Kilmeade quickly defended Trump following the comment.
“Really?” Kilmeade said. “That’s hard to believe. Because the last president was saying I want every kid back in school.”
Remote learning and school reopening issues have been a major focus on Fox News for months, often in the context of public schools Democratic-majority cities lagging behind private schools in getting kids back to in-person instruction.
“Kids across the country are stuck learning on Zoom and begging to get back in the classroom,” Kilmeade said at the outset of the segment.
“Don’t blame yourself,” Kilmeade told a first year high school student at another point in the segment. “Blame your politicians and your unions.”
By now, research clearly supports the idea that schools can safely resume in-person learning in the US.
A January study of 11 school districts in North Carolina identified just 32 coronavirus infections in schools over nine weeks. Similarly, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detected minimal transmission among K-12 schools in Wood County, Wisconsin.
In an opinion article last month, CDC researchers even called for schools to reopen, with a few ground rules: Masks should be worn at all times. Social distancing should be upheld. And indoor sports practices and competitions should be limited.
But a few political obstacles stand in the way.
For one, many US school districts lack the funding to improve their buildings’ ventilation systems, routinely test teachers and staff, or reduce classroom sizes so students remain six feet apart – measures that would make parents and teachers more comfortable with in-person learning.
The CDC’s threshold for resuming full in-person instruction is also tough for most counties to meet right now, since it requires low levels of community transmission. That means that in some states, reopenings have been delayed even though they might be relatively safe for students and teachers.
Then there’s the lingering issue of mask resistance. In states like Georgia or Iowa, classrooms are already open, but many school districts haven’t enforced strict mask policies. That leaves students and teachers at higher risk of infection, which could potentially force schools to close again.
“We’ve had a lot of issues with reopening based on science,” Kavita Patel, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Insider. “I’d love to see a world where there is a little bit more of a practical engagement of the states and mayors with the scientists.”
Polarization around school mask policies
Stances on school reopenings have increasingly fallen into two polarized camps, according to Daniel Benjamin, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Duke University: There’s either a general neglect for safety measures, or too much risk aversion.
At one end of the spectrum, Benjamin told Insider, “you have schools that are paralyzed by fear. They just don’t have the political will to open, despite the fact that if you do mitigation strategies, it’s safer for kids and adults to be in school than to be in the community.”
Then there’s the group at the other end.
“They don’t believe in masking,” Benjamin said. “They don’t have the backup of the [school] board. They don’t have the backup of the superintendent. The parents tell the kids don’t wear a mask in school. Masking is not enforced in the schools. And that’s dangerous. That’s not a good plan.”
A November ProPublica analysis found that 11 states were not requiring students to wear masks, even when gathered indoors or at sporting events.
Benjamin suggested that instead, schools should use face coverings as an incentive for in-person learning.
“It’s super simple: If you don’t want to mask, we have an alternative for you. You can learn remotely,” he said. “Schools that are closed right now can really leverage that as a part of reopening.”
A lack of funding for safety measures
President Joe Biden has set a goal of reopening the majority of K-8 public schools in his first 100 days in office – roughly by the end of April.
His proposed coronavirus relief plan would allocate $130 billion to help primary schools reopen with the appropriate safety precautions. Congress will likely vote on the final legislation in mid-March. If the funding is approved, schools could use it to improve ventilation, reduce class sizes, hire more janitors, distribute personal protective equipment, or modify classroom layouts for social distancing.
Many schools are waiting on this funding before reopening to avoid putting teachers or other staff at risk. Teachers’ unions across the country are also pushing for safety assurances before in-person learning resumes – that classrooms are well-ventilated, community transmission is low, or vaccines are more widely available to school staff.
Earlier this month, Philadelphia teachers held virtual classes outdoors in frigid weather to protest the city’s school reopening plan, which included using windows and fans, rather than mechanical ventilation, to circulate air.
Chicago teachers also refused to report to classrooms unless the city met their safety demands – such as more frequent cleaning of classrooms and permission for teachers with high-risk family members to continue working remotely. And in Montclair, New Jersey, the local teachers union called for all educators to be vaccinated before resuming in-person learning.
The longer schools wait to establish and implement their safety plans, the higher the costs to students.
A lack of access to school meals has put millions of households at increased risk of food insecurity, according to an October report. An analysis from McKinsey & Company suggests that American students, on average, are likely to lose five to nine months’ worth of learning by June due to the pandemic. Already this fall, a report found that student achievement in math in grades 3-8 was 5 to 10 percentile points lower than before the pandemic.
“This is all expected and known when you have kids out of school for an entire year – millions of kids – that there would be devastating consequences,” Joseph Allen, director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings Program, told NPR last week. “Our country has not treated it like the emergency it is.”
The CDC’s strict reopening guidelines
The CDC’s guidelines about when it’s safe for kids to return to school pose an added challenge for districts looking to reopen.
The agency recommends that counties either see fewer than 50 weekly COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people or have test-positivity rates below 8% before fully reopening K-12 schools – thresholds that are often hard to meet. Even though cases are declining across the US, around 14 states still have test positivity rates above 8%, and 35 states are seeing at least 105 weekly cases per 100,000 people, on average, according to data from the New York Times.
