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October 2021
  • ‘No Signs of Recovery’: 5 Alarming New Undergraduate Enrollment Numbers

    By Marianna McMurdock | October 28, 2021

    After the worst enrollment drop in a decade, colleges hoped COVID-19 vaccinations and in-person offerings would reel students back in. 

    But early fall undergraduate enrollment data suggest “no signs of recovery”, with the nation’s public universities historically serving low-income students of color hit hardest, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. 

    Across 2- and 4-year public and private nonprofit institutions, numbers continue to decline nationwide, now 6.5 percent below pre-pandemic 2019 levels. 


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    And key public institutions, such as California’s Community Colleges, Pennsylvania’s State Universities, and the State University of New York system, are experiencing the worst declines.

    First-year enrollment at community colleges for the 2021-22 academic year is 20.9 percent behind fall 2019. Total undergraduate enrollment at community colleges is 14.1 percent behind. In contrast, 4-year private nonprofit colleges experienced a 1.2 percent drop from 2019 to 2021.

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    New Data: Sharp Declines in Community College Enrollment Are Being Driven By Disappearing Male Students

    Highly selective, elite schools are the only ones to rebound, netting gains in undergrad enrollment about 1.4 percent above fall 2019 levels. 

    Roughly 8.4 million students and 50 percent of higher education institutions are reflected in the National Student Clearinghouse’s report, which includes data collected through September 23. While subgroup trends may change as more institutions report, the research center doesn’t expect the overall picture to shift drastically

    Here are five key findings from the October report:

    1. There are 6.5% fewer undergraduates enrolled this year than in 2019.

    The declines seen last year have persisted. Overall enrollment has dropped 3.2 percent, following 2020’s 3.3 percent drop. 

    Four states saw declines higher than two times this national average: California, Indiana, Mississippi and West Virginia. New Hampshire saw more gains than any other state — the outlier now has 7.9 percent more undergraduates enrolled than in 2019.

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    New Poll Shows Nearly Half of American Parents Rethinking Value of Four-Year College; Want Additional Alternatives for Children

    2. 22.3% fewer Black first-years are enrolled than in 2019, the biggest decline of any ethnic/racial group.

    National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

    When looking at total undergraduate enrollment, beyond just first-years, there are 11 percent fewer Black students enrolled than the year prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 disproportionately affected Black Americans, whose families experienced some of the highest death rates. 

    White and Native American or Indigenous students experienced the second and third highest declines.

    12.7 percent fewer Native American or Indigenous undergraduate students are enrolled overall. However there are 21 percent more Native students, and 1 percent more Latino students, enrolled at private nonprofit universities than in 2019.

    3. First-year classes are 12.3% smaller than pre-pandemic levels, and at community colleges, 20.8% smaller.

    Public community colleges experienced the worst declines in freshman enrollment. Compared to all other institutions, they remain the most impacted sector, with overall enrollment declining 14.1 percent since the pandemic began. Their highest drops were from Black students (33.4 percent) and students aged 21-24 (21.4 percent).

    Related

    Lennon & Stanton: Rising HS Dropout Rates & Declining Community College Enrollment Are Twin COVID Crises. How to Fix the Broken Education Pipeline

    4. Undergraduate programs have lost more men (9.3%) than women (5.3%) since 2019.

    These declines have not been consistent across institution types — community colleges’ first-year classes saw women’s enrollment drop almost five times the rate of men, at a total of 10 percent. 

    Overall analysis from 2019 to 2021 shows more men have not enrolled in undergrad programs than women.

    5. Less selective, public schools had higher declines than any other sector: 5.2% since last fall and 7.9% since the pandemic began.

    More selective, private schools have been able to retain and recruit more students than their public, less selective peers. Many have also discussed some elite universities’ invested endowments grew larger during the pandemic, making the institutions more wealthy. 

    Public institutions’ starker declines may suggest barriers to college have been exacerbated by the pandemic, like financial and familial stressors.

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  • CDC Approves Pfizer Shots for Kids Ages 5 to 11, Roll Out to Begin Wednesday

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | October 26, 2021

    Updated, Nov. 2

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Tuesday evening endorsed the unanimous vote of a CDC vaccine advisory panel recommending Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric coronavirus vaccine for use in children ages 5 to 11. Her sign-off means shots can begin Wednesday for some 28 million children in this younger age group. The CDC approval comes after the Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the shots for emergency use in 5- to 11-year-olds. Children’s hospitals and pediatrician’s offices across the country told CNN that they have received their doses and would be ready to administer shots to children as soon as they got the green light. “As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated,” Walenksy said.

    Members of a federal advisory panel voted overwhelmingly Tuesday evening to recommend the authorization of a pediatric dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, setting in motion a process that could make shots available for the age group by next week.

    The 17-0 vote, with one abstention, represents a key step toward vaccine access for approximately 28 million U.S. children — and means that virtually all K-12 students could soon be eligible for shots.


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    The Food and Drug Administration panel endorsed giving children one-third the dosage for adults in two shots spaced three weeks apart. The group’s vote is non-binding, but the FDA typically follows its recommendations in the days after a decision, according to The New York Times.

    Next, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has Nov. 2 and 3 meetings scheduled for their own panel of experts to weigh in on the matter, after which emergency use authorization could soon be issued.

    FDA committee members cast their votes after considering the efficacy data of the Pfizer-BioNTech shots and the cumulative toll of COVID-19 on children and families.

    Shots for kids were 91 percent effective at preventing infection, the pharmaceutical companies’ trial showed. Only three out of over 3,000 inoculated children experienced breakthrough infections, compared to over a dozen who had received the placebo.

    Only three inoculated children out of over 3,000 experienced breakthrough infections in the Pfizer-BioNTech trial. (FDA via YouTube)

    Immunity and side effects for 5- to 11-year-olds were comparable to those produced by the larger dose in 16- to 25-year-old patients, the data showed. No new safety problems or cases of heart inflammation were observed in the trial. Israeli studies have found myocarditis to occur in less than 1 in 5,000 vaccinated teenage males, so it’s possible the condition would have been too rare to have been detected in the main study.

    However, even in worst-case scenarios where adverse cases run on the high side of what officials expect, the benefits of shots for kids still supersede the potential dangers, according to modeling presented by Hong Yang, senior advisor at the FDA’s Office of Biostatistics and Epidemiology.

    “The benefits clearly outweigh the risks,” she said.

    Over the course of the pandemic, nearly 2 million children between the ages of 5 and 11 have fallen ill with the virus, 8,300 have been hospitalized, and close to 100 have died, making COVID-19 one of the top 10 causes of death among the age group, said Peter Marks, who heads the FDA division that oversees vaccine approvals.

    In addition to preventing cases and hospitalizations, minimizing learning disruptions was a key consideration for advisory committee members. 

    Since August, over 1 million K-12 students have been affected by school closures due to COVID, Dr. Fiona Havers, a viral diseases specialist at the CDC told committee members during the Tuesday hearing.

    “The school closures and the disruption has been enormous,” said the FDA’s Jeanette Lee. “We have to weigh that against the benefits we would see [from] the vaccine.”

    Over 1 million students have been affected by COVID school closures this year. (FDA via YouTube)

    Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation for Teachers, celebrated the panel’s recommendation as a win for school safety.

