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A Timeline of How COVID Upended Schools

July 8, 2020: Trump threatens to withhold federal funding to schools that do not reopen

President Donald Trump says his administration “may cut off funding” for schools that don’t resume face-to-face instruction, and points to CDC reopening guidelines that he calls impractical and expensive. The next day, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says that rather than “pulling funding from education,” her department supports the idea that students in places where schools do not reopen should be able to take federal money and use it where they can get instruction in-person.
July 23, 2020: CDC stresses the importance of in-person learning

The CDC revises its school guidance to stress the importance of in-person learning. About “7.1 million kids get their mental health service at schools,” then-CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield says in a congressional hearing. “They get their nutritional support from their schools. We’re seeing an increase in drug use disorder as well as suicide in adolescent individuals. I do think that it’s really important to realize it’s not public health versus the economy about school reopening.”
July 28, 2020: AFT moves to delay reopening of schools to protect teachers

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten says the union would pursue various tactics, including lawsuits and strikes, to keep schools from reopening without adequate safety precautions. “If authorities don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve … nothing is off the table—not advocacy or protests, negotiations, grievances or lawsuits, or, if necessary and authorized by a local union, as a last resort, safety strikes,” she says at a remote meeting of the national teachers’ union’s biennial convention.

July 28, 2020: Fauci says there are still unanswered questions about how the coronavirus is spread

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, tells educators in a virtual town hall that when it comes to reopening school buildings for in-person instruction, there are still many unanswered questions about how the coronavirus is spread by children, and that teachers will be “part of the experiment.” His comment sparks uproar on Twitter from teachers, who say they didn’t sign up to be part of such an experiment.
Fall 2020: Many districts opt to start the school year in remote learning

Some districts provide hybrid instruction, and some are able to offer full in-person instruction to all students. Read more: School Districts’ Reopening Plans: A Snapshot

Sept. 2020: Federal vaccine distribution plan says states should prioritize teachers and school employees, alongside other critical workers

Not only does a new federal plan identify teachers and school employees as priority recipients of a vaccine, it also identifies U.S. schools as a crucial partner for administering the shots.
December 2020: Teachers in line for the first doses of COVID vaccines

A wave of states announce that they will prioritize teachers and school employees in their vaccine distribution plans, but most states—if not all—are still focused on administering vaccines to health-care workers and long-term care residents.

Dec. 27, 2020: Second federal COVID aid package provides $54.3 billion

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act allocates more than $190 billion to help schools pay for tutors and cleaning supplies and millions of computing devices.Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Schools and COVID Relief Funds

January 2021: Biden calls for unified efforts to reopen schools within the first 100 days of his administration

A 200-page federal plan and executive orders from newly elected President Joe Biden call for “sustained and coordinated” efforts to reopen schools for in-person instruction, with the cooperation of states and new resources, guidance, and data.Read more: Biden Launches New Strategy to Combat COVID-19, Reopen Schools
February 2021: In Chicago and other big cities, teachers’ unions influence school reopening plans

The Chicago teachers’ union reaches a reopening deal with the district that includes a delay that gives the district more time to vaccinate teachers, which was a sticking point in weeks of negotiations. Many big-city unions are in heated negotiations with their districts around this time period.

February 2021: CDC releases new guidelines as core part of Biden’s plan to reopen schools

“I want to be clear,” CDC Director Rochelle Walenksy says. “With the release of this operational strategy, CDC is not mandating that schools reopen. CDC is simply providing schools with a long-needed road map for how to do so safely under different levels of disease in the community.”
March 2021: Vaccine access speeds up for teachers

The vaccine landscape for teachers shifts dramatically the day after Biden announces a federal push to get all teachers their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March.Read more: Vaccine Access Speeds Up for Teachers After Biden’s Declaration

March 2021: Schools get federal aid for homeless students

The American Rescue Plan, the third major package of federal COVID aid, includes $800 million for homeless children and youth (allocated through states), which is money that wasn’t set aside specifically for them in the two previous relief deals.Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Schools and COVID Relief Funds
March 19, 2021: CDC eases recommendations for social distancing in classrooms

The CDC issues recommendations saying 3 feet of space between students who are wearing masks is a sufficient safeguard in most classroom situations. Many educators and policymakers viewed the agency’s previous recommendation of 6 feet of space as a major hurdle to a full return to in-person school.

Early April 2021: Vaccines become available for teens

States begin to open vaccine eligibility to those 16 and up, a watershed moment for the pandemic. By early April 2021, two-thirds of teachers tell the EdWeek Research Center they’d been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. By the end of the month, that figure had shot up to 80 percent.
April 20, 2021: USDA waives school meal regulations through June 2022

After extending waivers of school meal regulations several times, the USDA says the flexibilities will last until June 2022.  The waivers will also allow schools to continue distributing meals to students who are learning remotely without red tape that can make it logistically difficult to do so.
May 10, 2021: Pfizer vaccine approved for 12- to 15- year-olds

The approval is a major development in the overall campaign to vaccinate more Americans and help ensure healthy and safe operations of middle and high schools in the pandemic. Schools begin opening their buildings to facilitate getting school-age children vaccinated.
May 13, 2021: American Federation of Teachers says schools must reopen five days a week in fall

“We can and we must reopen schools in the fall for in-person teaching, learning, and support,” AFT President Randi Weingarten says in virtual speech. “And keep them open—fully and safely five days a week.”
Graduation 2021: Health worries and financial instability impact college-going decisions

EdWeek Research Center surveys comparing the class of 2020 and 2021 graduates find that 74 percent of 2020 graduates who were planning on attending a four-year college followed through with their plans and ended up attending a university. Only 62 percent of the class of 2021 were able to do the same. Among students who had planned to attend a two-year college in 2021, only 44 percent succeeded in doing so, compared with 57 percent of graduates who wished to enter a two-year degree program in 2020.

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