“Wake up call to parents – if schools start following this new guidance strictly, kids are not getting back to full-time school,” Allen told NPR.
Many states have not prioritized restrictions that could lower cases, thereby giving schools a better chance of meeting the CDC guidelines. Restaurants and bars, venues known to easily facilitate coronavirus transmission, are open in most of the country while many schools remain closed. Infectious-disease experts say that doesn’t make sense.
“As we look at the school setting itself, it’s somewhere that you can have some control over whether kids are wearing masks and whether kids are physically distanced,” Dr. Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at University of Florida, told Insider. “It’s probably more of those outside [of school] activities that could contribute to transmission.”
The CDC’s own instructions say that “K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.”
Some states, however, have reopened schools without following that guidance or meeting the CDC case thresholds. Effective last week, Iowa’s K-12 schools are required to offer in-person learning for all students who want to return to the classroom, even though the state has a test-positivity rate of around 13%. Arkansas, Florida, and Texas have also ordered schools to allow students back inside.
President Joe Biden said in an interview that aired on Sunday that long-term school closures and women leaving the workforce during the coronavirus pandemic are “a national emergency.”
While speaking with “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell at the White House, Biden also voiced concern about the mental health crisis that has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
O’Donnell noted that roughly 20 million schoolchildren have been out of the classroom since for almost a year, and a recent CBS News report showed that nearly 3 million women have dropped out of the labor force since last year.
“It is a national emergency,” Biden said of all three issues. “It genuinely is a national emergency.”
When asked if schools should reopen, Biden stressed that they should reopen cautiously.
“I think it’s time for schools to reopen safely,” he said. “Safely. You have to have fewer people in the classroom. You have to have ventilation systems that have been reworked.”
“Our CDC commissioner [Rochelle Walensky] is going to be coming out with science-based judgment, within I think as early as Wednesday as to lay out what the minimum requirements are,” the president added.
Last month, Biden signed an executive order for the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to devise guidelines to reopen schools safely within his first 100 days in office.
Biden said that he and his staff have had to get a handle on the work left by former President Donald Trump’s administration when it came to the rollout of vaccines.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease expert, said, in order to reach herd immunity, about 75% of Americans will need to be vaccinated.
O’Donnell said CBS News calculated that it would take until the end of 2021 to reach that level at the current vaccination rate of 1.3 million doses a day.
“We can’t wait that long,” Biden said. “One of the disappointments was when we came into office is the circumstance relating to how the administration was handling COVID was even more dire than we thought. We thought that indicated there was a lot more vaccine available, and that didn’t turn out to be the case. That’s why we’ve ramped up everywhere we can.”
He added: “But the idea that this can be done and we can get to herd immunity much before the end of this summer is very difficult.”
Since the pandemic began in the US, nearly 27 million people have been infected and over 463,000 people have died, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The fifth-largest school district in the US introduces a plan to phase students back to in-person learning after a rise in student suicides even as COVID-19 cases in the region rise, The New York Times reported.
As of December, the Clark County school district in Las Vegas, Nevada had 18 student suicides compared to the nine suicides the district saw in the past year. The school district ranked the fifth largest in the country, according to data from the US Census Bureau.
“When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn’t just the Covid numbers we need to look at anymore,” Jesus Jara, the Clark County superintendent, told the Times. “We have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, to see them, to look at them.”
“They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope,” Jara continued.
In a statement, the district said it would allow schools to bring back “high-need students” as soon as possible. Teachers and principals would determine who is in most need of in-person learning, and the process will be invite-only and voluntary.
Jara told the Times that the youngest student to died was nine years old. Another student left a note that said they nothing to look forward to.
Greta Massetti, who studies the effects of violence and trauma on children at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Times that, with students being out of school, they were missing out on mental health resources that have since been limited.
“Without in-person instruction, there is a gap that is right now being unfilled,” Massetti said.
However, Clark County and other districts have looked to fill the gap of resources. After their sixth suicide in July, the district got the GoGuardian Beacon alert system which scans student writings on district-issued iPads for suicide risk. They got more than 3,000 alerts in the next few months.
By November, the district upgraded to 24-hour monitoring and tracked severe cases that were most likely to act on suicidal thoughts.
“I couldn’t sleep with my phone nearby anymore,” Jara said. “It was like a 24-hour reminder that we need to get our schools open.”
It’s hard to decisively link an increase in suicide rates to school closures and data on adolescent suicide rates for 2020 has yet to be compiled. However, a CDC study found that across the country between April and October of 2020 the percentage of emergency room visits that were for mental health reasons increased by 24% for those between the ages of 5-11 and 31% for those between the ages of 12-17.
In November, the district was able to intervene when a 12-year-old student searched up “how to make a noose” on a school-issued iPad, local news outlet KSNV reported.
The boy’s grandfather told the outlet that the student actually made one out of shoestrings and had it around his neck when his father found him after the school reached out.
“His parents asking, ‘what, why?'” he grandfather, only identified as Larry, told KSNV. “And really what are – the only things they got out of him was, ‘I miss my friends. I don’t have friends.'”
“We can teach our children in safe schools,” Biden said. “We can overcome the deadly virus.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.