Melbourne Starts 6 Week Lockdown; Ideas For How To Reopen Schools : Consider This from NPR The Australian state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne, just started a new six-week lockdown. The state just recorded a record number of new daily cases: 191.

Education and public health experts agree it's important that kids get back to school in the fall. The question is how to do it safely. NPR's Anya Kamenetz reports on some radical ideas for reopening.

Some experts say there's increasing evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through particles that travel through the air when we breathe. The World Health Organization has been cautious about confirming that idea.

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Ideas For Reopening Schools; Evidence Of Airborne Spread

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Ideas For Reopening Schools; Evidence Of Airborne Spread

Ideas For Reopening Schools; Evidence Of Airborne Spread

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Melbourne, Australia, just started a six-week lockdown after clusters of new cases of coronavirus were found there. Police are stationed at roadblocks. People going out for anything other than work, groceries or exercise can be fined over 7,000 American dollars or even incarcerated up to six months.


DANIEL ANDREWS: If we were to fail to take those steps, then it'll quickly spiral well and truly out of control.

MCEVERS: Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said he was following advice from public health officials after the state clocked a record 191 new infections in 24 hours, 191 cases per day in the whole state. Melbourne alone, the capital, has 5 million people. The state of Florida, which is four times larger, is averaging 45 times as many cases a day.


ANDREWS: We have to be clear with each other that this is not over. And pretending that it is because we all want it to be over is not the answer. It is indeed part of the problem, a very big part of the problem.

MCEVERS: Coming up, ideas to make school easier on parents and teachers in the fall. This is CONSIDER THIS from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Tuesday, July 7.

Almost everyone agrees it is really important to get kids back to school in the fall.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Everybody wants it. The moms want it. The dads want it. The kids want it. It's time to do it.

MCEVERS: President Trump and the first lady had a national dialogue at the White House today about reopening schools.


TRUMP: So we're very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open.

MCEVERS: But how is that actually going to happen, especially now, with cases surging in so many states? My colleague, NPR host Ailsa Chang, is going to take it from here.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Basically, it's going to depend on where you live. If, in the fall, you live somewhere that looks like some parts of Arizona, Texas or Florida does now, it's really hard to imagine kids or teachers coming back to the classroom safely even if politicians and parents are pushing for it.


ANTHONY FAUCI: The CDC has guidelines about the opening of schools at various stages.

CHANG: But, you know, if you live someplace where the virus is not out of control, Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week that there are things that can make going back to school possible.


FAUCI: If you are in an area where you have a certain amount of infection dynamics, there are things that can creatively be done about modifying things like the school schedule - alternate days, morning versus evening, allowing under certain circumstances an online virtual lesson.

CHANG: And he was saying the longer kids are out of school, the higher the cost in terms of their mental development and their physical health.


FAUCI: It is very important to get the children back to school for the unintended negative consequences that occur when we keep them out of school.

CHANG: I mean, for a lot of kids, school is literally the safest place to be during the day, and sometimes it's the only place where they can get a full meal. But if kids cannot be back in school, which would make it impossible for parents to really get back to work, the question is how does the economy restart? Can it ever resemble normal?


CLAUDIA GOLDIN: We have some information that shows - surprise, surprise - the workload of parents has increased astronomically.

CHANG: Claudia Goldin is a professor of economics at Harvard University, and she says keeping kids at home all spring meant way more work for parents, especially for moms.


GOLDIN: That, for mothers, has increased to a degree that it's very difficult to find uninterrupted time to do their work if they're working at home.

CHANG: And those are the lucky ones. Tens of millions of essential workers can't work from home at all, which means many of them need child care. So for all these reasons we've been talking about, everyone wants schools to open up again in the fall. But, again, how do they do that? It's going to mean things like smaller class sizes, staggered schedules and some online learning mixed in. But it could also mean even more than that. I mean, NPR's Anya Kamenetz has been talking to people who say school districts and parents should take this opportunity to go an even more radical direction.


CHANG: So what does radical mean in this context?

ANYA KAMENETZ: So we're at this point where some really, really big changes are already baked in, right? And at the same time, there is a massive potential budget shortfall in public schools with state...

CHANG: Right.

KAMENETZ: ...And local budgets being what they are, right?

CHANG: Yeah.

KAMENETZ: So the question is can you improve learning and also social and emotional outcomes without spending too much money to do it? And one example I found is parent coaching.

CHANG: Parent coaching - OK, tell us more about that.

