Detroit Public Schools invited students to in-person summer classes this week during the coronavirus pandemic and immediately faced demonstrations that wound up with some arrests of protesters and a lawsuit aiming to get the classes to shut down. The protesters said the district was using children as “guinea pigs.”
In Westwood, Mass., a summer school employee who didn’t feel well tested negative for COVID-19 and returned to her job working with students with disabilities — only to learn she really had the disease, WCBV reported. The Westwood Schools superintendent said in a statement that “her exposure to students was limited to a three-hour block” and noted that she was wearing personal protective equipment.
There is risk even in providing virtual instruction. In Arizona, a 63-year-old teacher with asthma and lupus working from school to provide virtual lessons to students at home contracted COVID-19 and died. Two other teachers she had been working with in the same classroom were infected as well though it isn’t known with certainty whether any of them infected the others. All of the teachers wore masks, gloves and used hand sanitizer, NBC News reported.
As school districts across the country struggle to make final plans about whether and how to open schools for the 2020-21 academic year, they are getting some real-time examples of what can happen when students return to school buildings.
Superintendents are trying to balance health concerns with the need for students to get back to school while, in some areas, COVID-19 infection rates are spiking. School leaders are under pressure from President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reopen fully in the fall even as some major school systems have decided they can’t do so safely and have announced they will start the new school year virtually. Those include Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta and Chicago.
While some districts are offering virtual summer school, with students staying at home, others are offering in-person instruction. In some areas, classes have taken place (and some child-care centers have opened) without reported incidents.
Experiences with summer school are test runs for how things could go in the fall if students return to school — and how schools respond to COVID-19 infections reported in their communities.
In Quincy, Mass., where two summer school teachers were diagnosed with COVID-19, Anthony Andronico, vice chair for the school committee, was quoted by the Patriot Ledger as saying that those diagnoses will inform what happens in the fall in the school district.
“We knew we were going to experience things like this — that people were going to get COVID[-19] — but I was surprised by how quickly a case was identified,” he said. “This is a learning moment for us as a school committee to look closely at how we are going to go forward with school in the fall.”
In Billings, Mont., masks were mandated for children attending summer school, and Greg Upham, superintendent of School District Two, said that students returning to school in the fall will wear masks as well. The decision came as COVID-19 infection rates are rising in the state.
“Seeing the increase in the cases, I think we need to continue to work to mitigate those, social distancing, masking and washing our hands are the three big ones, and we need to continue to work to improve,” he was quoted as saying by KULR8.
In the Mosinee school district in central Wisconsin, a summer school program closed for the day Friday for deep cleaning after an employee was found to be infected with the coronavirus, according to the Wausau Pilot & Review.
In Osseo, Wis., some staff members at Crestview Elementary School complained that the district was not following proper COVID-19 procedures and walked out of the summer school program, WCCO reported, adding that teachers said they had agreed to work assuming that safety protocols were adequate.
Detroit summer school began June 13, and protesters carrying signs such as “OUR CHILDREN ARE NOT GUINEA PIGS!!” blocked school buses from leaving a bus yard that day and for several days after, making it impossible for some of them to leave and pick up children. On Thursday, police arrested 11 protesters after giving them warnings.
A lawsuit was filed asking that summer school be shut down, and a hearing is to be held Friday, after a judge Thursday denied a request for a temporary restraining order.