    “This is huge news in our ongoing effort to keep our kids safe from COVID-19. For nearly two years, parents have been living in fear, worried that their child could get sick at school, day care, or in daily life, but now they finally have FDA-approved protection to add to the long list of vaccines we use to keep our children protected from transmissible diseases,” she said in a statement. “Educators, school staff and healthcare professionals are eager to work together with parents to help get America’s kids vaccinated in the places they trust, including public schools and community centers.”

    At least one committee member, Cody Meissner, who ultimately voted to recommend the vaccine for authorization, expressed hesitation about how greenlighting shots for 5- to 11-year-olds may play out for school policy. 

    “I’m just worried that if we say yes, that the states are going to mandate administration of this vaccine to children in order to go to school and I do not agree with that. I think that would be an error at this time,” he said during the Tuesday hearing.

    Vaccine mandates have become a flashpoint in the ongoing culture wars now consuming school boards nationally. Only a handful of school districts, mostly in California, have enacted coronavirus vaccine requirements for eligible students. The Golden State’s two largest school systems, Los Angeles and San Diego, are currently defending their policies in court

    California is also the only state to mandate shots for eligible students, though the policy will likely not go into effect until July 2022.

    A third of parents with children ages 5 to 11 said they would get their child vaccinated “right away” once they were eligible, according to a Sept. 30 Kaiser Family Foundation survey, while a third said they would “wait and see” and a quarter said they would “definitely not” vaccinate their younger children. A more recent survey by ​​the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project reported that two-thirds of parents with children in the age group said they would immunize them once the shots are authorized.

    Vials of the pediatric vaccine will be colored orange, to differentiate from adult doses. (FDA via YouTube)

    When shots do ultimately roll out for children, vials will be colored differently to avoid confusion with the more potent adult formula, said William Gruber, senior vice president of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development.

    Immediately after the FDA panel’s vote, Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, took to Twitter.

    “They got it right,” he said.

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  • Facing Pervasive Mold, Mice and Pests, Students Enter Second Week of Sit-In at Howard University Demanding Better Housing, Trustee Seats

    By Marianna McMurdock | October 26, 2021

    Hundreds of Howard University students have entered their second week occupying a student center, protesting dormitory conditions at the nation’s famed historically Black university.

    The sit-in began after returning students reported mold, cockroaches, flooding, collapsed ceilings, mice and maintenance issues this fall. Howard confirmed 34 instances of “suspected fungal growth.” University officials noted the issue affected under 1 percent of on-campus dorm rooms.


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    Howard also instituted a $2,000 tuition hike this school year, to $28,000.  

    Compounded with the removal of student trustee representatives and limited on-campus housing, frustration turned into mass action earlier this month when students occupied the Blackburn Student Center, hanging painted banners reading “enough is enough.”

    Tensions further heightened between students and the university administration last weekend; as thousands attended the homecoming football game, campus police closed entry to the Blackburn student center, which had been occupied in protest for 11 days. 

    One officer pushed and threatened unarmed students with a baton in the rush to secure the building. 

    In a campus-wide communication this morning, University President Wayne Frederick called for an end to the protests, citing his ongoing conversations with key activists regarding demands and referencing the University’s existing, multi-year housing plan

    “There is a distinct difference between peaceful protest and freedom of expression and the occupation of a University building that impedes operations and access to essential services and creates health and safety risks,” Frederick’s statement read. “The occupation of the Blackburn center must end.” 

    Instagram accounts suggest students have no intention of ending the sit-in at this time.

    Protests continued throughout the campus’s highly anticipated in-person Homecoming — a celebrated multi-day welcome event featuring musicians, performers and alumni. Several musicians with rapper Gucci Mane’s label refused to perform, standing in solidarity with protesters. 

    “This whole week we’re supposed to be coming together and being energetic and it’s like, it doesn’t feel right to be a part of that when there are still students without housing, and still students suffering in the housing that they do have,” an anonymous student told The Hilltop, Howard’s student newspaper.

    Mold remediation teams have been dispatched to student rooms, yet social media accounts suggested the issue may be more pervasive: Hallways, showers, carpets and air ducts appear lined with mold, according to student Twitter accounts where they also describe difficulty breathing and heavy coughing at night.

    An associate professor tweeted that one of his students was diagnosed with “mold-induced asthma.”

    At least four of Howard’s main residence facilities are managed by Corvias, a company that partners with public institutions, including the University System of Georgia and U.S. military bases, to renovate and manage infrastructure. 

    Student reports of black mold and unsafe living conditions parallel the experience of military families living in Corvias-run housing; several in Fort Bragg, North Carolina are suing the company for $5 million in a class-action suit. 

    In 2020, Senator Elizabeth Warren co-wrote a letter to Corvias CEO John Picerne requesting information on how they may have “put profits above public health” and influenced universities’ return plans during the pandemic. 

    Student activists demand an in-person town hall with President Frederick before November; the reinstatement of student, faculty and alumni affiliate positions on the board of trustees; legal and academic immunity for protesters; and a meeting between student leaders, Frederick and chair of the board to hear their housing plans for incoming classes “because we all deserve a home at the Mecca.”

    Howard’s Board of Trustees removed affiliate representatives in June. Since protests began earlier this month, the faculty senate has voted to collaborate with students and alumni to reinstate these positions, which they describe as a “hard-fought mechanism for shared governance won by former HU students and faculty decades ago.” 

    Frederick agreed to students’ final demand, meeting student leaders to discuss housing policy, during a closed-door meeting with select student representatives. He rejected their request for a town hall, saying  multiple times he felt uncomfortable with the idea, suggesting instead biweekly meetings with student representatives. 

    “I am a Black girl at a Black college. I came here to this HBCU to escape the oppression of the world, and here I am being physically hurt at a peaceful protest. The chaos has been created by the administration,” an undergraduate said, reflecting on the altercation during a student-led press conference on Oct. 24. “Our demands are not demanding,” she added. 

    Over a week has passed without further action since Board president and alumnus Larry Morse issued a statement on the ongoing sit-in, where he pledged a commitment to hearing student voices but did not offer a timeline or specific action regarding future living accommodations. 

    “We know we have a gap to bridge in order to meet your expectations and ours. While we may have closed the gap in several areas, challenges remain,” the statement reads.

    The board did commit to including student representatives for one-year positions, but did not specify any long-term representation or whether faculty positions would be reinstated.

    As temperatures dip to 48 degrees in Washington, D.C., students continue to sleep in tents surrounding Blackburn on “The Yard” in central campus. Many have dubbed the area “tent city”, to remain until needs are met. 

    The 74 has compiled student, alumni and community accounts of living conditions and the #BlackburnTakeover:

    @chxndler.robinson

    This is Howard #howarduniversity #hu25❤️💙 #donotapply

    ♬ original sound – Chandler

    @itzjustautumn

    Reply to @babyace2002 they publicly said they support protesting but email their students saying they would be EXPELLED. #howarduniversity #hbcu #howard #blackburntakeover

    ♬ Oh No – Kreepa

    Tents are set up near the Blackburn University Center as students protest living conditions. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

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  • Just Having Standards Isn’t Enough — Study Finds Teachers Use High-Quality Curricula in States That Actively Promote Them

    By Beth Hawkins | October 26, 2021

    The number of teachers using curriculum aligned to academic standards has ticked up since 2019, rising more quickly in states that have adopted policies incentivizing the use of high-quality materials than in others, according to a new report from the RAND Corp. Teachers are much more likely to use standards-aligned math curriculum than English language arts, and more likely to use it in elementary and middle school grades than high school, researchers found

    The results buoy a four-year-old effort by 13 states to push teachers to use higher-quality classroom materials. States belonging to the network, organized by the Council of Chief State School Officers, generally saw quicker adoption of curricula vetted for quality by the nonprofit ratings group EdReports


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    By incentivizing the use of better materials, members of the network hope to influence what is taught, by extension increasing students’ academic achievement. Past research has shown that the mere existence of academic standards has little effect on what happens in classrooms, but early efforts to promote the use of curriculum that conforms to expectations of what students should know at any particular grade level appear promising. 

