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COVID-19 Disrupts School Schedules, Child Care Arrangements

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today begins a strange new reality for millions of children. The majority of American States have now closed their schools because of the coronavirus outbreak, and that puts a burden on parents and caregivers, to say the least. NPR education correspondent Cory Turner is following all of this and also living it. Cory, good morning.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: I am. Thank you.

INSKEEP: OK, so where are schools closed?

TURNER: Yeah. So by my count, we have at least 33 states now that have closed schools statewide, including Alabama, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wisconsin.

INSKEEP: On and on.

TURNER: According to Education Week, the closures affect more than 30 million kids now, which is obviously the majority of public school kids out there. Also, we should note, the nation's largest school district, New York City, announced it was closing yesterday, and this is important because school and city leaders there had really been holding out because they know - and this is true in lots of big city districts - that many of their students come from low-income families with parents who aren't going to be able to work from home; they're not going to be able to take off work. These kids depend on schools for free breakfast, free lunch. One hundred thousand kids in the district are housing-insecure. So for these kids, school is a stabilizing force.

Still, yesterday, the decision was made. Mayor Bill de Blasio said this is not something in a million years I could have imagined having to do.

INSKEEP: Of course, the key question is how long? I'm just thinking, you know, schools closed for a week or two weeks - I mean, that's normal. That's a blizzard or something.

TURNER: Right (laughter).

INSKEEP: It gets to be three weeks, five weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks - that's something entirely different.

TURNER: I think this is the big question on the minds of every parent out there who finds themselves at home or trying to be home but can't be. Many of the states - you'll see, last week, when states first started canceling, they were canceling for two weeks, maybe three weeks, but then that very quickly started to feel unrealistic. And in fact, CDC released guidance late last week, fairly quietly, where they said, you know what? Closures of two to four weeks, they're too short; they won't really help slow the spread of the disease.

INSKEEP: Wow.

TURNER: And they won't help take pressure off of schools or - sorry, off of hospitals. So de Blasio, in announcing New York City's closure, said those schools wouldn't reopen for five weeks. And then this weekend, Mike DeWine, the governor of Ohio, made headlines when he told CNN, quote, "it would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year."

INSKEEP: Wow. OK, so what can parents do when they're trying to look after kids?

TURNER: It's - well, it's unclear. This is obviously going to be especially hard for many of our most vulnerable, low-income families. So they should know that lawmakers appear to have agreed on a couple of things that could help. First of all, they want to create a new two-week paid sick leave program. And you don't have to be sick to qualify, so if you have a child who is out of school or if you're caring for a sick family member, you're good. Congress also wants to provide a kind of emergency COVID-19 family medical leave to help you after those two weeks are up. So this would provide two-thirds of your average monthly earnings...

INSKEEP: OK.

TURNER: ...With a cap for about 10 weeks. And again, caring for a child because of a school closure would be covered. One quick caveat, though - employers with more than 500 workers are exempted.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK. Well, there's so much more to say, but it sounds like we're going to have weeks and weeks to talk about it. Cory, thanks so much.

TURNER: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Cory Turner. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.