education

I catch Patricia Stamper with a Zoom meeting going in the background and a child at her knee asking for attention. Stamper works as a teacher's assistant for special education students in the Washington, D.C., public schools.

These days, her virtual classroom is at home — and so is her toddler, who has a genetic disorder called Noonan syndrome, and her kindergartner, who receives speech therapy. Her husband works outside the home at a golf course.

Early this month, parents and students across the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia streamed back to school campuses, not to attend classes, but instead to protest.

They gathered by the hundreds outside dozens of schools in rare acts of civil disobedience, protesting a new policy that sharply reduces their hours of Mongolian-language instruction. For several days, schools across Inner Mongolia stood empty as parents pulled their children out of class, the largest demonstrations in Inner Mongolia in more than three decades.

There's a LOT of education news these days. Here's an overview of the stories from this week that you might have missed, plus some valuable links we've gleaned from around the web.

First let's turn to the world of higher education.

Sal Khan, the founder and CEO of Khan Academy, built an education enterprise on virtual learning. But as many communities across the country prepare to start the fall with online-only instruction, even he admits that distance learning is a less than perfect substitute for in-person schooling.

The former hedge fund analyst first hatched the idea for Khan Academy as a way to tutor his younger cousins in math. Since its launch in 2008, the site has been providing free video tutorials and lectures. Today, it serves more than 100 million users worldwide.

A friend posted a picture on Instagram of her 11-year-old daughter wearing a school uniform, sitting attentively in front of a laptop and waving to her teacher during a virtual class.

My experience lay in stark contrast. During home lessons, my youngest child, a 7-year-old, often ignores the screen and climbs on me whenever possible.

Despite always finishing their homeschooling tasks, when asked what their favorite subjects are, my two boys usually respond in unison, "Break and lunch!" I'm dismayed every time I hear it.

More than 6,500 current and former teachers have gotten a second chance to shed millions of dollars in unfair student debts, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Education.

The educators had enrolled in the department's troubled TEACH Grant program, which provides grants to help aspiring teachers pay for college. In exchange, they agreed to teach a high-need subject for four years in a school that serves low-income families.

At the Bruneau-Grandview School District in rural southern Idaho, a couple of dozen teachers are crowded into the small library.

They're doing a refresher training for online teaching. In person-classes are scheduled to begin Monday, but with coronavirus cases continuing to rise in Idaho and other states, it's an open question for how long.

As schools across the country grapple with bringing kids back into the classroom, parents — and teachers — are worried about safety. We asked pediatricians, infectious disease specialists and education experts for help evaluating school district plans.

What we learned: There's no such thing as zero risk, but certain practices can lower the risk of an outbreak at school and keep kids, teachers and families safer.

Central and upstate New York schools have released their reopening plans for the fall. Below are links to either the released school reopening plan or to the school district's main website if they have not yet updated their plans. This page will be updated as more plans are released or revised.

Last update: 9/4/20 10:00 a.m.

Broome County

Binghamton School District

In any ordinary school year, school nurses are busy. This year, that's an understatement.

"Our role has expanded tenfold," says Eileen Gavin, who co-leads a team of nurses for Middletown Township Public Schools in New Jersey.

Catholic schools in urban neighborhoods, often seen as an attractive option by low income parents and families of color, are facing an unprecedented crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the country, at least 100 urban Catholic schools will close in the fall as a result of declining tuition revenue, and school administrators say the number could double in the next two months.

Updated at 6:13 p.m. ET

The United States crossed a grim milestone Wednesday, with more than 150,000 lives now lost as a result of the coronavirus.

The tragic number includes around 33,000 people who have died in New York, nearly 16,000 in New Jersey and more than 8,700 in California.

Wayne Banks is a middle school math teacher and principal in residence for KIPP charter schools. These days, like many teachers around the country, the 29-year-old is working from his apartment in Brooklyn, New York.

Banks has never been formally trained to teach online, but that hasn't stopped him from trying to make his classes as engaging and challenging as possible.

"I really took the opportunity in March to be like, 'I just have to figure this out.' [It was] a do or die for me," Banks says.

Vanessa Ince's daughter, Alexis, has a rare chromosomal abnormality and autism. Alexis has thrived at her public school in Wailuku, Hawaii, and loves spending time with her classmates.

Ince says when the COVID-19 pandemic closed her school in Wailuku, the effect on her daughter's well-being was "devastating."

"Alexis regressed so severely. She was previously, I would say, 95% potty trained and she started wetting herself." She also regressed in other areas, her mother says: She went back to crawling and stopped trying to use her communication device.

Ann Levett's worst day as superintendent of Savannah-Chatham County Public School System wasn't March 26, the day Georgia's governor first closed schools, keeping Levett's more than 37,000 students home in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Her worst day came just a couple of weeks ago, Levett says, when she realized the infection numbers around Savannah were so high that she wasn't going to be able to reopen schools.

As scientists study the burden of COVID-19 around the globe, it's pretty clear that despite some cases of serious illness, kids tend to get infected with the coronavirus less often and have milder symptoms compared to adults.

"It seems consistently, children do have lower rates of infection than adults," says Dr. Alison Tribble, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Friday released his plan for how schools should safely reopen amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, calling on Congress to pass a $30 billion emergency education package to support building upgrades and sanitation protocols ahead of students' return to onsite learning.

"The challenge facing our schools is unprecedented. President Trump has made it much worse. We had a window to get this right. And, Trump blew it," the Biden campaign said in a statement.

In Florida, an additional 10,181 people tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the state's total to more than 301,810 cases. Florida has averaged more than 10,000 cases a day for the past week, and some public health experts said the peak is still weeks away.

This fall, public school districts should prioritize full-time, in-person classes for grades K-5 and for students with special needs. That's the top-line recommendation of a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

On Monday, Los Angeles and San Diego public schools announced they will be starting the school year remote-only in August as coronavirus cases rise in Southern California.

"The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control," a joint statement said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics once again plunged into the growing debate over school reopening with a strong new statement Friday, making clear that while in-person school provides crucial benefits to children, "Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics." The statement also said that "science and community circumstances must guide decision-making."

Pirette McKamey is fighting for anti-racist education.

Over her more than 30 years as an educator, the principal at Mission High School in San Francisco spent a decade leading an anti-racism committee.

In the wake of ongoing protests for racial justice, young people in America are demanding change from their schools.

Updated 3:40 p.m. ET

In the latest move from the Trump administration to push for states to reopen schools this fall, Vice President Pence couched guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to safely reopen schools, saying it shouldn't be used as a "barrier" to students returning to classrooms.

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. The decision is often framed as a landmark decision that transformed education for Black students, allowing them equal access to integrated classrooms.

Florida's education commissioner says that when schools open in the fall, they'll really open.

In the state where more than 7,300 new coronavirus cases were announced on Tuesday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran declared that upon reopening in August, "all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students."

The nation's pediatricians have come out with a strong statement in favor of bringing children back to the classroom this fall wherever and whenever they can do so safely. The American Academy of Pediatrics' guidance "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school."

First, the end:

"Please be kind to one another. That's all for today."

So closes the middle-school top-prize winner of NPR's Student Podcast Challenge. World, meet The Dragon Kids.

There is no one answer for what the coming school year will look like, but it won't resemble the fall of 2019. Wherever classrooms are open, there will likely be some form of social distancing and other hygiene measures in place that challenge traditional teaching and learning. Future outbreaks will make for unpredictable waves of closures. Virtual learning will continue.

The police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., have sparked a national conversation around racial justice.

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