    Just 22 percent of a nationally representative sample of high school teachers surveyed in spring 2021 as a part of RAND’s American Instructional Resources Survey reported using aligned math and reading materials, with more than 70 percent using no curriculum at all or materials that did not conform to state academic standards or were unrated.

    Forty-eight percent of elementary teachers reported using a high-quality math curriculum, with 25 percent using aligned materials in English language arts. Among middle school teachers, 47 percent used aligned math curriculum and 33 percent used high-quality reading materials. At the middle and high school levels, 81 percent of those using unrated materials created them themselves or adopted curricula created by their school or district. 

    Nationwide, the percentage of teachers regularly using fully aligned materials for mathematics or reading rose from 24 percent in 2018-19 to 35 percent the following year. The rate dropped to 33 percent in 2020-21, however. 

    Encouraged by early successes in Louisiana and other places, in 2017 the council formed a network of states that rate curricula, pay for schools to adopt the best and provide ongoing, free teacher training. It currently has 13 participants: Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. 

    Comparing results from its new teacher survey to the two prior years, the RAND team saw particularly large increases in the use of quality math curricula in some states that have been in the network since its formation. Massachusetts and Mississippi, for example, each saw an increase of 15 points, while in Rhode Island, adoption of the materials jumped 31 points. 

    Increases in the use of aligned reading materials during the three years surveyed were even larger, rising 24 points in Delaware, 16 in Mississippi, 20 in Rhode Island and 29 in Tennessee. Curiously, the use of quality materials actually ticked down in Louisiana from the 2018-19 school year to 2020-21, but still far outpaced the rest of the country. 

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    In 2016, RAND researchers found that most teachers developed or selected their own math and English language arts materials, with 94 percent relying on Google and 87 percent on Pinterest. 

    Founded in 2015, EdReports rates how well popular classroom materials conform to academic standards. Because the number of curricula rated by the organization has risen over time, some of the increase in use of high-quality materials picked up in the RAND survey may reflect the more comprehensive list of aligned items.

    The researchers cautioned that just because teachers report using better materials, that does not necessarily mean they have changed their instruction accordingly. States should consider creative ways of increasing the amount of time teachers have to work together to master the curriculum, the report suggests. 

    Finally, states in the network where adoption of high-quality materials is rising should carefully document which policies may be driving the increases and whether student achievement goes up, the researchers said.

    Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Overdeck Family Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation provided financial support for RAND’s research and for EdReports and The 74. The Carnegie Corporation of New York funds EdReports and The 74. 

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  • Three Lawsuits to Weigh the Most Explosive Issues in Schools this Year

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | October 26, 2021

    In the coming months, lawsuits over bans on teaching critical race theory and COVID-19 vaccine mandates for students and teachers will test how much leeway officials have to shape school policy on some of today’s most explosive political issues.

    The cases arrive as schools have become a culture war flashpoint in a nation divided over its pandemic response and reckonings with racism past and present.

    Classroom coronavirus safety measures such as masking requirements and teacher vaccine mandates have spurred protests, and in some cases, even violence — with reports of anti-mask parents pushing students and ripping off their face coverings.

    Meanwhile, local school boards have become the epicenter of superheated debates over the perceived encroachment of critical race theory into U.S. curricula, spurring conservative takeovers that have led to the departure of multiple beloved Black administrators.

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    Tensions have escalated so high that the National School Board Association urged the Biden administration to protect school leaders who faced “an immediate threat” from what they called “domestic terrorism.” The group on Friday apologized for the letter’s strong language, but their initial message was enough to prompt the U.S. Department of Justice to mobilize the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to combat the spike in harassment.

    With the politics of school policymaking red hot, here are three key upcoming education cases to watch:

    1 ACLU sues Oklahoma over its CRT teaching ban, arguing the law restricts educators’ and students’ free speech

    On Oct. 19, a group of educators and civil rights groups — backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Oklahoma — filed a lawsuit challenging an ​​Oklahoma rule that restricts public school teachings on race and gender issues.

    The organizations allege that H.B. 1775 violates students’ and teachers’ right to free speech, tamping down on classroom discussions of race and gender for political motives. The suit also argues that the state has committed a 14th Amendment violation, because the legislation is so vague that it places teachers’ jobs in jeopardy if they misunderstand its clauses.

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    ACLU Lawsuit Looks to Take Down Oklahoma’s CRT Teaching Ban as Free Speech Violation

    The Oklahoma law, which took effect in May, prohibits classroom activities that would make a student feel “by virtue of his or her race or sex, (he or she) bears responsibility for actions committed in the past.” Observers described the rule as an “antiracism teaching ban.”

    Though the bill text does not expressly mention critical race theory, the state legislature quickly took up and passed the law while a wave of similar legislation swept through Republican-held statehouses nationwide, some of which did explicitly prohibit CRT.

    Critical race theory is not an ideology, experts have previously told The 74, but a scholarly framework that views racism and inequality as ingrained in law and society. However, right-wing politicians and pundits frequently use the phrase as a catch-all term for any classroom content dealing with race.

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    Tulsa Commits to Teaching ‘Hard History’ After State Restricts Antiracist Instruction

    As a result of the law’s approval, according to the ACLU, school districts in the state have told teachers to avoid using terms such as “diversity” and “white privilege” in their classrooms, and have removed To Kill a Mockingbird, Raisin in the Sun and other seminal books from reading lists.

    Because a total of a dozen states have enacted similar bans on teaching about racism and sexism, the Oklahoma lawsuit could prove the first of many challenges to curricular prohibitions, legal experts say, providing a bellwether for future cases.

    2 Parent claims discrimination against the unvaccinated as Los Angeles mandates COVID-19 shots for eligible students

    On Oct. 8, the Los Angeles Unified School District was sued by a parent for its requirement that students eligible to receive coronavirus shots be vaccinated in order to attend school in person.

    The parent, who was not named in the suit, alleged that COVID immunizations are too new to be mandated for young people, and that the district’s policy discriminates against unvaccinated children by denying them the right to an equal education.

    Students ages 12 and up in the nation’s second-largest district must be fully immunized by Dec. 19, according to LAUSD policy. Those who fail to comply will need to enroll in an online schooling alternative called independent study to remain in the school system.

    Just down the coast in San Diego, a parallel lawsuit with near-identical language and prepared by the same law firm was also filed against the 121,000-student district, which requires students 16 and up to receive shots by Dec. 20.

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    California District Becomes First in Nation to Require COVID Vaccine for Students 12 & Up, But Experts Expect Legal Challenges

    Other California school systems Oakland and Culver City, as well as Hoboken, New Jersey, have also instituted COVID vaccine mandates for eligible students, and Washington, D.C. is mulling a similar rule. In early October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that coronavirus vaccines will be required for all eligible students in the state, though the rule will likely not go into effect until July 2022.

