President Donald Trump has spent the past two weeks demanding — often in all caps on Twitter — that American schools reopen this fall.
But America’s biggest school systems are rejecting the president across the country, with one city and county after another opting for virtual education or just a few days a week in school. And the president has little power to do anything about it.
The Los Angeles and San Diego school districts announced Monday they will start the upcoming school year with full distance learning. New York City schools will offer a mix of in-person classes and online learning. In suburban D.C., Maryland’s largest district is proposing to start the year with virtual learning. Other districts are considering just two or three days a week in the classroom, with kids continuing to learn from home the rest of the time.
Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools — touted as a model by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for its comprehensive reopening plan — is offering up to five days of in-person learning, along with an online option. But the superintendent now is casting doubt on the possibility of kids returning to classrooms on the first day of school if the city remains the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, though Florida’s new reopening plan orders the state’s public schools to reopen in August for at least five days per week for all students.
Republicans have said for decades school decisions should be made at the local and state level, and have often held the U.S. Department of Education in disdain. So even as Trump and DeVos push kids to board buses and head back to school, they can’t force the issue. Most education spending is overseen at the state and district level, and there is little the federal government can do to carry through on Trump’s demands that schools reopen and aid an economic upturn.
“We want teachers and students to be face-to-face, as much as safely possible,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the head of the congressional panel that controls education spending, on Monday. “In some states around the nation with a virus that is out of control, we cannot simply open schools based on the statements of the secretary of education.”
Trump on Monday was asked what he would tell concerned parents who saw news that a teacher in Arizona —another virus hot spot— recently died after teaching a summer school class online. Two teachers who shared her classroom also contracted the virus.
“Yeah, the schools should be opened,” Trump responded. “Schools should be opened. Kids want to go to school. You’re losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed.”
Despite the administration’s pressure campaign, the federal workforce in the D.C. suburbs may still have kids at home for the foreseeable future.
Montgomery County — Maryland’s largest school system — could start with remote learning before gradually bringing students back in the fall. Parents of students at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia — one of the nation’s largest districts and a frequent target for DeVos — have been asked to choose by Wednesday either full-time online instruction or at least two days of in-person instruction.
Here’s what some of the largest school districts are planning:
New York City
Most children in the nation’s largest school system will go to school two to three days a week, city leaders announced last week. Families will also have the option to do online learning full time if they don’t feel safe returning to schools in person.
“We can make up learning for students. We cannot bring a student back who is infected and passes away,” said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.
Los Angeles, San Diego
Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified, which collectively enroll more than 700,000 students, issued a joint announcement that students will resume classes next month online with hopes of returning to physical classrooms sometime this school year “as soon as public health conditions allow.”
Teachers have ramped up their opposition to campuses reopening in the fall, with the California Teachers Association saying last week that schools are not safe to open, citing a resurgence in cases and a need for more personal protective equipment and other supplies.
Chicago Public Schools is conducting family surveys, and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said on Friday that schools could have “some capacity for in-person instruction” if the city keeps its cases under control, ABC 7 Chicago reported. But a survey of Chicago Teachers Union members released last week found more than 85 percent of respondents felt they should not or might not return to work in the fall without a detailed plan and resources that guarantee safety. The union is currently negotiating with the school system on the reopening plan.
Miami-Dade County, Fla.
Parents have until Wednesday to decide on their preferred option for the fall, whether it be up to five days in school or learning online. “If the conditions on August 24th are what they are today, it would be very difficult for us to reopen schools,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Monday on MSNBC
Carvalho said that, if conditions prevent them from reopening schools, they plan to provide alternatives, including continuous remote teaching and several hybrid models. “But we are ready to pivot between any one of those models, based on the medical and public health advice from local entities right here in our community,” he said.
DeVos, on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, touted the plan for having a “wide variety of approaches, but with the expectation that if you have to move to a remote instruction situation that you have full-time learning going on for all students at all times.”
Clark County, Nev.
Officials in the county, which includes Las Vegas, are considering a plan that calls for calls for in-person learning two days a week and online learning for three. Another option is online-only instruction, the Las Vegas Sun reported.
The Clark County School District board of trustees approved the plan last week for submission to the state, but it can still be altered, the newspaper reported.
Broward County, Fla.
Despite the state mandate, Broward County School District is still weighing whether to reopen classrooms when school starts on Aug. 19.
The school district’s plan has not yet been finalized, the Sun Sentinel reported, and the district and teachers union are discussing safety issues with in-person instruction.
“At this time, we do not see a realistic path to opening all district schools with 100 percent full enrollment every day as we were before we closed schools due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said last week.
Houston ISD, Texas
HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the district is still finalizing its fall plans, but it is considering resuming classes through in person, online instruction or hybrid models. Parents are expected to get an update on the district’s plan by July 15.
Houston’s teachers union weighed in with a set of recommendations, including starting the school year online, if the number of Covid-19 cases has not yet declined for 14 consecutive days. It says educators, support staff and parents “fear reopening without the infrastructure and investment to do so safely and equitably.”
Hillsborough County Public Schools, Fla.
Superintendent Addison Davis, citing CDC guidance, announced masks will be required at all schools when classes resume Aug. 10. He said it was the “best option” to keep teachers, staff and students safe, and Davis added that they all will receive three reusable masks each, which equals to more than 760,000 masks. Parents must tell the district how their students will attend school this fall by July 17 and can choose from to committing to traditional school or distance learning.
Orange County Public Schools, Fla.
Orange County Public Schools parents are being asked to look through three options for their kids to go to school: face-to-face instruction, which is required by the state, virtual schooling through Orange County Virtual, which the district said has been around for several years, or OCPS LaunchED@Home, a new option that requires state approval but allows for parents to pick a hybrid model. Under the last option, students would follow the standard school schedule and bell times, according to the district’s website. The school board is expected to vote on a full reopening plan this week.
Palm Beach County School District, Fla.
Palm Beach County schools are looking to start the school year fully online, despite the state reopening plan.
So far no reopening plan has been formally approved by the school board, but the board is expected to vote on Wednesday on whether to approve a plan from district Superintendent Donald Fennoy. The local teachers union and school board agreed to start school online last week, The Palm Beach Post reported.
Fennoy is recommending that schools start online for all students, “allowing for a phased return to brick and mortar in-person instruction when county health conditions permit,” according to Wednesday’s agenda. He’s also asking the board for the authority to implement the plan “as necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of students and employees.”
Erin Durkin and Mackenzie Mays contributed to this report.