The Week in COVID & Education Policy: A Push to Vaccinate Adolescents, How States Are Grappling With Substitute Teacher Shortages & 19 Other Key Updates

This is our weekly briefing on how the pandemic is shaping schools and education policy vetted, as always, by AEI Visiting Fellow John Bailey. Click here to see the full archive. Get this weekly roundup, as well as rolling daily updates, delivered straight to your inbox — sign up for The 74 Newsletter.

“It’s Time to Begin Vaccinating Children and Adolescents,” according to a new report from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Policy Lab:

  • “Nearly 300 children have died from COVID-19 nationwide, meaning it represents a threat on par with the flu (200 deaths), measles (500 yearly deaths before a vaccine was available) and varicella (75-100 deaths a year before a vaccine was available).”
  • “Vaccines reduce morbidity from an illness, not just mortality. Measles and varicella caused much suffering and disruption in the lives of children and families prior to routine vaccination. COVID-19 can lead to multi-inflammatory syndrome in children or “MIS-C” — a rare but often severe and potentially fatal condition with unknown long-term effects that has affected more than 3,000 children in the U.S. The potential morbidity from MIS-C needs to be considered in the decision to vaccinate children.”
  • “Many children benefit immensely from the social, emotional, academic and physical benefits of in-person school and extracurricular activities. One of the values of influenza vaccination is that when protective, it can reduce days that children miss school and parents miss work.”
(Getty Images)

April 30, 2021 — The Big Three

Young Children, Older Children and the Shifting Risk in School Transmission: New study from Israel finds young children are at low risk and do not play a “substantial” role in virus spread while attending school, but children ages 10 to 19 should resume school only when community transmission is lower.

  • Study analyzed data on 47,620 children up to age 9; 101,304 youths 10 to 19 years old; and about 320,000 adults 20 years old and older in Israel, all of whom tested positive for COVID-19 between late August and December.
  • Those aged 10 to 19 had a threefold higher risk for infection after returning to school compared to when they still were at home.
  • “Children are more likely to contract COVID-19 from infected family members rather than from other children in school settings,” said Dr. Eli Somekh, a professor of pediatrics in Bnei Brak, Israel.
  • Conclusion: “Findings suggest that children aged 0 to 9 years did not have substantial rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection during school attendance periods, and it may be assumed that they did not have a substantial role in COVID-19 spread either during this period. Therefore, resuming school for this age group when lockdown was released appears to have been safe for them.”

Return to Learn Tracker Reveals Reopening Trends: As of April 19, 47 percent of districts are fully in person, 4 percent are fully remote and about 48 percent are offering some type of hybrid instruction. (Via AEI)

  • In-person learning is more prevalent in counties with high vaccine hesitancy (61 percent) compared with low vaccine hesitancy (33 percent).
  • Fully in-person learning is almost twice as prevalent in majority-Donald Trump districts (58 percent) compared with majority-Joe Biden districts (29 percent).
  • Related: Kids are finally returning to school. But most of them are white (Via Politico)

State Leaders Outline Strategies for Accelerating Student Learning amid Pandemic: Great landscape analysis from NGA/CCSSO with state breakouts in these categories:

  • Getting organized and understanding what needs to happen
  • Using summer 2021 to accelerate learning
  • Supporting more students to be successful learners, including social-emotionally and academically
  • Tackling other challenges: future considerations

COVID-19 Research

6 ft vs. 60 ft: New MIT study argues “there really isn’t much of a benefit to the 6-foot rule”

  • “In well-mixed spaces, ‘one is no safer from airborne pathogens at 60 feet than 6 feet,’ [the researchers] said.”
  • We argue there really isn’t much of a benefit to the 6-foot rule, especially when people are wearing masks,” since everyone in the room is breathing the same air, co-author Martin Bazant said in an interview. “It really has almost no physical basis because the air a person is breathing while wearing a mask tends to rise and comes down elsewhere in the room so you’re more exposed to the average background than you are to a person at a distance.”
  • Here’s the model/calculator, which “factors in a variety of issues that could affect transmission, including the amount of time spent inside, air filtration and circulation, immunization, variant strains, mask use and even respiratory activity such as breathing, eating, speaking or singing.”

Children and COVID-19, by the numbers: State-Level Data Report from the American Academy of Pediatrics

  • 3.6 million total child COVID-19 cases reported, representing 13.6 percent of all cases.
  • Children were 1.3 to 3 percent of total reported hospitalizations, and between 0.1 and 1.9 percent of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization.
  • Children were 0.00 to 0.21 percent of all COVID-19 deaths, and 10 states reported zero child deaths.

