Fayette Schools Grapple With New Virus Data, Competing Concerns
A new Centers for Disease Control report is adding further pressure on schools to reopen, but some officials are warning against a one-size-fits-all approach.
In a study of 17 schools in rural Wisconsin with mask and social distancing rules in place, the CDC found COVID-19 transmission was low. "The type of rapid spread that was frequently observed in congregate living facilities or high-density worksites has not been reported in education settings in schools," the agency reported.
The results are encouraging news for open schools advocates who worry about the toll remote learning is taking on education and students' mental health.
But others argue school districts need more data to move ahead with reopening amid the health crisis. A spokesperson for the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a nonprofit education advocacy group in Kentucky, says school leaders need to work with local health departments to tailor plans to the needs of particular communities.
The sentiment was echoed recently by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who pointed to challenges faced by schools in larger districts.
"For areas where they are more populated or schools where there is a lot more foot traffic... there are going to need to be a lot of steps put in place in order to make the schools' reopening safe," she told reporters.
The CDC researchers added that much of schools' success relies on their embrace of safety precautions.
Apart from some limited in-person instruction for at-risk students, Fayette County Public Schools is coming up on nearly a year of virtual learning. And school board members say the policy will remain in effect until at least February 12th, as the district continues to balance competing concerns.
Fayette Superintendent Marlene Helm said school planners are walking a tightrope.
"Please know that we hear your calls, calls for hurry and reopen, and then others, don't rush and follow the data," she said. "We appreciate your understanding, patience, and partnership as together we strive to be good stewards of this incredible and heavy responsibility."
But the debate over where the data point is far from settled, as the city works toward vaccinating K-12 educators ahead of a possible outbreak of a new, more contagious strain of the virus.