School Report Card: Schools 'assign' students to play in the snow, some teachers may leave profession thanks to pandemic

Korin Miller
·11 min read
People enjoy an afternoon of sledding at New York's Central Park on Thursday.
People enjoy an afternoon of sledding at New York's Central Park on Thursday. Some educators earned praise for asking students to play outside. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Educators ‘assign’ students to play outside on snow days

With remote learning happening across the country, a heavy snowfall no longer guarantees a day off from school. But some school administrators insisted this week that kids take a real snow day.

In West Virginia’s Jefferson County Schools, superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson urged families this week to enjoy the “first snow day of the year” in a letter shared on the district’s Facebook page. “It has been a year of seemingly endless loss and the stress of trying to make up for that loss,” Gibson wrote the night before the snow day. “For just a moment, we can all let go of the worry of making up for the many things we missed by making sure this is one thing our kids won’t lose this year.”

Gibson, who did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment, ended on this note: “We will return to the serious and urgent business of growing up on Thursday but for tomorrow…go build a snowman.”

In Indiana’s Mt. Vernon School District, students were given this assignment on Wednesday: Go play in the snow. This was a direct order from school superintendent Jack Parker, who jokingly phrased the request like a real assignment.

“Students will use the scientific process in planning appropriate clothing to remain warm and dry while spending time outside,” he wrote in an email to parents. “Once the hypothesis has been identified, and appropriate attire has been secured, students will be expected to test their theory by going outdoors and playing in the snow.” They were also urged to “practice the skills of estimation and measurement when throwing snowballs at one another while maintaining a minimum of six feet distance with others outside of your household.”

Students were also encouraged to share pictures from their snow day on the district’s Facebook page. Parker tells Yahoo Life that he decided to urge the district to take a snow day because students, staff and parents have been “working incredibly hard supporting one another and providing grace when things are not perfect.”

“This was important to our community as our students needed to recharge their physical and emotional batteries,” Parker says. “They have missed out on many opportunities during this pandemic, but they did not miss out on playing in the first snowfall of the year.”

Parker says feedback from the community was “astoundingly positive,” adding, “it’s the simple things in life that need to be celebrated during challenging times.”

More than a quarter of teachers are considering quitting because of COVID-19

More than a quarter of teachers — 27 percent — say they’re considering quitting because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey from the Horace Mann Educators Corporation, the largest financial services company focused on providing American educators and school employees with insurance and retirement solutions.

The survey polled a nationally representative group of 1,240 educators, including public school K-12 teachers, administrators and support personnel.

“We are super-exposed to the virus. I see 50 students from different households every day. If I contract the virus and cannot work, I do not get paid,” a second-grade teacher says in the report.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents said that they did not feel secure or only somewhat secure about their district’s health and safety precautions.

But it’s not just fear of contracting the virus that’s a concern: Teachers are working much more for the same amount of pay. The survey found that 77 percent of educators say they’re spending more time working than they were a year ago. As a result, more than 60 percent said they enjoy their jobs less than they did this time last year. “The challenge to retain talented educators will only become increasingly difficult when compounded by increased workloads and declining job satisfaction,” the report’s authors concluded.

Superintendent Matt Malone watches fourth-grade teacher Amber Moukhtarian instruct her students via Zoom at Mary L. Fonseca Elementary School in Massachusetts.
Superintendent Matt Malone watches fourth-grade teacher Amber Moukhtarian instruct her students via Zoom at Mary L. Fonseca Elementary School in Massachusetts. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Schools are shelling out a lot to keep students safe

Schools across the country need to spend big to keep in-person students safe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report, which analyzed school budget estimates based on CDC protocols and student enrollment, found that the cost per student to implement safety strategies ranged from $55 for materials and things that need to be regularly replaced to $442, when the cost of additional custodial staff members and potential additional transportation is factored in.

Incremental costs across states range from an additional 0.3 percent to 7.1 percent more needed above the fiscal year 2018 school spending per student. “The cost estimates illustrate the level of resources needed to help ensure that schools both reopen and operate in the safest possible manner,” the report’s authors concluded.

Meanwhile, a recent Washington Post op-ed argued that we’re “overcleaning” surfaces during the pandemic. The professors — Joseph G. Allen, an associate professor and director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Charles Haas, a professor of environmental engineering at Drexel University; and Linsey C. Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech — pointed out that there are no documented cases of a person getting COVID-19 from touching an infected surface. As a result, they questioned why people are spending “a small fortune to deep clean our offices, schools, subways and buses.”

Dr. John Sellick, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo/SUNY in New York, agrees that the virus is “primarily spread through the airborne route,” making surface cleaning less of a concern. Cleaning will “only do so much” to help minimize the spread, he tells Yahoo Life, adding, “routine cleaning is good; going overboard is not very smart.” Overall, Sellick says, money is best spent “making sure that kids have good masks and to use air purifiers with HEPA filters.”