KAMENETZ: So this spring, according to the Census Bureau, parents spent already about 13 hours a week assisting their children with this...


KAMENETZ: ...Emergency remote learning.

CHANG: Yeah.

KAMENETZ: And this is likely to continue to some extent in the fall because of these learning - blended learning schedules, right? And, you know, this is a massive source of inequity because parents have widely ranging amounts of time, energy, education, preparation. So the question is could we help all parents teach their kids better?

ALEJANDRO GIBES DE GAC: Until we support and equip families in their child's learning journey, we're not going to make meaningful progress toward addressing educational inequity in America.

KAMENETZ: So that's Alejandro Gibes de Gac. He's the founder of Springboard Collaborative, which is a nonprofit that coaches family members - mostly low-income immigrant families - to help children improve their reading. And they have found that these students make really great strides even when the parents can't read the text that the child is holding. And so right now in the pandemic, Springboard is partnering with Teach for America so that thousands of their new recruits are going to be working remotely right now to coach parents to, in turn, become reading coaches for their kids.

CHANG: Wow. OK, so people are trying to figure out ways to support learning going forward. But what about this thing we keep hearing about, the COVID slide? Are there any ideas to help students catch up?

KAMENETZ: Yes. So remember; there was no state standardized testing this year. And so school districts are kind of flying blind. They know that kids are coming back at very different places. But how do you figure out where they are and help them catch up? So I talked to Sal Khan. He's the founder of Khan Academy, which is a free online platform with math and other lessons. As you can imagine, they've had an explosion of use - 80 to 90 million minutes a day on their platform, around 30 million students. Yeah. And so what's exciting to Khan now is that they're building what they're calling ready-for-grade-level courses. And so they're kind of combining assessment with remediation. So without taking too much time, you can figure out where the kids are and also help them practice the stuff that they missed.

CHANG: OK - so a lot of ideas circulating out there. But are you hearing anything that's actually outside the box?

KAMENETZ: I have, Ailsa. You know, in recent years, about 3% of American children have been homeschooled - a pretty small number. But with the pandemic going on, a recent USA Today/Ipsos poll found 60% of parents say they're likely to continue with home-based learning in some form. And, you know, if you think about it, like, where my kids are in New York City, they're talking about staggered schedules - maybe one week on, one week off. So there's the question. What do you do with the kids the rest of the time? And parents are looking at things like microschooling (ph) - you know, hiring a teacher, having a one-room schoolhouse or teaming up with other families, forming a homeschool co-op.

I talked to Krystal Dillard. She's the director of Natural Creativity, which is a resource center for homeschooled kids that serves a really diverse community in Philadelphia. And, you know, it's a pretty radical approach. So students are self-directed. They design their own learning plans. There's no set curriculum. And she says that during these school shutdowns, she's hearing from more and more new parents who haven't considered this option before. But they've been reaching out to her to say...

KRYSTAL DILLARD: This isn't working. This is not working. And I don't feel that my young person is being served through this virtual learning world that they're sort of being forced into.

CHANG: So circumstances are really making a lot of families think about trying something that's really, really different from what they've done before.


MCEVERS: NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz talking to my colleague, NPR host Ailsa Chang.

There are still questions about how the coronavirus spreads, whether it is primarily through droplets when someone sneezes or coughs or whether there's also aerosol spread. That's smaller particles that travel through the air when we breathe. But the World Health Organization has drawn a lot of criticism for focusing too much on droplets.


JOSH SANTARPIA: What we are asking them to do is consider the fact that this coronavirus at least has the potential to be spread in an airborne fashion and that we should be doing something to protect against that.

MCEVERS: Microbiologist Josh Santarpia from University of Nebraska Medical Center was one of hundreds of scientists who signed a letter this week to the WHO, urging them to update their stance on the virus. Countries all over the world listen to what the WHO says. Their take matters, especially when each country is responding to the virus in such different ways. But the WHO has been reluctant to agree that the evidence for airborne transmission is solid.


SANTARPIA: I think there's a real concern about spreading a lot of fear and panic among people. But I think there's some good studies out there. I still think it's difficult to say how much of a factor it is. But if you ignore it altogether, then you don't really make any progress.

MCEVERS: Josh Santarpia talked to Mary Louise Kelly on All Things Considered. In response to the letter he signed, the WHO said today it acknowledged emerging evidence of airborne spread.

Additional reporting in this episode came from NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. You can write to us at

I'm Kelly McEvers. We will be back with more tomorrow.

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