    The twin cases will provide a litmus test for whether student vaccine mandates, which legal experts have told The 74 may be vulnerable to lawsuits, hold up in court — all while shots for even younger children, ages 5 to 11, are on the verge of authorization.

    3 Texas top court halts San Antonio teacher coronavirus vaccine mandate, case moves to Fourth Court of Appeals 

    Hours before a teacher COVID vaccine mandate was set to take effect in San Antonio, the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion Oct. 14 that temporarily blocked the district’s policy, delivering a brief win to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has banned all COVID-19 immunization requirements in the state via executive order.

    A more final ruling on the state’s request for an injunction against the mandate will soon come from the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio. The Texas Supreme Court opinion, in the words of its authors, was issued only to “preserve the status quo” until the appeals court settles the matter.

    Related

    COVID Shots Required for School Staff in 36% of Top Districts

    School districts across the country have enacted coronavirus vaccine requirements for school staff, including over one-third of the nation’s 500 largest school systems, but San Antonio Independent School District is the only Texas district so far to attempt such a policy in opposition to Abbott’s ban.

    What the appeals court decides regarding San Antonio’s rule may prove an arbiter of whether blue cities in hyper-red states will be allowed to follow through on implementing their chosen COVID safety measures amid opposition from state lawmakers.

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  • Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Over 90% Effective at Preventing COVID in Children Ages 5-11

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | October 22, 2021

    The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is 91 percent effective at preventing COVID infection in youth ages 5 to 11, the pharmaceutical companies’ data released Friday reveal.

    The protection provided by the shots, the companies say, supports authorization of the vaccine for the 28 million U.S. children in that age group. The Food and Drug Administration has a hearing scheduled Tuesday with expert advisors to review the case for authorization. 

    Two weeks ago, Pfizer and BioNTech submitted their formal request to the FDA for the green light to deliver doses to 5- to 11-year olds. 

    If the review timeline spans a similar length as that of vaccines for 12- to 15-year olds, the agency could grant authorization ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday — meaning that the vast majority of K-12 students may soon be eligible for immunizations.

    The vaccine efficacy numbers come from a briefing document Pfizer and BioNTech provided to the FDA, released Friday morning by the federal agency. In their trial, the companies tested a 10 microgram dose of the vaccine, one-third the size of the shot for teenagers and adults, and found that it produced a “robust” antibody response. Immunity and side effects, they said, were comparable to those produced by the larger dose in 16- to 25-year-old patients. 

    No new safety problems or cases of heart inflammation were observed in the trial, which tested 2,268 participants. Israeli studies have found myocarditis to occur in less than 1 in 5,000 vaccinated teenage males, so it’s possible the condition would have been too rare to have been detected in the main study. 

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    COVID Vaccine Authorization for Children Ages 5-11 Possible Within Weeks After Pfizer Trials Find Shots Produce ‘Robust’ Immune Response

    The news comes as children make up over 130,000 weekly coronavirus cases, amounting to about a quarter of all reported infections per week nationwide, according to mid-October data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Over 2,250 schools in 580 districts have closed so far this year due to outbreaks of the virus, according to Burbio, an organization that has tracked schools through the pandemic, though COVID-related school closures have slowed considerably in recent weeks as cases fall nationally and schools hone their protocols to curb spread.

    Related

    White House Unveils Plans for Mass Vaccination Effort of 5- to 11-Year Olds, Will Launch Campaign to ‘Increase Vaccine Confidence’

    The White House has made it clear that immunizing children will be a priority once shots are authorized for 5- to 11-year olds. The Biden administration will match schools with COVID-19 vaccine providers, the White House announced Wednesday. The Department of Health and Human Services will also enlist community-based clinics, doctor’s offices, hospitals and faith-based organizations in rapidly distributing vaccines.

    Two-thirds of parents of children aged 5 to 11 years say they will immunize their children against COVID-19 once shots are authorized for the age group, according to a recent survey by the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project.

    “While we’re encouraged to see that a majority of parents intend to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 once they are eligible, there is clearly more work to be done to help address parents’ questions and ease concerns about the vaccines,” Beth Battaglino, CEO of the nonprofit HealthyWomen, one of the partner organizations behind the polling, said in a statement.

    Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations have been fully approved by the FDA for individuals ages 16 and above, and have emergency use authorization for teenagers ages 12 to 15. Shots for kids younger than five may arrive early next year.

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  • Vice President Harris Casts Tie-Breaking Vote to Confirm Lhamon as Education Department’s Top Civil Rights Official

    By Mark Keierleber | October 20, 2021

    Vice President Kamala Harris cast a tie-breaking vote Wednesday to confirm Catherine Lhamon assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, a position she held during the Obama administration. 

    Lhamon, who faced steep opposition from Republicans, will lead the Education Department office in charge of enforcing federal civil rights laws in schools, including rules that prohibit discrimination based on race and sex. She secured the post after a combative confirmation hearing in July, followed by a partisan 11-11 vote a month later in which members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee deadlocked on her nomination. Lawmakers voted earlier this month to discharge her nomination from committee and bring it before the full Senate. 


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    Harris’s vote, which broke a 50-50 tie, followed an effort by Republican lawmakers to block her return to a position she held from 2013 to 2017. She was unanimously confirmed in 2013, but became a lightning rod in several key education debates, including one that looked to hold K-12 schools and universities more accountable for sexual misconduct on campus. 

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    Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said that Lhamon’s confirmation will help ensure that schools are “fairer and more just.”

    “She will lead the Department’s vital efforts to ensure our schools and college campuses are free from discrimination on the basis of race, sex and disability and to protect all students’ rights in education,” Cardona said in a media release. “Catherine is one of the strongest civil rights leaders in America and has a robust record of fighting for communities that are historically and presently underserved.” 

    In 2011, before Lhamon became assistant secretary, the Obama administration released a “Dear Colleague” letter that instructed educators to investigate sexual misconduct allegations “regardless of where the conduct occurred,” and to use a less-strict “preponderance of the evidence” standard when determining guilt. Eight months into her tenure under former President Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose confirmation was secured by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence, rescinded the guidance and replaced it with new Title IX regulations in 2020. The Biden administration has already pledged to “restore” the Obama-era guidance.

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    Civil rights groups have praised Lhamon as a champion for student equity, but her conservative critics have accused her of being an overzealous bureaucrat who went beyond her legal authority during her previous stint on the job. 

    In 2014, the civil rights office used a “Dear Colleague” letter to warn school districts that discipline policies could constitute “unlawful discrimination” if they didn’t mention race but had a “disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.” In June, the Biden administration announced plans to revisit how the Education Department can ensure racial equity in school discipline. 

    While Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress, Lhamon will be taking up her job at a time when battles over race and gender in schools have become even more divisive, as seen in several states recently moving to bar transgender students from playing sports. 

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  • New Study Shows Reading Remediation in Middle School Led More Students to Attend College and Earn Degrees

    By Kevin Mahnken | October 20, 2021

    College remediation has earned a bad reputation over the past few years. Hopeful students spend billions of dollars annually to review material they should have mastered in high school, and a huge number never complete the coursework they are assigned. The fact that many undergraduates pay to attend catch-up classes when they are actually capable of succeeding in college-level work has only heightened scrutiny of the practice.

    But while we tend to associate remediation with older students, it’s not just a feature of university campuses — and new research suggests that adolescents who take remedial classes are better prepared for academic success in high school and college.


