How Will Schools Reopen In The Fall After Coronavirus Closures : Coronavirus Updates The U.S. Senate's education committee grappled with the challenges public schools face as they prepare to reopen safely in the fall.

Senate Panel Asks: When Can K-12 Schools Safely Reopen?

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When can America's schools safely reopen? That is a question on my mind, on the minds of millions of parents, caregivers, not to mention on the minds of kids right now. It was also the subject of a congressional hearing today before the Senate's education committee. Well, NPR's Cory Turner was listening in. He joins me now with, I hope, maybe (laughter) an answer or two to that burning question.

Cory, hey there.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: A few answers, though I think it goes without saying that they are all complicated.

KELLY: All right. Well, let's start with the safety recommendations that schools are trying to figure out and navigate right now. What is it going to take to reopen in the fall?

TURNER: Sure. They'll need to work with state and local leaders, I think, first and foremost, to make sure that they have testing in place as well as contact tracing. They're going to need to hire extra nurses, also custodial staff to keep K-12 classrooms clean. There's also been talk of schools hiring aides to take kids' temperatures before they get on school buses. And then there are, of course, the supplies - the masks, the sanitizer, thermometers. It is a very long list.

KELLY: Yeah, it does sound like the back-to-school supply list just got a lot longer. Do we have any idea how much this is all going to cost, and can school districts afford it all?

TURNER: We do, actually. One recent analysis estimated that for the average sized district, these extra costs could add up to about $1.8 million per district. But the one thing, Mary Louise, that we really have to keep in mind here is that these extra costs are coming at the same time as states are having to slash their education spending because of the recession and...

KELLY: Exactly.

TURNER: ...The recent shutdown. So, you know, several experts told senators today in this hearing, schools are going to need extra federal funding.

KELLY: So what does all this mean in terms of whether students are actually likely to go back to school come fall?

TURNER: I think it means in many places that they won't, at least not full-time. Kids will likely, again in many places, divide their time between in-person learning at school and remote learning continuing at home. One of the panelists today was Susana Cordova, the head of Denver's public schools. Here's what she said.

SUSANA CORDOVA: We've shared three draft options that offer a mix of in-person and remote learning with all students having a minimum of 40% in-person learning.

TURNER: So a minimum of 40% in-person learning. She also said, though, that vulnerable students would receive a full extra day of in-person instruction each week. And then Nebraska's education commissioner said that infection rates in a given district are going to play a big role in determining, again, whether or not schools stay online or can resume in person.

KELLY: And the thing about remote learning is it was cobbled together on the fly so quickly. If it is likely that a lot of districts are going to have to keep doing at least some remote learning, was there talk today of how to make it better, of improving it?

TURNER: This was a huge subject today, Mary Louise. In fact, it kind of overshadowed the talk of the COVID safety precautions. And it was all kind of framed by these ongoing protests over police violence against black Americans. Several lawmakers and experts highlighted recent research that suggests students of color have suffered incredible learning losses that are just going to compound disparities that were already pervasive in our education system. Democratic Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota noted that the difference in academic achievement between black and white students in her state was already unacceptably large. And she said we have a moral responsibility to not look away from this. So a lot of work left to be done, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That is NPR's Cory Turner.

Thank you, Cory.

TURNER: Thank you.

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