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The Week in COVID & Education Policy: Biden, Cardona and Experts Urge Schools to Stay Open, CDC Embraces Test-to-Stay and More COVID Policy

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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.

We Learned Our Lesson Last Year: Do Not Close Schools: Joseph Allen in The New York Times:

  • “The argument for keeping schools open rests on two constants ever since the COVID pandemic began: The risk of severe outcomes to kids from coronavirus infection is low, and the risks to kids from being out of school are high.”
  • “As the American Academy of Pediatrics stated in a report released this month, ‘The available data indicate that COVID-19-associated hospitalization and death is uncommon in children.’”
  • “The latest data from South Africa for the week ending Dec. 12 shows that school-age children (5- to 19-year-olds) had the lowest hospitalization of any age group, and even with the Omicron uptick, the hospitalization rate is 4 to 6 per 100,000 — higher than 1 in 100,000 but still quite low. The latest data from Britain is similar. As of Dec. 12, the hospitalization rate for 5- to 14-year-olds is 1.4 per 100,000 — the lowest hospitalization rate of any age group.”
  • “As pressures to close schools again grow, we should recognize that the patterns of school closures and reopenings last year were defined by racial inequality. Black and Hispanic students were twice as likely as white students to be remote and were twice as likely to have no live access to a teacher. This disparity persisted into the spring of 2021 as schools reopened.”
  • “We also need to mandate vaccination for all adults in schools and day cares.”
  • “Schools should address ventilation and filtration shortfalls through basic measures that can be put in place quickly.”
  • “We need to stop quarantining entire classrooms when there is a positive case and instead establish so-called test-to-stay policies as the default.”
  • “We should make masking in schools voluntary rather than mandatory.”
Getty Images

December 23, 2021 — The Big Three

Education Secretary Urges Schools to Stay Open: “Our parents have done enough,” Secretary Miguel Cardona said Tuesday.

  • “I don’t think we should be considering remote options,” Cardona said Tuesday in an interview with The 74. “Our students deserve more, not less, and our parents have done enough to help balance school closures the first year of the pandemic.”
  • President Joe Biden echoed those comments later Tuesday: “Today, we don’t have to shut down schools because of a case of COVID-19. … We know how to keep kids safe.”
CDC

CDC Embraces ‘Test-to-Stay’ Policy for Schools: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally released guidance around test-to-stay, which can, in certain situations, replace the quarantines that have disrupted so much learning this fall.  

  • More on its evaluation of the research; here is the guidance.
  • CDC also released two studies of test-to-stay programs. 
    • In Los Angeles, students at schools that did not participate in the pilot program, and who had to quarantine, lost an estimated 92,455 in-person school days between Sept. 20 and Oct. 31, while students exposed to the virus in schools trying out the program lost no days. Schools that used test-to-stay also did not see increases in virus rates among students.
    • In Lake County, Illinois, researchers estimated that up to 8,152 in-person learning days were saved between August and October in schools that participated in the program. Of the 16 students in the program who tested positive for the virus in the two weeks after exposure, none appeared to transmit it to others at school, the report said.
  • More via The 74

Pfizer’s Low-Dose Shot Did Not Provoke an Adequate Immune Response in 2- to 5-Year-Olds: Pfizer statement.


Omicron

Biden Addresses the Nation:   

Dr. Ashish Jha: We have the tools to keep schools open and safe

  • “We have all the tools to keep schools open and safe: Vaccinations, testing, improvements in ventilation, tens of billions of dollars have gone to schools. … If I hear of a single school district that goes remote but keeps bars open, what that says to me is: They don’t care about kids — and they don’t care about COVID. Because bars spread COVID. Schools generally don’t — not if you put in place mitigation efforts.”

City & State News

Arizona: Mike McShane: “Microschooling’s growth in Arizona is no surprise” and related Manhattan Institute paper.

California: A low-income, rural district was already all-in on technology, which helped it weather the pandemic.

D.C.: Educator survey by Washington Teachers Union and EmpowerEd found 47% of respondents were either seriously or somewhat seriously considering leaving their roles

Louisiana: New Orleans expands indoor and school vaccine mandate to children ages 5 and up, a first in the U.S.

Michigan: Detroit district to start winter break early, citing low attendance, and will require COVID-19 vaccines for staff members.

Pennsylvania: About 21% of Philadelphia’s eligible children have received a COVID-19 vaccine more than a month after the 5-to-11 age group was approved. Percent that have received one dose:

  • 8% of Black children
  • 12% of Hispanic children
  • 24% of white children
  • 31% of Asian children

Virginia: Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin named Aimee Rogstad Guidera as his choice for state education secretary. 


Federal Updates

Education Department: Is seeking comments on its draft guidance, “Impact of COVID-19 on 2021-2022 Accountability Systems.” Comments are due Jan. 16.

Institute of Education Sciences: Grant notice: Improving Pandemic Recovery Efforts in Education Agencies


COVID-19 Research

Kids’ Vaccine Safety, by the Numbers: Via Emily Oster.

CDC Recommends Pfizer, Moderna Vaccines Over J&J: Citing increasing evidence that the Johnson & Johnson shots trigger a rare blood clot disorder now linked to dozens of cases and at least nine deaths in the last year, the NYT reports.  