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    The study, accepted for publication at the Journal of Public Economics, finds that Florida middle schoolers who were assigned to complete a year of remedial instruction in English earned higher scores in state testing; those effects diminished over time, but the same students saw an impressive range of benefits as time went on, including higher rates of college enrollment and degree attainment. 

    “Overall, I think the findings here suggest that middle school remediation could be an effective lever in improving college readiness,” said Umut Özek, the paper’s author and a researcher at the American Institutes for Research. 

    The research examines the effects of a Florida law passed in 2004 as part of the state’s dramatic acceleration of accountability-focused education reform under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Under the policy, middle school students scoring below proficiency levels in either math or English must complete two courses the next year — one grade-level class and one remedial class — in the same subject. 

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    The law ultimately applied to a significant portion of students across the state, but Ozek chose to study one anonymous, urban school district serving a racially diverse population of over 200,000 students. Many fewer students were assigned to supplementary coursework in math than reading, so he focused on English, gathering test scores for K-12 students between the 2005-06 and 2018-19 school years. He also examined course enrollment data, including both advanced and remedial classes, and linked it with records from the National Student Clearinghouse that showed trends in college enrollment and completion. 

    To capture the specific consequences of the policy, Ozek compared the academic performance of two broadly similar groups of students — those who scored just under the cutoff for remediation assignment and those who scored just over it.

    In all, he found that the effects of English remediation were strikingly positive in terms of immediate standardized test results. Students who experienced a year of the combined courseload saw their reading scores on subsequent state exams jump significantly, even as they were no more likely to be absent from school or be suspended following a disciplinary incident. As Ozek notes, the higher test scores faded over the two years following their experience with remediation.

    But there’s a long-term upside: Even given the diminution of testing improvements, students who completed remedial coursework alongside their grade-level English class enjoyed a variety of advantages over their otherwise comparable peers. As high schoolers, they were 21 percent more likely to take part in college credit-bearing material, such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes (for advanced English classes, the figure was 38 percent). 

    The benefits stretched into post-secondary education as well. Former remedial readers were 5 percent more likely to enroll in college, 15 percent more likely to persist past their first year, 50 percent more likely to attend a highly competitive college, and 43 percent more likely to eventually attain a two- or four-year degree. 

    The explanation for their gains can likely be attributed to the way in which remediation reshaped their middle school experience. Given the double dose of coursework, it’s unsurprising that Ozek found remedial students receiving almost an hour of additional English instruction each day. But he also found that their average class size in English was reduced by about 2 students, and they were significantly more likely to be assigned to a highly effective teacher (as measured by their impact on student test scores). As a downside, they were less likely to take part in music and physical education classes during their time in remediation, and their likelihood of being assigned to advanced classes in other subjects was sharply reduced.

    Ozek observed that part of the reason the policy was feasible was that it applied to adolescents, who have few alternatives if they are alienated by the addition of a catch-up class; ample research shows that students in high school or college sometimes handle the frustration by simply giving up.

    “Being placed in remediation [in high school] may lead to student disengagement from schooling,” Ozek argued, adding that remediated high schoolers would be likely to miss out on potentially valuable and attractive career and technical courses. “At that level, because kids are able to leave school legally, it could increase rates of dropout,” he said.

    The research also offers a fresh example of the limitations of test scores as a measure of success in school interventions. In a few other cases, most famously the federal Head Start preschool program, initial boosts to test performance have faded over time — only for the later life chances of participating children to be improved in other ways. Ozek said that “more and more evidence” had recently emerged suggesting that while assessment gains might prove transient, they also don’t tell the whole story.

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    “I believe it’s safe to say that even if you find test score effects that fade out, especially for middle and high school interventions, it’s too soon to reach conclusions about efficacy unless you take a look at long-term outcomes as well. It could be because test scores in middle school and high school may have lower predictability on adult outcomes.”

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  • White House Unveils Plans for Mass Vaccination Effort of 5- to 11-Year Olds, Will Launch Campaign to ‘Increase Vaccine Confidence’

    By Linda Jacobson | October 20, 2021

    The Biden administration will match schools with COVID-19 vaccine providers as part of its effort to roll out shots for 5- to 11-year-olds, the White House announced Wednesday. Expecting that tens of thousands of sites will be necessary to meet the demand, including hundreds of schools, the administration said it aims to make vaccines available “in settings that kids and their parents know and trust.”

    The Department of Health and Human Services will also enlist community-based clinics, doctor’s offices, hospitals and faith-based organizations in rapidly distributing vaccines through the end of the year, making enough available to immunize 28 million children. 


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    Considered a major milestone toward ending the pandemic, emergency use authorization of a vaccine for children could be announced any day. Pfizer-BioNTech sent data on the use of its vaccine among that age group to the Food and Drug Administration in late September. An FDA advisory committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 26, followed by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee the week after. The administration said it is “hosting operational readiness calls” with states, tribes and territories to ensure a smooth process once the FDA approves and the CDC recommends the vaccine. With thousands of schools still quarantining students because of outbreaks, families and schools have been anticipating this key step.

    “Superintendents have been very anxious for this to happen,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. But he added that some schools might consider the attitudes of their community before agreeing to serve as vaccination sites. “If they have a supportive community, they will do vaccines in the schools as they’ve done in the past.”

    With her daughter Ella Baindourov, 6, Nara Varderesyan leads parents in protest of a vaccine mandate in schools at Saticoy Elementary School in North Hollywood on Monday, Oct. 18. (Sarah Reingewirtz / Getty Images)

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency will take charge of setting up sites, storing supplies — including smaller needles — and providing transportation to sites, if needed, according to the fact sheet. The White House said pediatrician’s offices and pharmacies will also be critical in providing the vaccine because they are already “trusted sources.” Roughly 25,000 pediatrician’s offices, tens of thousands of pharmacies and over 100 children’s hospitals are expected to be involved, offering vaccines during the evenings and weekends for convenience.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics applauded the announcement.

    “Parents trust us to care for their children, come to us with questions and concerns about how to keep them healthy and safe, and will turn to us during this next phase for reassurance and guidance about the COVID-19 vaccine,” AAP President Lee Savio Beers, said in a statement. “We are ready to do what we’ve always done: counsel our families and protect our patients.”

    But as Domenech said, the administration is expecting that not all parents will be eager to get their children vaccinated, considering less than 60 percent of adolescents are vaccinated, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. HHS will launch a nationwide education campaign to assure parents that the vaccine is safe, working with schools and community organizations to “increase vaccine confidence.”

    “A key focus of our efforts is raising vaccine awareness and getting parents the facts they need to make the right choice for their kids,” Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, said during a briefing Wednesday.

    Schools have been used as vaccination sites for over 100 years, and Linda Mendonca, president of the National Association of School Nurses, said school nurses “have a trusted relationship with students and families.” But schools are facing a nursing shortage along with many other staff positions, which could impact the vaccination effort as it has school-based testing.

    An Ipsos poll conducted at the end of September showed that two-thirds of parents with children in the 5-11 range said they’re “likely” to get their children vaccinated, but 43 percent responded that they would be “very likely.” 

    Those who are unsure about vaccinating their children are more likely to be unvaccinated themselves and continue to note the speed of vaccine’s development and potential side effects as top reasons for their hesitancy. A quarter of parents of adolescents responding said a requirement that their child be vaccinated to attend school could make them change their minds.

    California is the only state so far to mandate the vaccine for students once it earns full FDA approval. But others are expected to follow. In Washington, the Seattle Public Schools is considering a resolution that would ask the state’s health department to issue a such mandate.

