Everything to know as students head back to class

Laveta Brigham

As students head back to classes this fall – online, in-person or a hybrid of the two – millions of families are walking a tightrope, trying to balance safety with continued academic growth. Most large public school districts have opted for fully online learning, but some have already returned to in-person classes and new […]

As students head back to classes this fall – online, in-person or a hybrid of the two – millions of families are walking a tightrope, trying to balance safety with continued academic growth.

Most large public school districts have opted for fully online learning, but some have already returned to in-person classes and new cases of COVID-19 have already been reported at schools in Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Colleges and universities, meanwhile, are increasingly altering earlier plans and opting for online fall semesters.

As the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. continues to evolve, we’re here to keep you updated on all the latest news and scientific developments. Check back for back-to-school resources, tips and tricks.

First, some resources: 

Can children get COVID-19?

Yes, children can catch COVID-19, but they are less likely to than adults. A study published in Science has shown that children under age 14 are between one-third and one-half as likely as adults to contract the virus. Another group of researchers looked at 2,000 children and teachers in schools around the German state of Saxony. Tests were carried out in several schools after reopening where there had been known outbreaks of the virus. There were few coronavirus antibodies among children and teachers indicating that only some of them had gotten the disease.

Around 7% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have been among children younger than 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, older Americans now represent a lower percentage of infections than they did at the start of the outbreak. Most schools around the country closed in March as the virus began to circulate more widely. That could explain why fewer children got sick.

– Karina Zaiets, Veronica Bravo and Jennifer Borresen

Will schools become hot spots for coronavirus spread?

Advocates for resuming school in person, including President Donald Trump, have repeatedly claimed that children pose less of a risk of spreading COVID-19, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

About 245,000 youth from birth to 17 have tested positive, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hundreds have transmitted the virus at summer camps and youth programs that have welcomed kids, often with the kinds of hygiene, masking and physical distancing rules proposed by many schools.

More than 300 cases have been linked to state child care facilities in California, 62 in Pennsylvania and 54 in North Carolina, according to data published by those states.

In Georgia, at least 260 people became infected in June at an overnight youth camp where the median age of campers was 12 and staff members 17, according to a CDC report. The first person – a teenage staffer – became sick two days after the first weeklong camp session. Officials started sending campers home the next day and closed the camp by the end of the week.

– Jayme Fraser and Dan Keemahill

Parents need to study up on ‘pandemic pods’

It’s hard to say when – or if – education will ever look the same. As COVID-19 case levels spike, schools across the country turn to remote learning for the start of the fall semester, and some families are “podding up.”

Learning pods, also dubbed “pandemic pods,” are small groups of families that agree to do supplementary learning or complete at-home coursework together. Sometimes they hire a tutor. Sometimes they share the supervision among parents.

Interest in additional, at-home educational support has flooded social media over the past few weeks. One Facebook group called “Pandemic Pods” had more than 27,000 members as of Sunday. 

In addition, Care.com,  a company that connects families with caregivers, has seen a 14% increase in families using keywords such as “part-time school,” “remote learning,” “former teacher” and “in-person tutor” in their job posts. Care.com has seen a 92% increase in families seeking shared care arrangements. 

– Wyatte Grantham-Philips

Will the pandemic will worsen existing educational inequalities?

Some parents are in a better position than others to ensure their children stay healthy and keep up with schoolwork, and researchers are raising questions about how the pandemic may exacerbate existing educational inequalities.

“Kids who are disproportionately low-income are at highest risk for learning losses,” said Ariel Kalil, a professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. “When these gaps in learning open up, absent some really serious and sustained intervention, the kids won’t (catch up). That will result in less academic achievement, lower lifetime earnings and even lower productivity in adulthood.”

USA TODAY spoke with more than a dozen families, and many agreed: It’s not safe to send kids back yet. But some parents can afford to hire personal tutors and buy new learning materials for their kids while they stay home from school. Others are more concerned about simply obtaining the tools needed to make online learning possible.

Colleges are increasingly going online for fall 2020 semester

Just as in the spring, college students have been left scrambling to adjust their class schedules and living arrangements, faced with paying expensive tuition for online classes and rent for an apartment they may not need. Digital classes are still unappealing to many, and the chances of in-person instruction for next semester remain murky.

At the end of July, Miami University in Ohio said all undergraduate classes would be held virtually through at least Sept. 21. West Virginia University announced its classes would start on Aug. 21, about a week later than originally planned, and that most upper-division courses would be taught online or through a hybrid of in-person and online courses. And George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said it was forgoing its plans for the fall semester and would hold undergraduate and most graduate classes online, joining colleges such as the California State University system and Harvard that had already made that decision.

– Chris Quintana

Colleges hope new rules will slow COVID-19 spread, but students aren’t convinced

Colleges have set new rules for student conduct, and but it’s unclear how universities will go about enforcing them, especially when the offensive behavior takes place off-campus – or overnight.

The University of Texas at Austin, for example, has banned parties, both on campus and off, saying they put “the health and safety of our community at risk and raise anxiety levels.”

Tulane University in New Orleans threatened suspension or expulsion for students who throw or attend parties that have more than 15 people and asked students to monitor and report on the behavior of their peers. “Do you really want to be the reason that Tulane and New Orleans have to shut down again?” the message to students concluded. 

University of Pennsylvania officials have asked that students refrain from organizing parties while prohibiting students on campus from having “guests” in their “personal space.” In regards to off-campus sleepovers, the university advised that students are “strongly discouraged” against hosting guests during the semester.

– Chris Quintana

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Back to school, COVID news for parents on virtual class, hybrid, pods

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