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Biden Calls School Reopening A 'National Emergency'

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke about school reopenings at a Wednesday event in Wilmington, Del.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke about school reopenings at a Wednesday event in Wilmington, Del.

There's a LOT of education news these days. Here's an overview of the stories from this week that you might have missed, plus some valuable links we've gleaned from around the web.

First let's turn to the world of higher education.

As we reported last week, college towns are driving coronavirus outbreaks nationwide. There were over 50,000 reported cases on campuses as of Friday morning, a figure that had doubled from the day before, according to The New York Times.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign told students to stop all non-essential in-person contact after a spike — this despite their much-touted, twice-weekly testing plan.

Meanwhile, campus Greek organizations are grappling with how to adapt to COVID-19 policies. For some, it's an existential threat.

And we talked with public health experts who said shaming and blaming students for socializing is unlikely to be effective.

Meanwhile, in K-12 education, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden focused on the issue of school reopening with a series of briefings, campaign events and a speech in which he called the failure to open schools "a national emergency." Families are "worried like the devil," he said. " 'What does it mean for my kids? Is this setting my child's education back beyond just a semester? What impact will it have? How's my child going to catch up? What if I'm not doing enough to help my child succeed?' "

Just over half of districts are starting the year either all-remote or with hybrid schedules. That leaves millions of families, especially in big cities, needing child care and help with remote learning.

After a l ot of pushback, including the threat of a strike, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an agreement with the city's teacher union this week to push back the start of school by 11 days, to Sept. 21. The delay gives a little more time to put a coronavirus testing plan in place and work out issues with ventilation, hygiene and staffing of both in-person and online teaching. The nation's largest district is an outlier here with its hybrid plan; most big cities are trending towards remote learning, at least for the start of the year.

Some of these cities, from New Orleans to La Crosse, Wis., are setting up learning "hubs" as a free or affordable option for students, but, as we reported, the demand is outstripping the supply. These hubs can be a more equitable alternative to what's been dubbed "pandemic pods," or the practice of hiring private teachers to teach small groups of students in homes. A recent Education Week poll found that only 1 percent of parents were personally involved in such pods, while a whopping 72% had heard about them only from the media or even from that very pollster.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 4, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story said Iowa State University's football home opener has been canceled. The team will play at home on Sept. 12, but there will be no fans present.