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  • Kids Left Schools Last Year Because of the Switch to Remote Classes; Early Numbers Suggest They May Not Be Coming Back Soon

    By Kevin Mahnken | October 16, 2021

    With the release of new data in recent months, a clearer picture is emerging of how K-12 enrollment has responded to the pandemic. Studying figures from hundreds of school districts, researchers at Stanford have found that roughly one-quarter of the decrease in students is directly attributable to the move to all-virtual instruction, and that the trend mostly affected the very youngest students. And early indicators from states and school districts suggest that total enrollment won’t bounce back to the pre-COVID status quo this year.

    Thomas Dee, an economist and one of the Stanford co-authors, said that it wasn’t yet clear if or when the declines would be reversed, or how families might plan their re-entry into local schools. But a clear line connected remote schooling to fewer kids, he argued.


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    “Unsurprisingly, parents particularly didn’t want younger children — kindergarten or elementary-grade kids — sitting in front of a computer all day,” Dee said. “We’ve seen that in the enrollment declines, and what it implies is that some kids were missing out on those early developmental experiences, educational experiences we know can be really critical and have lifelong implications for them.”

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    According to the study, released in August as a working paper through the National Bureau of Economic Research, kindergarten enrollment fell by 3-4 percent in districts that opted for all-virtual instruction last fall. Elementary school enrollment fell by about 1 percent, while middle and high school enrollment was mostly unchanged.

    To reach those conclusions, the research team painstakingly assembled data on student enrollment, as well as grade-level enrollment, from state departments of education, comparing 2020-21 figures with those of the preceding four school years. They also relied on data from Burbio.com, which tracks how school districts are offering instruction during the pandemic. The authors ultimately assembled a sample of 875 districts serving over one-third of all American K-12 students. While about half of those districts opened the 2020-21 school year in remote-only instruction, the other half was divided between those holding in-person classes and those using a hybrid model.

    All told, they found that offering all-remote classes led to an enrollment drop of 1.1 percentage points, or roughly 300,000 students. Notably, the scale of disenrollment resulting from all-remote school was greater in demographically identifiable areas, such as rural districts and those serving more Hispanic students. The effects were almost twice as large in districts with lower concentrations of African American students, a phenomenon that could reflect attitudes previously expressed in public polling: Black parents of school-aged children were more than twice as likely as white parents to say they favored online classes, according to a survey conducted before the 2020-21 school year began.

    The Stanford findings dovetail somewhat with those of other recent publications. A research brief released in September by scholars at the University of Michigan and Boston University also detected evidence of significant enrollment drops in Michigan public schools, with coinciding increases in private school enrollment and the rate of homeschooling. Another paper co-authored by Dee and University of Hawaii professor Mark Murphy showed a 4 percent decline among K-12 students in Massachusetts between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, with larger effects in smaller districts and those serving more white families. Finally, national data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools points to a huge increase in charter enrollment last year.

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    Dee described the initial numbers coming out of states and districts as an imperfect tool, but one that currently offers the best guide to how families across the country have reacted to the unprecedented disruptions of COVID-19.

    “I view the enrollment data as a sort of canary in a coal mine: a leading indicator that doesn’t capture the nuance we want in understanding what’s going on with kids, but that has the virtue of being available relatively quickly and comprehensively, representing the whole universe of public schools.”

    ‘Counts aren’t rebounding’

    While education observers are still getting a sense of how many students left traditional public schools last fall, the first inklings about the current school year are already becoming available. And so far, they don’t foretell a mass return of students who sat out last year.

    Figures released this week by the Los Angeles Unified School District — the second-largest in the U.S. after New York City — show about 27,000 fewer students showed up for classes this September than last September. That represents a 6 percent decline in total enrollment, even as schools in L.A. have long since reopened for in-person classes.

    Disenrollment has also persisted in Hawaii which has already released student counts for this year. Total kindergarten enrollment on the islands — which operate as a single, statewide school district — saw one of the steepest declines in the country during the pandemic, falling from 13,074 in 2019 to 11,103 in 2020. But while some have predicted an early education “surge” this year as parents finally place their kids in kindergarten, it has so far been absent; kindergarten enrollment is up by about 350, but still remains about 12 percent below the pre-pandemic status quo.

    “What we’re seeing is that the fall 2021 counts are not rebounding to what we saw [before the pandemic],” said Mark Murphy, Dee’s co-author on the Massachusetts paper. “I think it’s starting to suggest that what we saw in fall 2020 may occur more commonly in fall 2021 than we originally thought.”

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    Instead, Murphy noted, the number of first graders has grown — an indication that families who “red-shirted” their children last year may have opted to place them directly into first grade this September. Meanwhile, the two-year decline between 2019 and 2021 is still substantial in grades two, three, and four.

    Murphy did reflect that changing perceptions of the COVID threat may still be influencing the decisions of families. The emergence of the Delta variant in late summer resulted in a spike in both cases and hospitalizations in Hawaii, which likely preyed on the minds of concerned parents.

    “There may be some changes in the response to how families are thinking about enrolling their children given the changing dynamics, and the greater intensity of the Delta variant may impact individuals’ behavior.”

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  • Closing the Digital Divide: New Wi-Fi Towers Provide Access to Underserved Students in Fort Worth, Texas

    By Kristi Eaton | October 13, 2021

    Fort Worth Independent School District students most in need of internet access are now connected after the installation of several Wi-Fi towers. 

    The towers, which stand 60-to-80 feet tall, have been erected by the school district at  Dunbar High School, Morningside Middle School, Rosemont Middle School and Eastern Hills High School. 

    One-quarter of students most in need of internet access have been connected. The remaining 75% of students will get internet service when phase two of the project begins in December. Zip codes that are underserved will be targeted, according to the district. 


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    The pandemic and its effects, including the rise of virtual learning, exposed the digital divide, particularly in communities of color. Those students lack wifi access, exacerbating the already existing racial achievement gap in many schools across the country. 

    The towers are meant to help combat that problem in Fort Worth where an estimated 60,000 residents lack internet access. 

    “Our towers are up and functional,” said Chief Information Officer Marlon Shears in a statement. “We are continuing to deploy service by getting modems to students in need. We also have begun the process to put up more towers, extending service into additional areas.”

    Voters approved funding the project in November 2020 through the Tax Ratification Election (TRE).

    According to the 2019 Worst Connected Cities report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Fort Worth ranked No. 245 out of 625 cities in terms of connectivity. The report, based on data from the 2019 American Community Survey, found that 11% of  Fort Worth households did not have broadband and nearly 28% of households lacked a cable, fiber optic line or DSL. This was an improvement over 2018, when 31% of households did not have cable, fiber optic or DSL. 

    NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer said 36 million U.S. households don’t have a home broadband subscription. Of the 36 million, 26 million are in urban areas. 

    “So we know we have an infrastructure availability issue in rural areas,” she said. “And what we know in urban areas is even when the infrastructure is there, people don’t always subscribe. And why don’t people subscribe? It’s expensive, digital literacy issues, trust issues about getting stuck with large bills. 

    “So there needs to be alternative solutions,” Siefer continued. “And what some school districts are doing … is they’ve come up with an alternative solution, which is, you know what, we’re just going to build it ourselves.”

    That’s what Fort Worth is doing.  

    Clay Robison, spokesman for Texas State Teachers Association, noted that most students in Texas are no longer learning remotely, but are back in classrooms. 

