concerns that a lack of in-person instruction could mean that students experience an extended “summer-slide,” a well-documented phenomenon of students lacking skills they learned the year-prior by being out of the academic environment.

There were particular concerns for low-income students. The CDC notes that many students from low-income families often don’t have the infrastructure needed to facilitate at-home learning. For many, that includes a lack of consistent access to computers and stable internet. The guidelines point out, “Persistent achievement gaps that already existed before COVID-19, such as disparities across income levels and races, can worsen and cause serious, hard-to-repair damage to children’s education outcomes.”

The agency also notes that many families rely on schools to provide their children with proper nutritional needs. Over 30 million children are a part of the National School Lunch Program, while 15 million use the School Breakfast Program.

During the pandemic, schools have been providing many of these services to families; however, the agency claims the system is unlikely to be sustainable for the long-term, noting, “This is a particularly severe problem for the estimated 11 million food-insecure children, living in the United States.”

The new guidelines go on to list other reasons that the CDC justifies opening schools, including providing a safe environment for students who suffer from physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse, physical fitness needs, and a way to provide economic relief to parents and caretakers.

For many parents around the U.S., there are conflicts between their work schedule and when they can watch their children. School normally provides that supervised environment that allows parents to work without needing to worry about the well-being of their child.

Many economists and lawmakers have concerns that even if the economy could begin to grow again, it may be hampered by the limited availability of workers from families who need to choose between working or watching their children

Pushback From Unions and Districts

For many, the CDC’s guidelines come as a shock, as the agency has been a large proponent of shutting down facilities and many aspects of society to try and slow the COVID-19 infection rate. Yet, the guidelines come a week after the President was criticized by Democratic lawmakers for not having a school reopening plan in place.

They also come at a tense moment between the Trump Administration and some of the largest school districts in the nation. Trump has threatened to pull federal funding from school districts that refuse to reopen for in-person instruction, saying that the funds could be better used by parents to choose to send their kids to charter or private schools.

Yet, not everyone is convinced that schools should reopen sooner rather than later. The American Federation of Teachers pushed back against reopening schools freely.

Local teacher union leaders, such as John McEntee from the Paterson Education Association in New Jersey, the states third largest teacher union, asked Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to hold off reopening schools.“Our union would suggest, at the moment, to set a target date of January and see where they are. If you can’t meet the target, that’s another conversation. Maybe you set another one for after spring break,” he explained to NJ Advance Media.

New Jersey, along with many other states, is opting to reopen schools under a hybrid model. Students will attend classes with modifications such as social distancing, while parents who are uncomfortable with this can opt to have their children continue their education through online instruction.

Other districts, notably New York City, are looking at only opening one to three days a week as a way to slowly reintroduce students to an in-person school environment.

Some of the largest school districts in the nation, like Los Angeles and San Diego, are currently looking at online instruction only until furhter notice.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (CNN) (NYT Times)

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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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