Slowly, More Students Return to Classrooms

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More students back in class

School reopening inched forward across the country this week, as middle school students went back to class in Chicago, and New York City announced that it would welcome tens of thousands of high school students back on March 22.

But the real seismic shifts came on the West Coast — where hesitance about in-person classes has been the greatest — as some districts laid out plans to bring students back to classrooms for the first time during the pandemic.

Los Angeles is the only one of the nation’s 10-largest school systems where classes remain entirely virtual. Our colleague Shawn Hubler looked this week at the impact on families, many of whom have struggled with remote learning.

“My computer doesn’t want to run Zoom,” said Cristofer Son, an 18-year-old senior in East Los Angeles, “so I have to delete it and then reinstall it, like, every two weeks.”

After months with no movement toward reopening, on Tuesday night Los Angeles announced a tentative agreement with its teachers’ union to bring preschool and elementary students back to classrooms part time in mid-April. Older students will return in late April for “peer interaction, social-emotional learning and lessons for college and career exploration.”

The deal is contingent on teachers being fully vaccinated and a continued decline in coronavirus case rates. All students and staff would receive coronavirus testing weekly.

Also on the West Coast, San Francisco, which has been fully remote since last March, announced that it would start bringing elementary students and students with learning challenges back to classrooms on April 12. District officials have said they don’t expect most middle and high school students to be able to return to classrooms this school year.

For students who haven’t been inside their schools at all this academic year, the first-day jitters are major. “I was so nervous, I didn’t sleep the night before,” 18-year-old Jzayla Sussman, a student at a charter high school in New Orleans, told our colleague Dan Levin about her return last month.

Meanwhile, the evidence continues to grow that a year of disrupted instruction has left some students significantly behind. Our colleague Dana Goldstein reported this week on a preliminary national study of reading skills that found that as of late fall, second graders were 26 percent behind where they would have been, absent the pandemic, in their ability to read aloud accurately and quickly. Third graders were 33 percent behind.

Students in lower-achieving school districts included in the study were further behind than those in higher-achieving districts.

Latest Updates

Penalties for partying students

Caving in to a pent-up demand to party, college students across the country have taken to bars, beaches and backyards in recent weeks — and drawn crackdowns from their schools, as administrators try to keep the coronavirus at bay on campus.

“Sadly, it has happened again — a group of students flagrantly flouted the rules,” wrote Brandi Hephner LaBanc, the vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, after more than 200 students gathered last weekend for a pre-St. Patrick’s Day tradition called the Blarney Blowout.

Police officers broke up the crowd, and university officials said they would place identified students on suspension and temporarily remove them from dorms.

At the University of Michigan, the authorities locked 375 students out of nonresidential buildings because they failed to comply with testing requirements. Penn State punished four fraternities — suspending two through 2024 — for holding parties.

Purdue University said it was investigating and might expel 12 students for Covid rules violations.

With traditional spring break dates approaching, the University of California, Davis said it would pay students $75 to stay on campus, while other colleges have swapped the usual weeklong breaks for individual days off scattered throughout the semester. Still, officials in Florida, Texas and elsewhere are anticipating large crowds in the coming weeks.

“This year, the confluence of other places closed or cold, cheap flights and discounted rooms, and a pandemic which is still very much active, creates new challenges,” Mayor Dan Gelber of Miami Beach said in an email. He imposed limits on alcohol consumption and the number of people at beaches and restaurants, along with social distancing requirements and a curfew.

Class Disrupted

Updated March 9, 2021

The latest on how the pandemic is reshaping education.

    • A growing number of students are returning to classrooms, some for the first time in a year. Here’s how they told us they feel.
    • New York City will welcome high school students back into schools later this month.
    • Los Angeles schools remain closed a year into the pandemic, and families wonder: How much longer?
    • Many colleges that use fever scanners and symptom checkers have not rigorously studied if the technology has slowed the spread of Covid-19.

    Around the country

    College update

    Cornel West, a public intellectual, progressive activist and professor of African-American studies, will leave Harvard for Union Theological Seminary in New York.

    The Trump administration strengthened protections for college students accused of sexual assault. Now those regulations — which some say went too far and harmed sexual assault victims — will face scrutiny.

    In Memoriam: Dennis DePerro, the president of St. Bonaventure University in New York, died earlier this month of complications from the coronavirus. The school flag is flying at half-staff this month.

    A good read from The Times: College sports are a lifeline for many students. They can also be exploitative. In a moving column, our colleague Kurt Streeter reflects on his own experiences as a student athlete of color.

    A good read from The Indiana Daily Student: Zac Smith opened up to the student newspaper about his job working at a bar near Indiana University, with hundreds of drunk, maskless students coming and going.

    K-12 update

    A group of public school students and lawyers in New York City filed a lawsuit claiming that the city’s gifted programs are racially segregated. The suit could force fundamental changes to the program.

    Teachers in Texas have started going door-to-door to find chronically absent students. “You really aren’t going away are you?” a student’s brother asked, smiling.

    Massachusetts is requiring that all elementary schools offer full-time, in-person instruction by April 5, with all middle schools by April 28.

    A good read from ProPublica: Alec MacGillis wrote a heartbreaking story about the cost of the pandemic for teenagers in Hobbs, N.M., and across the country.

    First-day jitters

    Cate Sauri, a ninth grader in Montgomery County, Md., hasn’t been in a classroom since March 13, 2020. She might go back in mid-April, which is what her mother wants. But then again, she might not.

    “The odds are in my favor — if I get the virus, I’ll probably be fine,” said Cate, 15. “But I’m very scared of exposing anyone.”

    Cate has spent much of her first year of high school thinking about reopening. She’s the only freshman in student government, she said, and she’s joined the school reopening committee. (She’s also in seven other clubs — anything to make new friends in remote school.) “I’m a freshman, so I don’t know a lot of the kids,” she said.

    But the idea of in-person learning is daunting to her. She has first-day-of-school jitters months into the school year.

    She thinks the chance to socialize might get her over the hump, though. Like many students, Cate fell behind during remote learning. From straight As in middle school, she almost failed physics this year.

    “I don’t think sitting in a chair in a different place is going to make someone learn better,” she said, “but seeing new people might.”

    Read more about students returning to school, and enjoy this piece in The Times, in which teenagers shared artwork and stories from their pandemic year.

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