    “The new Fort Worth towers should benefit students and teachers who are still involved in remote instruction,” he said, adding students learn best with a teacher in the classroom.  

    “If the Fort Worth district continues to provide wifi access. This will help students with their homework and studies at home and, we hope, help narrow the digital divide between low-income and more-fortunate students,” he said, later adding: “Most school districts were scrambling after the pandemic broke out to provide digital access to students who needed it. Some districts were more successful than others.”

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  • COVID Shots Required for School Staff in 36% of Top Districts

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | October 12, 2021

    Updated

    With the vast majority of U.S. students once again learning in classrooms, 180 of the largest 500 U.S. school districts have enacted requirements for their staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to an analysis published Monday by Burbio, an organization that has tracked school safety policies through the pandemic.

    It’s a safety measure that health experts say represents a key step toward improved coronavirus safety in school — especially as younger students remain ineligible for shots likely until November. Although children rarely fall seriously ill from the virus, young people still make up more than a quarter of new cases in the U.S. and school-based outbreaks have triggered some 2,265 closures across 580 districts already in 2021-22.


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    “Most pediatricians that I’ve spoken with … absolutely support vaccine mandates for teachers,” Kristina Deeter, professor of pediatric medicine at University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, told The 74. “It’s the right thing to do.”

    In 11 states, coronavirus vaccines are mandated for teachers statewide, the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education reports, meaning a considerable share of the 180 districts with staff mandates enacted such policies because state law required it.

    Still, vaccination rules vary from district to district, with some mandates having already kicked in and others not taking effect until next month.

    Some school systems have more lenient policies, such as Philadelphia, which acknowledged that unvaccinated teachers will not lose their jobs, though they will be subject to twice-weekly testing. Others impose stricter sanctions, like New York City, which is barring unvaccinated teachers from entering school buildings and putting them on unpaid leave until they get the shot.

    Even those districts where staff have a choice between vaccination or regular testing are included in the 36 percent tally, Burbio co-founder Dennis Roche confirmed to The 74.

    The New York City mandate, which took effect Oct. 4 after a brief legal challenge, applies to roughly 150,000 people who work in the nation’s largest school system, and compelled thousands of employees to receive their shots in the weeks before the rule took effect. Some 96 percent of teachers in the district have now been immunized against COVID-19, The New York Times reported.

    By contrast, Los Angeles, the country’s second-largest school system, on Monday extended its deadline for employees to receive their shots from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15, fearing that strict enforcement would exacerbate staffing challenges and lead to major disruptions. Unlike the New York City mandate, the L.A. rule requires two doses before the deadline for educators receiving the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

    While many teacher mandates are in deep blue states, the San Antonio Independent School District has an immunization requirement set to go into effect Oct. 15. Earlier this month, the district’s rule survived a legal challenge from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton when a county judge denied the state’s motion to secure a temporary injunction on the mandate. A ruling on the policy from a higher court is expected in days.

    Meanwhile, on Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning all COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the state, including for private employers.

    “We are reviewing the new executive order and consulting with our legal counsel and Board of Trustees to determine how the district will proceed with its employee vaccine mandate,” a San Antonio ISD spokesperson wrote in an email to The 74.

    In lieu of mandates, other Texas districts are providing cash incentives for teachers who roll up their sleeves. Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth each deliver $500 bonuses to fully vaccinated educators.

    Vaccine mandates for students remain much more rare, with only a select few districts having implemented such rules. California districts Los Angeles, Oakland and Culver City as well as Hoboken, New Jersey have each made immunization a requirement for in-person school for vaccine-eligible students, with deadlines in the coming months. Washington, D.C. is mulling a similar policy.

    In early October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that coronavirus vaccines will be required for all eligible students in the state, though the rule will likely not go into effect until July 2022.

    Burbio’s count that 36 percent of top districts require teachers to be immunized comes as the rush to embrace such policies has slowed considerably. After eight states moved to enact educator mandates in late August and early September, only one — Delaware — has added a similar rule since then, CRPE reports.

    But even as COVID case counts fall nationwide, Deeter, the pediatrics professor, warns that now is not time for the country to let down its guard.

    “As the surge goes down … now everybody’s like ‘Yay! [The pandemic] is over.’ It’s not over. It’s not even close to over. We are just prepping for the next wave,” she said. “We have to prepare.”

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  • Pfizer Asks FDA to Greenlight COVID Shots for Kids 5-11, Could Roll Out Pre-Thanksgiving

    By Asher Lehrer-Small | October 7, 2021

    Updated Oct. 8

    In a key step toward coronavirus vaccine access for over 28 million U.S. children, Pfizer-BioNTech announced Thursday morning that they have submitted their formal request to federal regulators for authorization to deliver shots to youth ages 5 to 11.

    The move comes after the pharmaceutical companies announced positive topline results among that age group in clinical trials in late September. The testing regimen delivered two reduced-potency doses to more than 2,000 youngsters, producing a “robust” antibody response, including immunity and side effects comparable to that produced by the larger dose in 16- to 25-year-old patients. 


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    “With new cases in children in the U.S. continuing to be at a high level, this submission is an important step in our ongoing effort against COVID-19,” Pfizer tweeted Thursday.

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    The Food and Drug Administration has an Oct. 26 advisory committee meeting scheduled to review Pfizer-BioNTech’s request to expand authorization to younger children. 

    Pressed on what issues will be on the table during that meeting and how soon afterward authorization might be granted, a spokesperson responded to The 74 that the “FDA cannot comment on its interactions with manufacturers about their investigational products.”

    Should the review process follow a similar timeline as it did for 12- to 15-year olds, which stretched just over a month from an April 9 submission to a May 10 authorization, children ages 5 to 11 could receive the greenlight for COVID immunizations by early- to mid-November, sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

    Meanwhile, schools are facing a third straight school year disrupted by the virus, which as of last week had killed 700,000 Americans even as cases overall have begun to fall. As of Sunday, outbreaks had triggered some 2,238 school closures across 561 districts since buildings opened their doors for the 2021-22 school year, according to the website Burbio, which has tracked school policies and schedules through the pandemic.

    Although children rarely fall seriously ill from the virus, the Delta variant has driven up caseloads among unvaccinated Americans, including youth. Last week, over 173,000 pediatric cases were reported, accounting for over a quarter of new cases nationwide, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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    Vaccines are currently authorized for youth ages 12 to 15, and fully approved for those 16 and up. As of Sept. 29, 56 percent of 12- to 17-year olds in the U.S. had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the pediatrics academy, while 68 percent of adults 18 and older are fully vaccinated.

    Youth immunization rates, however, vary greatly by locale. In 10 states, over two-thirds of children ages 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while in 21 states, the same is true for less than half of youth that age.

    Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that coronavirus vaccines will be required for all eligible students in the state, though the rule will likely not go into effect until July 2022.

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    Some districts have moved to implement more immediate mandates for children ages 12 and up including Los Angeles, Oakland and Culver City, all in California; and Hoboken, New Jersey. Washington D.C. is also mulling a bill that would require all students to be fully immunized against the virus by Dec. 15.

    Though it may prove a challenge to persuade the parents of K-12 students to receive vaccinations in some districts, COVID shots are the most effective way to defend children against the virus, Benjamin Linas, professor of medicine at Boston University, told The 74 last month.

    “With the vaccine, you’re very well protected from the bad outcomes.”