But Dr. Lawrence C. Kleinman, professor of pediatrics and vice chair at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells Yahoo Life that “the money needs to be spent.” While Kleinman says that school administrators “could be more thoughtful and efficient about where we’re cleaning,” that also “asks people to make judgments on an ongoing basis that may not be fair and may make the job harder for people.”

“Disinfecting is important, cleaning services are important, good ventilation is incredibly important,” he says. “It may not be that every surface needs to be cleaned every time, but surfaces that get breathed on, touched, and handled regularly do need to be.”

A Florida school district has suspended all athletic activities until 2021 after 50 student-athletes tested positive for COVID-19

Florida’s Polk County Public Schools will be without sports until at least Jan. 4 after 50 athletes tested positive for COVID-19. The infected students were across several sports, including cheerleading, basketball, soccer, wrestling and weightlifting.

The school district noted in a news release that many precautions were taken with sports before the decision was made, including limiting attendance at competitions and requiring face coverings among spectators, student-athletes and coaches.

“It was a very tough decision,” Dan Talbot, senior coordinator of athletics at Polk County Public Schools, tells Yahoo Life. “We decided to pause athletic operations in Polk County Public Schools due to the significant increase in positive cases amongst our student-athletes during the winter sports.”

Polk County Public Schools, which enrolls students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, has had in-person learning since Aug. 24, according to the school calendar.

COVID-19 cases in Florida are increasing again after a summer spike, with 13,164 residents testing positive for the virus on Wednesday, according to data from the state’s department of health. Polk County has seen 32,432 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the county.

Talbot said the district had been “closely monitoring” the health of student-athletes and noticed “an alarming amount of cases from one event” — a wrestling competition that was held in early December. “The tournament had nine schools. Every school but one ended up with a positive case,” Talbot says. “Overall, there were 24 positive cases from the tournament. In addition, we saw positive cases also developing in other sports. We felt that it was important to do our part to protect our student-athletes and entire community by pausing practices and competitions until Jan. 4.”

Polk County Public Schools’ winter break begins Dec. 21. Students return to school on Jan. 5.

Team sports in general increase the risk of contracting COVID-19, but “contact sports or ones where people are touching one another or breathing on each other are high-risk,” Kleinman says. (In the case of weightlifting, he says being in a confined space or touching infected surfaces is potentially problematic.) However, open-air sports where student-athletes can space out, like cross-country running, tennis and golf have a lower risk, Sellick says.

Talbot says that this is just a “momentary pause” and that practices and competition will resume on Jan. 4. “We believe this pause in operations will provide the necessary time for everyone to get healthy and be ready to resume play,” he says.

Most doctors would or do send their children to in-person learning

A poll of nearly 400 doctors worldwide found that the majority — six out of 10 — say they either send their children to do in-person learning during the pandemic or would if given the chance.

The survey, which was conducted by SurveyHealthcareGlobus (SHG), a health care data collection and custom survey solutions company, also found that 56 percent of respondents say it’s crucial for children and teens to return to in-person learning for proper social development. At the same time, 24 percent of those surveyed said they felt it was unfair to expose teachers, school staff and communities to the virus through in-person learning at this point in the pandemic.

Several doctors tell Yahoo Life that they also prefer in-person learning.

“I have two young children, and both are doing in-person learning,” Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life. “Current evidence suggests there is a low risk of transmission of COVID-19 in schools and a low chance of young children spreading it to adults.” But, Watkins says, “everyone has to balance the risks and benefits, and the risk isn’t zero.”

Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., lives in Los Angeles County, where remote learning is mandated and COVID-19 case counts have skyrocketed. But, if given the option and better case counts, she tells Yahoo Life that she would prefer in-person schooling. “If the numbers were not so bad, I would be happy to send my son to school, especially because he’s [younger] than 10 years old,” she says. “I know that the school district is very serious about making safety precautions and, as long as they are doing that, I don’t see any reason why we can’t send our youngest kids back to school. That is where they are going to do the best.”

Kleinman also sends his 3-year-old daughter to do in-person schooling. “We were going to send her to a place that seemed to do a very good job with [COVID-19 safety] but then they had a teacher quit and the class size got up to 14 … that crossed a threshold for us,” he says. So, Kleinman’s daughter now goes to a school at his temple. “The class size is small and they’re running it very carefully,” he says. “The details matter.”

But not every doctor feels comfortable with in-person schooling. Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an ob-gyn in Texas, tells Yahoo Life that she formed a pod with a few other families and plans to continue it for next semester as well. “I prefer at-home learning because it eliminates the exposure risk for now and also minimizes the amount of people the teacher has to encounter daily,” she says. “It was the best thing we thought of in 2020.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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