Coronavirus Closes Schools. It's Unclear When Students Will Return
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Three-quarters of all K-12 students in the United States have had school canceled because of the coronavirus. This is according to the news organization Education Week. With millions of kids at home, one big question is on the minds of parents and teachers - when will it be safe for schools to reopen? Let's bring in NPR education correspondent Cory Turner. Hi, Cory.
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Hey, David.
GREENE: So what have you learned about what states are thinking about when they could get things back open again?
TURNER: Well, let's start with what we've heard over the last week from mayors and governors.
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CHARLIE BAKER: I'm ordering a three-week suspension...
ANDY BESHEAR: For at least the next two weeks.
GRETCHEN WHITMER: For three weeks.
BILL DE BLASIO: We will make a first attempt to restart our schools on Monday, April 20.
LAURA KELLY: Announce that I am ordering all K-12 schools to close and cease in-person instruction for the duration of the 2019-2020 school year.
TURNER: So David...
GREENE: Not a lot of agreement there.
TURNER: No. Obviously, it's been a huge range of closures, from two to three weeks, as we heard in Massachusetts, Kentucky and Michigan and a lot of other places; at least five weeks in New York City - we heard Mayor de Blasio in there; and then that last voice was Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, who announced just yesterday that her schools were going to close for the rest of the school year. And I should mention, also yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said he thought few, if any, California schools will be open before the summer break.
GREENE: So when it comes to how life should change, I mean, a lot of businesses, others have been taking their cues from the CDC. What is the CDC telling school leaders about what to do here?
TURNER: Well, honestly, that's part of the problem or at least part of the challenge. Early last week, it wasn't telling school leaders much at all. Worried parents were obviously pressuring school leaders to close.
And then Friday, after many states had already announced closures, CDC fleshed out its guidance. And the guidance really surprised a lot of school officials. It says, quote, "closing schools early in the spread of disease for a short time, like two weeks, will be unlikely to stem the spread of disease." The guidance also says schools should wait to close, quote, "later in the spread of disease." And here's the kicker - it says other countries that did close schools, like Hong Kong, have not had more success in reducing the spread than those that did not close schools, like Singapore.
GREENE: OK, that's totally confusing. So the CDC basically is saying you can close if you want, but it's not really going to help here?
TURNER: Something like that. And honestly, it actually got more confusing on Monday, when the White House released its own guidance, telling people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. So I spoke with Dan Domenech. He's head of The School Superintendents Association. And he told me his group was supposed to get some clarity from CDC yesterday with a promised briefing. Domenech told me he had 2,500 people sign up for this CDC webinar. But right before it was supposed to happen, CDC canceled. So I reached out to CDC to ask what happened.
TURNER: And they said in a statement, to avoid any confusion, CDC decided to fully adapt to the new guidance from the White House before doing a briefing with school superintendents; we are working to see if we can do a call in the future. In the meantime, Domenech told me yesterday he's not sure what school superintendents should think at this point.
DANIEL DOMENECH: Friday, we had guidance. Sunday night, we had guidance. Yesterday, we had guidance. And it's (laughter) - it is really, really, really confusing as to what it is that we should be doing.
GREENE: God, Cory, there are a lot of parents with a lot on the line here. Where does all of that leave us?
TURNER: Yeah. It's unclear. In CDC's defense, there is very little data out there on when is the right time to reopen schools. CDC does say that longer closures of eight to 20 weeks may have a greater impact. Several epidemiologists I spoke with said closing schools early was the right move and reopening in less than eight weeks is probably unrealistic. And now, obviously, we're hearing several city and state leaders say what seemed unthinkable - that schools may need to stay closed through the summer.
GREENE: NPR education correspondent Cory Turner. Thanks, Cory.
TURNER: Thanks, David.
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