COVID-19 Vaccines and Kids: Five questions (and the answers) as trials begin, via Nature:

  • Do we even need to vaccinate children?
  • How will the trials in kids work?
  • Will children and adults respond differently to COVID-19 vaccines?
  • How will scientists know if vaccines work in children?
  • How will researchers know if the vaccines are safe in young children?

COVID Collaborative Resources for Schools: The COVID Collaborative, the Edmond J. Safra Center at Harvard University, the Brown School of Public Health and New America released some resources:

City & State News

Delaware: The state education department has outlined four main strategies to accelerate learning (Read the announcement)

  • Provide high-quality instructional materials and purchase statewide licenses for teachers to access them.
    • The department will make an online repository of about 3 million e-books available to every student
    • To support schools with mathematics acceleration, the department will provide Delaware public schools with licenses to access Zearn Math for summer 2021 and the 2021-22 school year
  • Offer more professional learning opportunities to school leaders and teachers, particularly geared toward reading
  • Implement assessments to identify learning gaps
  • Create new ways to support student learning in settings like summer learning, extended school days and tutoring.

South Carolina: School districts see major shortage of substitute teachers. “In an average year, the district was able to fill 85 percent of daily teacher absences with a substitute teacher. This year, they’ve been trending closer to 45 percent,” said Patrick Kelly of the Palmetto State Teachers Association.

Maryland: The Maryland State Board of Education, in a unanimous vote, will require public schools to offer all students the option of attending classes in person this fall.

Michigan: More children are being hospitalized with COVID.“We are in a public health crisis,” one doctor said. Pediatric COVID-19 hospitalization rates in the state increased 311 percent between Feb. 19 and April 20.

California: As the state’s schools reopen to in-person instruction, students and parents decide if it’s right for them. A great collection of stories from families about how they’re making decisions, via EdSource.

Federal Updates

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Released guidance for summer camps. More via The New York Times
    • Children can be within 3 feet of peers in same-group settings, but they must wear masks at all times
    • Some activities should still be avoided, including close-contact or indoor sports, and large gatherings or assemblies. Singing, chanting, shouting or playing instruments are recommended for outdoors.

U.S. Department of Agriculture:Announced an effort to provide adequate nutrition to more than 30 million children over the summer by expanding Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits.

U.S. Department of Education:Officially kicked off the Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative, “a professional learning community that brings together relevant stakeholders to help states use more than $1.2 billion of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to build evidence-based summer programs that address the lost instructional and extracurricular time students may have experienced as a result of the pandemic.”


Perspectives of Black K-12 Parents: New poll from EdChoice (See the crosstabs and a blog post):

  • Two-thirds don’t think it will be safe to send their kids back to school until at least August.
  • Report higher levels of preference for schooling at home than schooling outside the home.
  • More than one-third are participating in a learning pod or looking to form or join one.

5 Ways to Think About Social and Emotional Learning: Via Justina Schlund in SmartBrief

In Thousands of Districts, 4-Day School Weeks Are Robbing Students of Learning Time for What Amounts to Hygiene Theater: Via Robin Lake and Georgia Heyward in The 74

Our Brains Need Breaks From Virtual Meetings: “A study of brainwave activity conducted by Microsoft among people participating in video meetings while wearing electroencephalogram (EEG) equipment to monitor the electrical activity in their brains revealed that brain activity associated with stress increased as the number of consecutive video meetings increased.” (Via Forbes)

  • Researchers “also point to an easy remedy: taking a break in between meetings,” which gives the brain a chance to “reset.”

2021 Summer Learning & Enrichment — Guidance for District and School Leaders: A new resource from NGA/CCSSO touches on organization, staffing, social-emotional learning, academic supports, assessments and family engagement.

… And on a Lighter Note

The Best Game of Chase: You’ll ever see. The surprise at the 40-second mark is hysterical.

ICYMI @The74

Weekend Reads: In case you missed them, our top five stories of the week:

  • Federal Politics: Biden Touts Ambitious Birth-to-College Education Plan as Way to ‘Compete with the Rest of the World’ (Read more)
  • Equity: ‘No One Knew We Were Homeless’: New Relief Funds Fuel Efforts to Find Students Lost During Virtual School (Read more)
  • Discipline: Reinventing School Discipline in Texas: After Years of Unequal Punishment for Black Students, Dallas ISD Moves Toward Historic End to Most Suspensions (Read more)
  • Students’ Rights: In Major First Amendment Case, SCOTUS Appears Ready to Uphold Students’ Free-Speech Rights Outside the Schoolhouse Gate (Read more)
  • Learning Delays: ‘Not The Kind of Growth We Need’: Despite Some Recovery of Learning Lost During Pandemic, Test Results Reveal Large Gaps (Read more)

Disclosure: John Bailey is an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation, which provides financial support to The 74.

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