The Orange County, California school board controversially voted Monday night to reopen schools this fall without enforcing the wearing of masks or social distancing, coming into contrast with other cities taking a more conservative reopening approach amid a pressure campaign from the Department of Education urging students to return to classrooms.
The board voted 4-1, reported the Los Angeles Times, although their recommendation is non-binding, as the final decisions rest with individual districts and their superintendents.
The board made their decision based on a commissioned white paper compiled by experts, which stated that forcing students to wear masks is “difficult–if not impossible to implement–but not based on science,” with children representing the “lowest risk cohort for COVID-19.”
The white paper concluded that parents “are in the best position to determine the education environment that best suits their children rather than government officials.”
The board’s dissenting voter, Beckie Gomez, had questions about the sourcing of some of the information and said parts of the white paper were flawed.
In contrast, the nearby Los Angeles and San Diego school systems will be online-only this fall, while New York City on the East Coast will take a data-driven approach with a mix of in-person and remote learning.
The federal Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos are urging schools to reopen this fall, but have so far offered few details on how to accomplish that, and have not firmly recommended districts follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
“The evidence is showing children so far have been less likely to be infected, although that comes from a background of our children not being in school,” University of Southern California microbiology professor Paula Cannon told the Los Angeles Times. “It would be difficult to say that this means children are somehow more resistant to the virus.”
Over 41,000. That’s how many signatures a Change.org petition had by Tuesday morning supporting Orange County schools reopening per state health guidelines, in opposition of the school board.
Questions remain as to whether children are at a lower risk of contracting Covid-19 and how likely they are to spread it to the adults in their lives, including teachers. The education of students of all ages across the country was disrupted in March with the abrupt shutdown of schools and universities. Most institutions pivoted to online instruction, which the Orange County white paper criticized as an “utter failure.” President Trump has also blasted remote learning. In a Friday tweet, he wrote, “Virtual Learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning,” and added that he might withhold federal funding to schools that don’t reopen with in-person learning. DeVos also echoed that threat before backing down. Analysis from the Washington Post said Trump and DeVos lack the unilateral authority to withhold funding, and would need Congress’ approval to do so.
Los Angeles and San Diego Schools to Go Online-Only in the Fall (New York Times)