Bites Media

Sports and Health, Life and Arts

COVID-19: Back to School?

The debate over opening physical school spaces

screen shot 2020 03 24 at 4 58 36 pm


  • The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across the country to close buildings early and switch to online learning. [NPR]
  • Summer 2020: The U.S. is battling a surge of new cases and deaths from COVID-19, prompting health experts and educational leaders to question if open schools are safe. [BBC]
  • Some of the largest K12 public school districts are starting the 2020-2021 school year remote like LA, San Diego, Miami-Dade, and Montgomery County
  • Colleges and universities are offering a variety of online and in-person classes. [Reuters]
cdcreopeningU.S. News and World Report

From May 15, 2020

CDC Guidelines for reopening schools:

The CDC published a 9-page document to help guide school administrators and educational leaders. Key takeaways are: 

  • Collaborate with state and local health officials,
  • Do not open if COVID-19 cases are rising in the community,
  • Virtual-only classes are the safest alternative for everyone.

Guidelines from the CDC are continually evolving. Get the most updated document and guidelines here.



CIVICS: The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) is the national governing body over the public education system. [U.S. Department of Education] Each state, district, or county has its own department of education that oversees local policy and budget. The majority of decisions are made at the local level.


SOCIAL: According to a survey conducted by the University of Michigan, 2 in 3 families will send their children to school this fall; 12% of families said they would not send at least one of their kids to school; 21% were still uncertain about their decision. Most agreed that a surge in COVID-19 cases would make families reconsider sending children to school. [U.S. News and World Report]



Educators are worried about the "COVID slide", meaning an academic loss that many fear will negatively impact students for years.


Some experts estimate a learning loss of more than 50%, with students in elementary being a full year behind in math and/or reading. [Brookings Institute]


Other educators say they are still not prepared for online learning and need resources and support provided by the school. [The New York Times]




June 30, 2020: 2 in 3 parents are prepared to send their kid(s) to school this fall. [U.S. News and World Report]


Parents across the country have expressed near unmanageable stress around homeschooling on top of working from home. Some adults have lost their jobs due to new homeschooling demands. [The New York Times]




Department of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, said “nothing in the data” suggests children being in school is “in any way dangerous.”* 


*This statement has challenged by the CDC and public health experts. [The Los Angeles Times]



65% of teachers, principals, and district leaders want to keep buildings closed. [EdWeek] 2 in 3 teachers want to start the year remote or online. [NPR]


Many teachers feel they faced with an impossible question: are you prepared to become sick and potentially die to teach your students? [AZ Central], [Texas Tribune]


"Without the proper plan, resources, and safety precautions will inevitably exacerbate the spread of the virus, jeopardize public health, and ultimately cause longer closures." [NPR]


Some teachers feel like "a pawn in a political game.” [USA Today]


Some teachers also remind others that school never closed, as instruction continued online.




With a surge of cases and deaths across the majority of the U.S., some parents are electing to keep their kids home for safety reasons. [MIT Technology Review]




The CDC recommends the safest option or "lowest risk" for teachers, students and parents is "virtual-only." [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]


Many local, state, and public health leaders believe it will be safe to open schools once there is a vaccine widely available. [National Geographic]


  • Aug. 2020: Children are at risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19. [National Geographic]
  • July 23, 2020: President Trump now suggests that "hot spots" should delay school reopening for health and safety reasons. [NPR]
  • July 20, 2020: Florida Education Association sued the state government, saying the emergency declaration to open schools violates the Florida Constitution requiring schools to be operated safely. [NPR]
  • July 19, 2020: Teachers and Texas and Arizona have begun protesting the decision to reopen schools. [EdWeek]
  • July 14, 2020: AZ summer school teacher, who conducted in-person learning with two other educators, died from COVID-19. [AZ Central]
  • July 12, 2020: Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said, “If schools aren’t going to open they shouldn’t get the funds.” [The Los Angeles Times]
  • July 6, 2020: President Trump said “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” [Reuters]
  • May 13, 2020: A 63-page CDC reopening guideline was uncovered by the Associated Press, whose reporters discovered that the White House rejected because President Trump believed it to be “very tough and expensive.” [Associated Press]


  • According to the CDC director, the pandemic would be "under control" in four to eight weeks if everyone wore a mask. [The Washington Post]
  • See a state-by-state breakdown of school safety guidelines here.
  • Is education an essential service? Should teachers and staff be given PPE? 
  • How can we rethink what school is? Is school a physical building or simply a "place" to learn?
  • The U.S. is not the only developed country battling this question. Read a BBC article on how England is handling the crisis.
  • Will teachers and staff go on strike? What does it mean to go on strike? Learn more about unions and strikes here.
  • Read Joe Biden's plan for opening schools during the pandemic.
Key Vocabulary