  • “The CDC accepted advice from a panel of experts to recommend the use of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines over the Johnson & Johnson jab, following growing concerns about rare blood clots.”
  • Stat’s Helen Branswell has a great thread covering the meeting.
  • Johnson & Johnson statement.

The CDC’s Flawed Case for Wearing Masks in School: David Zweig in The Atlantic

  • “What data do exist have been interpreted into guidance in many different ways. The World Health Organization, for example, does not recommend masks for children under age 6. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recommends against the use of masks for any children in primary school.”
  • In September, appearing “as a guest on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation,’ [CDC Director Rochelle Walensky] cited a study published two days earlier, which looked at data from about 1,000 public schools in Arizona. The ones that didn’t have mask mandates, she said, were 3.5 times as likely to experience COVID outbreaks as the ones that did.”
  • “But the Arizona study at the center of the CDC’s back-to-school blitz turns out to have been profoundly misleading. ‘You can’t learn anything about the effects of school mask mandates from this study,’ Jonathan Ketcham, a public health economist at Arizona State University, told me. His view echoed the assessment of eight other experts who reviewed the research, and with whom I spoke for this article.”
  • “This is not the only study cited by Walensky in support of masking students, but it’s among the most important.”
  • “With Biden in the White House, the CDC has promised to ‘follow the science’ in its COVID policies. Yet the circumstances around the Arizona study seem to show the opposite. Dubious research has been cited after the fact, without transparency, in support of existing agency guidance. ‘Research requires trust and the ability to verify work,’ Ketcham … told me. ‘That’s the heart of science. The saddest part of this is the erosion of trust.’”

Children and COVID-19: AAP State Data Report

  • Nearly 170,000 child cases were added the past week, an increase of nearly 28% over the last 2 weeks. 
  • For the 19th week in a row, child COVID-19 cases are above 100,000. 
  • Since the first week of September, there have been more than 2.3 million additional child cases.

Long COVID in Kids: New study:

  • To conclude: let’s stop the scaremongering and get the public messaging right. The vast majority of kids with COVID-19 will recover completely, but we do need better tools to identify (and resources to investigate and support) the small proportion of kids with persistent symptoms.”

Viewpoints

Should We Treat COVID-19 as an Emergency or as Endemic?: Asks Kristen Soltis Anderson.

  • “Trust in scientific authorities has fallen during COVID, and increasingly, people are frustrated to discover that restrictions we have lived under — like requiring little kids to wear masks on the playground, something almost no other countries on the planet do — aren’t as rooted in good science as advertised. Support for things like mask mandates and requiring people to show proof of vaccination to go about their day has been slipping gradually.”
  • “Most Americans — including two-thirds of Republicans and 6 in 10 Independents — say: We don’t think we are ever getting to COVID zero, so let’s learn to live with it.”
  • “The idea that if we all just spent a few more weeks hunkered down, ‘15 days to slow the spread’ and all that, we can just beat this thing once and for all is increasingly viewed as nonsense.”

Advancing Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems: A Guide for State Education Agencies: A new resource from CCSSO and the National Center for School Mental Health outlines five key steps state education agencies can take to support a comprehensive approach to school mental health, alongside state examples and relevant resources. 

Getting Personal: The Future of Education Post COVID-19: Report from the Economist and Qatar Foundation. More from EdWeek

  • “Nearly all of the educators surveyed — 99% — said that COVID-19 accelerated their schools’ adoption of personalized learning, with 51% strongly agreeing with that statement. (The other 48% “somewhat” agreed.) Nearly a third — 30% — strongly agreed with the statement that the pandemic “made personalized learning more relevant than ever.”
  • “Already, 70% of schools use digital tools to deliver what they define as personalized learning, and 93% expect they will either increase or start doing so in the next two years.”

Are Schools Ready for the Next Big Surge?: Asks the NYT

  • “This time, union leaders in New York, Boston and Philadelphia said they were not asking for districtwide remote learning and were instead focused on pushing administrators to enforce virus mitigation measures.”

Zach Eckert: Unexpectedly passed away. Statement from ExcelinEd. 

Remembering Denis Doyle: Wonderful tribute by Checker Finn. And Andrew Rotherham reflects.

  • He was a co-author of “Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public Schools” with then-CEO of IBM Lou Gerstner, a book that I found particularly thought-provoking when I was working at the Pennsylvania Department of Education. 
  • He later launched Schoolnet with Jonathan Harber, a company that was in many ways several years ahead of its time.  
  • But more than anything, I remember his kind, gentle and encouraging mentorship when I was serving at the U.S. Department of Education. He will be missed. 

…And on a Reflective Note

As we close out 2021, let us look forward to Better Days:

Normally, this is a season marked by joy and cheer. But I know for many, this year feels a bit more heavy and exhausting. I wish you peace. May your holiday be filled with the simple gifts that matter most and a near year blessed with hope, health and happiness. —John


ICYMI @The74

This weekend, check out our top 21 stories of the year. Some of the highlights:

For even more COVID policy and education news, subscribe to John Bailey’s daily briefing via Substack.

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

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