Jobs, language barriers and hard-won coronavirus pandemic routines are just some of the reasons that children aren’t going back to classrooms in districts that have reopened.,


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Many families have changed their lives over the past year in ways that make going back to school difficult for some.Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

‘School hesitancy’ has changed

Before coronavirus vaccines, and before spring weather, many families across the country opted to keep students in remote learning for fear of the pandemic’s spread. But now, our colleague Dana Goldstein reports, their reasons have changed.

“If you close schools down for the better part of a year or, in some places, for over a year, it is actually not as simple as throwing open the doors in terms of getting the people back,” Dana told us.

Across the country, “school hesitancy” abounds as families have established routines based on remote learning. Some are reluctant to interrupt their newfound stable alternatives for a return peppered by hybrid schedules — with students in class some days of the week and working from home on others — or the risk of closures and quarantines.

Dana found that other families, limited by language barriers or poor communication from districts, didn’t even know their schools had reopened. And some teenagers from low-income families have taken on full- or part-time jobs to help their families make ends meet, so remote learning works better for them.

Pauline Rojas, 18, works 20 to 40 hours per week at a fast-food restaurant, and has used the money to help pay her family’s internet bill, buy clothes and save for a car. Her high school in San Antonio, Texas, is open, but her shift starts just minutes after her class ends. She couldn’t get there in time if she were coming from in-person class, Dana said.

“I wanted to take the stress off my mom,” Pauline told Dana. “I’m no longer a kid. I’m capable of having a job, holding a job and making my own money.”

Although only 12 percent of American elementary and middle schools remain fully closed, according to a federal survey, more than a third of fourth and eighth graders remain remote. An even larger group of high school students is still learning remotely, even though only a minority of high schools remain closed. (In Los Angeles, only 7 percent of high school students are back, The Los Angeles Times reports.) And across ages, a majority of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American students remain out of school.

Superintendents and school leaders are now in a bind. Most believe that endless remote school poses academic and social risks for kids, but they don’t want to pressure families. Continuing adherence to social-distancing guidance also means most schools can’t operate at full capacity, and staffing remains an issue.

Districts could take remote learning off the table for the fall, but some are worried about doing so while the virus is still circulating widely.

“It’s a live question,” Dana said. “I don’t think we can generalize yet what the fall will look like.”


Lowell High School in San Francisco ended an admissions system that was based primarily on grades and test scores, replacing it with a lottery system.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Overhauling elite admissions

Changing the admissions criteria for selective public high schools, many of which admit few Black or Latino students, has emerged as one of the most fraught educational debates in recent years.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York failed in 2019 in an attempt to eliminate the entrance exam to elite schools like Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science, facing opposition from Asian lawmakers and a lobbying campaign financed by a billionaire. He has not tried again.

But elsewhere in the country this school year, a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and the response to the police killing of George Floyd has prompted several other districts to make major changes in how they admit students to their top schools.

San Francisco ended an admissions system for its Lowell High School that was based primarily on grades and test scores, replacing it with a lottery system.

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia eliminated the test to get into the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, or T.J., as it is known, replacing it with a holistic process, in which students complete a math or science problem-solving essay. Evaluators are required to take into account whether a student is low-income, has disabilities, is an English language learner or comes from a historically underrepresented middle school.

Class Disrupted

Updated May 5, 2021

The latest on how the pandemic is reshaping education.

Without home internet, an 11-year-old boy had trouble staying connected to remote classes. Like him, a disproportionate number of disengaged students are lower-income Black, Latino or Native American.Here’s how a Miami private school became a beacon for anti-vaxxers during the pandemic.Many colleges are planning in-person commencements, sowing frustration on campuses sticking to online ones.After this pandemic year, school superintendent across the country are leaving their jobs.

And, in what is for now just a one-year change, Boston replaced the exam to get into its so-called exam schools with a system in which 20 percent of the seats are allotted based on grades alone, and the remainder are allotted based on grades and ZIP codes — with the number of seats for students in each ZIP code proportionate to the share of school-aged children living there.

All three school districts are facing lawsuits over the changes; in two cases, the plaintiffs argue that the new criteria discriminate against Asian or white students.

But, so far, the new admissions systems seem to be having the desired effect.

In San Francisco, the share of Black and Latino students among those admitted to Lowell increased, while the share of white and Asian students declined. The same was true in Boston for all students admitted this year to the exam schools. The district is now considering whether to make the admissions change permanent.

Fairfax County won’t release admissions decisions for T.J. till mid-to-late June, according to a district spokeswoman. And in New York City, where only eight Black students received offers to Stuyvesant this year, the Democratic candidates hoping to replace de Blasio are split on whether they would ditch the exam or keep it in place and create more elite schools.

Around the country

College update

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona lifted a Trump-era ban on pandemic relief for international or undocumented college students.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders introduced legislation to permanently expand food aid for college students.

Illinois may drop standardized test score requirements at its public universities.

Some faculty want the University of Michigan to adopt a campuswide vaccine mandate, instead of one just for students living in university housing.

The State University of New York and the City University of New York plan to require student vaccinations.

A good read from Inside Higher Ed: Students at a community college in Wilmington, N.C., have gone viral on TikTok as community members chime in to praise the affordable, practical degrees the school offers.

A good read from The Times: Dartmouth‘s medical school accused 17 students of cheating on remote exams, sparking a fight about school surveillance during the pandemic.

K-12 update

The race is on to vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds, with plans to administer shots at schools, pediatricians’ offices, day camps, parks and even beaches.

Hundreds of Catholic schools have closed nationwide as enrollment drops, families struggle to pay tuition and churches lack extra funds to make up the difference.

San Francisco is trying to bring high school seniors back to classrooms for at least three days before the end of the year, in the hope of getting $12 million in state reopening funds.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed a bill expanding the state’s private school voucher program.

Florida‘s second-largest school district, Broward County, temporarily pulled an award-winning youth novel inspired by the killing of Tamir Rice after a police complaint that it was “propaganda.” Oklahoma barred public school teachers from teaching critical race theory, and state legislators in Arizona and North Carolina are considering similar measures.

A good read from The Washington Post: Some families moved to districts offering in-person learning. Now, some might stay.


Credit…Cecile Gariepy

Curb back to school anxiety

After months at home, some children may feel anxious about going to school or camp. Here are a few tips to smooth their transition.

Validate their concerns. Not every kid is old enough or able to verbalize their emotions. Look for behaviors that indicate anxiety, like stomachaches or clinginess.

Try mindfulness. Make time for calm and suggest ways they can be open to their feelings in the moment.

Change your routine. Set firmer bedtimes and build moments of quiet into your morning to give them time to settle and prepare.

Involve their teachers. Ask for recommendations and give them a general heads-up about behaviors that mean your kid is struggling.

Pace yourself. Don’t talk about school too often or too early. Over-preparation can be stressful, too.

And, of course, emphasize the joy. They get to see their friends again! And they get to come back to a warm, loving home after classes are done.

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