After months off school, teachers, parents and even students are yearning for a return to the classroom — and many states are actively plotting ways to make up for lost time once school resumes. But that might not happen with the traditional start of the fall semester in August, one of the most familiar figures at the center of America’s coronavirus response told lawmakers yesterday.
Testifying remotely before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, Dr. Anthony Fauci — a leading infectious diseases expert and member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus response team — told U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. — that returning to school in the fall “would be a bit of a bridge too far.”
“What would you say to the chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, or the principal of a public school about how to persuade parents and students to return to school in August?” Alexander asked Fauci.
Fauci said it would be a bad idea to return to school without a treatment or vaccine for Covid-19, which has killed more than 80,000 people in the U.S. — almost all of them elderly and with underlying health conditions — in the last 10 weeks.
“If this were a situation where we had a vaccine, that would really be the end of that issue in a positive way,” Fauci told Alexander. “But even at the top speed we’re going, we don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term. What they really want is to know if they are safe. And that’s the question that has to do with testing.”
Schools across the nation are grappling with ways to make up the lost learning time. While many school districts have implemented distance-learning measures since schools were shuttered in March, experts in the education field say it’s not an appropriate substitute for hands-on learning in a classroom setting. Among ideas that have been tossed about in various states: Extended school days, summer school, Saturday school and year-round school.
Opinion: These students have sacrificed enough. Take summer school, extended school year off the table.
Most teachers prefer a business-as-usual approach, however, saying the public should have confident in their ability to help students catch up once schools are back in session. Some have proposed eliminating state-mandated testing for a period of time so that instructional time that is normally devoted to reviewing testing materials can instead be used for extra focus on reading and math skills.
Tennessee has been relatively moot on its plans moving forward. The state Dept. of Education offered an online survey last month that quizzed parents, educators and other stakeholders in public education on various issues related to the coronavirus shutdown. Among the questions was one related to whether mandatory summer school or an extended school year should be implemented to help students make up lost time, as part of the state’s plan to obtain federal funding to help make up an anticipated budget shortfall due to a plunge in sales tax revenue. The question was removed after public outcry.
As it currently stands, students are scheduled to return to school in Scott County on Aug. 10.