With many U.S. schools weeks away from the planned start of a new academic year, Vice President Mike Pence is traveling Wednesday to the state of North Carolina to push the Trump administration’s preference for in-person classes, while leaders in that state and others advocate giving local districts more options due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pence’s office said he would be visiting a private school outside of Raleigh that resumed in-person classes last week with about 300 students, and that he would take part in a roundtable discussion about the school’s safety plan.
"Opening up our schools again is the best thing for our kids,” Pence said last week during a visit to Indiana. “It's also the best thing for working families.”
Some of the largest school systems in the nation, including those in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston, have already announced they will begin the academic year with only online classes.
According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted earlier this month, 8% of Americans back schools opening as usual, while 46% said they should open with major adjustments and 31% responded that in-person classes should not be held at all.
Some 55% of respondents said they were very or extremely concerned about their child falling behind academically.
The American Federation of Teachers, a union representing 1.7 million school employees, said Tuesday it would support any local chapter that decides to go on strike in objection to a district’s school reopening plan.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising school districts to monitor local levels of coronavirus spread to help determine what is appropriate.
In places where the spread is minimal to moderate, the agency recommends social distancing, increased cleaning and that students and staff wear masks. In areas where the spread of the virus is substantial, the CDC says leaders should consider closing schools.
For schools that do have students learning in classrooms, the guidelines suggest additional strategies, such as the idea of “cohorting” or grouping together students who only interact with each other instead of mixing throughout the school. That could involve a class of students who stay in a room while different teachers rotate to teach different subjects, or a system where certain groups only attend in-person classes on certain days of the week.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced July 14 that school systems may choose to offer only online learning, while outlining safety protocols for those districts that opt to have students in classrooms. Those measures include limiting the number of students allowed in the building, requiring frequent hand-washing, banning large group activities, and advising that hallways and doors be designated for use in one direction only.