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  • Justice Department to Combat Spike in Intimidation, Violent Threats Against School Leaders As Culture War Rages

    By Mark Keierleber | October 5, 2021

    Attorney General Merrick Garland has directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to combat what officials called a spike in harassment, intimidation and violent threats against education leaders as communities clash over schools’ pandemic response and lessons about systemic racism.

    “Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Garland wrote in a media release Monday. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”


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    The move comes less than a week after the 90,000-member National School Boards Association urged the Biden administration to act swiftly to protect public school leaders who face “an immediate threat” of violence as school board meetings nationwide grow increasingly volatile. The group cited more than 20 instances of threats, harassment and intimidation during board meetings in recent months amid tension over mask mandates and classroom instruction on critical race theory. The school board group referred to the violent threats as “domestic terrorism.”

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    In a memorandum, Garland called on the federal agencies to meet with local law enforcement in the next month to create a plan to combat the “disturbing spike.” The Justice Department also announced plans to create a new task force focused on prosecuting people who threaten school leaders. The task force will include the FBI and the Justice Department’s criminal, security and civil rights divisions.

    Officials also said they would create training resources that help school boards and administrators understand behaviors that constitute threats, how to report dangerous conduct to police and how to preserve relevant evidence.

    Chip Slavin, the school board group’s interim executive director, said in a media release that the Justice Department’s response sent “a strong message to individuals with violent intent who are focused on causing chaos, disrupting our public schools and driving wedges between school boards and the parents, students and communities they serve.”

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    In one recent incident, police arrested an Illinois man for allegedly hitting a school official as he was being escorted out of a board meeting and, in another, an Ohio school board member received a letter in the mail warning “we are coming after you,” threatening that she would “pay dearly” for requiring students to wear masks on campus. While some speakers have used board meetings to spread conspiracy theories and hate speech, other critics who frequently clash with their school boards offered sharp rebukes to the national association’s assertion that their actions constitute “domestic terrorism.” Among them is activist and former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani, who tweeted that the school board group should apologize to parents.

    Conservative lawmakers and activists, including Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, were quick to accuse officials of trampling on the free speech rights of parents who speak up at school board meetings. On Twitter, Gaetz accused the Biden administration of using “federal law enforcement to punish dissent from the ruling class.”

    Read the Justice Department memo here:

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  • White House Memo: Debt Ceiling Debate Could Impact $50 Billion in K-12 Funding, including Title I and Special Ed

    By Linda Jacobson | October 5, 2021

    Updated October 7

    The Senate on Thursday passed a short-term, $480 billion increase in the debt ceiling that lasts through Dec. 3 — a move that prevents the U.S. government from failing to pay its financial obligations. 

    Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, after vowing not to help Democrats with the issue, rallied 11 Republicans to end debate and allow the measure to move to a floor vote. Then the bill passed 50-48, with only Democrats voting in favor. The bill now moves to the House.

    “Tonight’s votes are welcome steps forward in averting a default that would have been devastating for our economy and for working families. President Biden looks forward to signing this bill as soon as it passes the House and reaches his desk,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “As we move forward, there must be no question of whether America will pay its bills; Congress must address the debt limit in December and beyond – just as we’ve done almost 80 times over the last 60 years.” 

    Dec. 3 is the same day Congress must pass the fiscal year 2022 budget or another continuing resolution to keep the government open, setting up another possibility that the government will once again come close to default and a government shutdown.
     

    Federal funds that states depend on for low-income students, special education and school nutrition programs could be at risk if Congress doesn’t lift the government’s debt limit, the White House warned states last month.

    The U.S. could be in default by Oct. 18, which could disrupt global financial markets and trigger what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last week called a “parade of horribles.” Democrats have been trying to get bipartisan support to raise the limit — the total amount the Treasury Department can borrow to meet its financial obligations. But Republicans have balked, leaving Democrats to deal with the politically unpopular issue.


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    “Raising the debt limit comes down to paying what we already owe,” President Joe Biden said Monday, stressing that the matter has nothing to do with his agenda for infrastructure or social programs.

    While most education funds — about 90 percent — come from state and local revenues, some programs rely more on federal sources, such as Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Head Start and child care. A mid-September memo from the White House to state and local governments estimated that up to $50 billion in K-12 education funding could be affected. The standoff over the debt limit adds to the list of major budget challenges currently facing Congress. Members still need to pass the fiscal year 2022 budget and Democrats disagree over a major social spending package that includes funding for schools and early-childhood programs.

    Default “would have reverberating effects for states and school districts, whose own finances would be thrown into uncertainty,” said Whitney Tucker, the deputy director of research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank. “Title I will have to stand in line with all the other federal obligations due.”

    Tucker wrote about the potential impacts last week, saying that if the issue isn’t resolved, states would have to turn to reserve funds to cover costs.

    The potential loss of funds creates headaches for district finance officials.

    “On top of everything else they’re managing right now, the last thing district leaders need is another layer of contingency planning,” said Jonathan Travers, a partner with Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit that advises districts on financial matters. “As a field, we don’t have the extra bandwidth available right now to respond to debt ceiling brinkmanship in any sort of proactive, planful way.”

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    A default would impact the National School Lunch and National School Breakfast programs as well as other federally funded nutrition efforts totaling $30 billion, according to the White House memo.

    School meal programs are “incurring costs and they rely on the federal government for reimbursement after the meals are served,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association.

    Because of supply chain delays and shortages of typical menu items, school nutrition programs are already spending higher prices on food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week announced $1.5 billion in assistance to help them cover those costs.

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    Non-education programs that benefit children, such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, would be affected as well. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted that parents receiving monthly child tax credit payments, part of the American Rescue Plan, could see delays.

    But Marguerite Roza, director of Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab, cautioned that while a default would certainly impact the stock market, states shouldn’t be worrying about their account balances running low.

    “States are sitting on a lot of cash right now,” she said, referring to the American Rescue Plan, which included $122 billion for K-12. But most of those funds, she added, are still at the state level and haven’t reached districts.

    Tucker agreed that the relief funds could provide a cushion, but some states haven’t yet received all of the funds and others have already allocated them.

    Recent polling from Politico and Morning Consult shows that voters would hold both parties responsible if the government goes into default, but they’re more likely to blame Democrats than Republicans.

    In 2011, during the Obama-Biden administration, the U.S. came close to the brink of default, with Tea Party Republicans ultimately winning budget cuts in exchange for an increase in the limit. The debt limit became an issue again in 2014, but at that point, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted to allow the measure to move forward to a vote. Democrats also helped Republicans increase the debt cap while President Donald Trump was in office.

    This time, Democrats wanted to lift the debt limit by adding language to a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government running through Dec. 3. The Republicans didn’t go for that and President Joe Biden ended up signing a resolution Thursday night without the debt limit increase.

    The Democratic majority in the House on Wednesday passed a separate debt limit bill, but the Senate is not expected to pass it. Republicans want Democrats to lift the debt ceiling as part of Biden’s proposed social and education package. But that plan is on shaky ground, with Democrats divided on how much to spend and Biden already conceding that it will probably amount to much less than the $3.5 trillion he proposed.

    Democrats could also move a separate bill just to lift the debt ceiling using the budget reconciliation process, meaning they would only need a simple majority to pass. Biden asked Republicans to allow Democrats to do that.

    “Republicans just have to let us do our job. Just get out of the way,” he said. “Let us vote to end the mess.”

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