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School Opening Debate: Atlanta, LA: No, NYC: Partial, Suburban Atlanta: Yes.

Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts will not open in the fall, choosing to offer online-only education to students. Meanwhile, in Georgia, Fulton County schools will open, while Atlanta city schools will be online-only.

Atlanta is choosing to start the year with at least nine weeks of virtual learning. Los Angeles has not set a time frame to transition to in-person classes.

Let’s frame the debate: First, where everyone agrees.

“Let me be crystal clear,” [Los Angeles school superintendent Austin] Beutner said in an interview with The Times. “We all know the best place for students to learn is in a school setting.”

L.A. Unified schools won’t reopen in fall, LA Times, July 14, 2020

Students trying to learn from home, where minute-by-minute distractions, and the lack of personal attention and group dynamics, is detrimental to actual education for most kids. Some thrive, but I think most parents and students would agree that homeschooling is not for everyone.

Now, where people disagree:

But, he said, “We’re going in the wrong direction. And as much as we want to be back at schools and have students back at schools — can’t do it until it’s safe and appropriate.”

“The wrong direction” means the direction of coronavirus infections is not declining, but increasing. The meanings of “safe” and “appropriate” are up for debate.

Source: The Dispatch daily tracking

Notably, New York City is doing a partial reopening of in-person classes, while populous Fulton County, outside Atlanta, is resuming in-person classes with a one-week delay.

This should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. We cannot continue with “indefinite” homeschooling. At the very least, Los Angeles should put some kind of end date or decision date into their plan. Two-parent working families can’t plan for child care, can’t all work from home, and won’t receive government benefits indefinitely. Bills need to be paid.

Much of the impetus for “safe” and “appropriate” is coming from powerful teachers unions. In a report released last week, the L.A. union (UTLA) took shots at President Trump, and recommended parameters for reopening that “will be difficult to meet any time in the near future.” In a poll, 83% of union members responded that they don’t believe campuses should open.

I would expect many teachers, including in New York City and suburban metro Atlanta, would agree that there’s some fear of reopening in-person classes. While kids tend to easily survive (and many with no symptoms at all) coronavirus, adults can door poorly, and older teachers are certainly at risk.

However, I’m all in favor of different cities handling things differently, because conditions on the ground in L.A. are different from suburban Atlanta.

We will see how the districts that open–especially Fulton County–will do compared to Atlanta public schools, which will be online-only. If Fulton County can successfully open without a giant spike in cases, then expect nine weeks later to see Atlanta join them.

Then maybe Los Angeles will be able to at least set a date for reopening.

One other point on which I think we can all agree: America has no hope of returning to “normal,” economically, socially, or in any other way, until our children are back in school. As long as kids are learning exclusively online, we’re going backwards, not forwards.

We will never be 100% safe from COVID-19, not until there’s an effective vaccine, which means not in 2020. All we can do is make things as “safe” as possible given the countermeasures we know work. If they work in warehouses, supermarkets, and malls, they can work in schools.

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