Coronavirus Must-Reads for Schools: More High-Schoolers Eyeing Gap Years, ‘Essential’ Teen Workers, Some Western Schools Already Back in Session & More

Bell High School senior Kenia Molina in front of her shuttered campus in Bell, California. (Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images)

This is a special edition of EduClips, our recurring roundup of top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 10 states typically attend class every day. See our full EduClips archive right here.

Two news events that bookended the week underscore the basic cognitive dissonance of the COVID-19 era. On Monday, a think tank released a sprawling blueprint for how schools can reopen. As reported by Education Week, the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute recommended that “policymakers and educators need to think long-term, preparing for possible changes to operations for the next two academic years.” The gist is that schools need to take the next four months to engage in deep soul-searching and careful planning before students return.

And, just like that, on Thursday a small school in rural Montana opened its doors to 56 students and 18 staff members. The Willow Creek School opened after 75 percent of local parents surveyed in the farming and ranching community said they wanted their kids to catch up on schoolwork and return to a semblance of normalcy before summer. The move came after similar limited openings in other western states like Idaho and Wyoming.

Part of the rationale is a strong local-control ethos that is part of the DNA of the American West. “How they open schools and how learning takes place is up to them,” said Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, a Republican elected in 2016. Other states are following the lead of President Trump, who views opening schools as pivotal to jump-starting the dormant economy. At an Oval Office event this week, Trump reiterated: “I would like to see schools open, wherever possible.”

What happens out west could presage larger-scale reopenings this fall, where decisions will reflect a mix of science, tradition and politics. Whether the openings look more like the Willow Creek School or reflect the extensive deliberation envisioned by AEI will likely depend on zip code. Many are fearful of the economy’s steep decline, even as scientists urge caution. One expert told The 74 that given the current inability to stem the virus’s spread, schools that open prematurely risk endangering the lives of students and staff. “Schools are a mixing cauldron for disease,” says Jeffrey Shaman, one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists. “Kids interacting in close proximity is a really good environment for the transmission of respiratory viruses. Opening them early is not the strategy I would recommend.”

Top stories

Reopening Schools — As COVID-19 Keeps Most Schools Shuttered for the Rest of the Year, a Growing Number in Wyoming and Montana Partially Reopen (Read at The74Million.org)

Teen Workers — High School Student and Essential Worker: Teens Fill Essential Role During Pandemic (Read at the Houston Chronicle)

Gap Year — Biggest Gap Year Ever? Sixteen Percent of High School Seniors Say They’ll Take a Gap Year (Read at The Hechinger Report)

Digital Divide — An Education System, Divided: How Internet Inequity Persisted Through 4 Presidents and Left Schools Unprepared for the Pandemic (Read at The 74Million.org)

Health — A New Coronavirus Threat to Children (Read at The New York Times)

‘Social distance’ learning

Cuomo Taps Gates Foundation to ‘Reimagine’ What Schooling Looks Like in NY (Read at Chalkbeat)

NYC Allows Zoom (Once Again) for Remote Learning (Read at Chalkbeat)


Teachers Without Internet Work in Parking Lots, Empty School Buildings During COVID-19 (Read at Education Week)

Ringing the Bell: These 10 Houston-Area Teachers and Staff Go Beyond the Classroom Amid the Pandemic (Read at the Houston Chronicle)

Principals Find Novel Ways to Honor Seniors During Shutdown (Read at The New York Times)

A Texas Principal Traveled 800 Miles to Visit His School’s 612 Graduating Seniors at Home, All While Socially Distancing (Read at Insider)

Coronavirus Separates Student Teachers From Their K-12 and College Classrooms, Forcing Them to Scramble and States to Change License Rules (Read at The74Million.org)

Pandemic fallout

Coronavirus Leaves Students and Colleges Playing Waiting Game (Read at The Wall Street Journal)

District Hard-Hit by COVID-19 Begins ‘Tough Work’ of Getting On (Read at Education Week)

Despite Pushback, Sidwell and Other D.C.-Area Prep Schools are Keeping Their Small-Business Loans (Read at The Washington Post)

Voluntary or Mandatory? Remote or in Person? Districts Grapple with Summer School Logistics, Equity Questions (Read at Chalkbeat)

Coronavirus Blew Up Summer Internships, Forcing Students and Employers to Get Creative (Read at The Washington Post)

Essays and reflections

A Mom’s View: I Already Knew My Son’s Teacher Is Special. Her Socially Distanced Visits to Our Home Show What an Extraordinary Gem She Is (Read at The74Millon.org)

The Home Is the School: Teaching Philosophy With Kids in the House (Read at Plough)

Why I’m Learning More With Distance Learning Than I Do in School (Read at The New York Times)

The Pandemic Is Causing Widespread Emotional Trauma. Schools Must Be Ready to Help (Read at Education Week)

Student Voice: Facing the ‘Crushing Impact of Isolation,’ Teens Struggling With Mental Health Problems During Pandemic Lean on Each Other (Read at The74Million.org)


“We ride that seesaw every day — is it a good idea? We’re not taking this lightly. We don’t want people to think we’re being irresponsible by making this choice. We’re trying to do what we feel is in the best interest of the students.” —Bonnie Lower, district superintendent in Willow Creek, Montana, where a small school just opened to students and staff. (Read at USA Today)

“Schools are a mixing cauldron for disease. Kids interacting in close proximity is a really good environment for the transmission of respiratory viruses. Opening them early is not the strategy I would recommend.” —Jeffrey Shaman, one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists, who teaches at Columbia University. (Read at The74Million.org)

“We expect to see an increase in gap years and, actually, gap semesters.” —Angel Pérez, vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College in Connecticut and newly named chief executive of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. (Read at The Hechinger Report)

“This is presenting very much like a common childhood illness, which it is not. This is a novel diagnosis that doesn’t exactly have a name, doesn’t exactly have a timeline, doesn’t exactly have a protocol. We didn’t learn about this in medical school.” —Dr. Katie Schafer, a general pediatrician who has a private practice in Birmingham, Michigan, on a new strain of the coronavirus that largely affects children. (Read at The New York Times)

“They need to do whatever it takes to make sure that they can get learning into the homes of these kids. We haven’t been thinking creatively. If the Department of Health can set up tents in Central Park with hospital beds and air systems and drive-up testing sites, and we can’t find ways to promote internet access for our kids to get online for school, then we’ve failed.” —Nicol Turner-Lee, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation. (Read at The 74Million.org)

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