This is the Coronavirus Schools Briefing, a guide to the seismic changes in U.S. education that are taking place during the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
This fall, even as cases surged across Europe, Germany worked hard to keep schools open, prioritizing them over other aspects of daily life like restaurants and bars.
But even in a country once seen as a success story, that strategy is no longer viable. On Wednesday, German schools will close along with nonessential stores and services as part of a strict lockdown that will be in effect through Christmas. Schools are tentatively scheduled to reopen in mid-January.
“The numbers were so out of control that German leaders decided they had to lock everything down, even schools,” said Melissa Eddy, a Times correspondent in Berlin.
Germany took an aggressive approach to containment early on, relying on science, contact tracing and accessible testing to mostly keep the virus at bay. It cited research that elementary students posed a low risk of spreading the virus, which is now a growing consensus among much of the world. But that couldn’t stave off this week’s difficult decision.
That’s not because schools seeded the virus. Instead, it’s because community spread has skyrocketed.
“It sends the message that Germany lost control of the pandemic entirely,” Melissa said. “The schools got sacrificed because they failed to lock down everything else strictly enough.”
As in the United States, complacency, pandemic fatigue and political squabbling undercut Germany’s coordinated national restrictions. A record number of Germans have gotten infected or died in recent weeks.
The coming weeks are now especially uncertain for schools. Germany, a country long committed to data privacy, has not leaned into online learning software, which makes a transition to remote learning even more difficult.
“You do have the odd school with the inventive tech director, but the rest of them are really struggling,” Melissa said. “Going into distance learning is a big problem around here.”
Similar trends are playing out across Europe and the world.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch prime minister is expected to announce a monthlong lockdown during which schools will close.
In South Korea, some schools will also close in and around Seoul, the capital.
Death in college towns
As the difficult fall semester ends, many campuses have emptied out. But the coronavirus outbreaks remain.
Coronavirus-related deaths in young people are remarkably rare. Since the pandemic began, The Times has identified only about 90 deaths involving college employees and students out of more than 397,000 infections.
But the true toll has come after the virus spread off-campus, leading to deaths among older adults, especially those in nursing homes. One possible route of transmission: More than 700,000 undergraduates serve as nurses, medical assistants and health care aides.
As our colleagues Danielle Ivory, Robert Gebeloff and Sarah Mervosh reported, people like Phyllis Baukol, 94, may have once seemed to be at little risk of college-related spread. Baukol, a, classical pianist, lived in a nursing home in Grand Forks, N.D., far from the classrooms, bars and fraternity houses frequented by students at the University of North Dakota.
But a surge in cases, first attributed to cases among students, ballooned through Grand Forks this fall. Baukol soon tested positive. Three days later, staff members pushed her bed up against a window so her daughter could say goodbye.
Around the country
Keyontae Johnson, a member of the men’s basketball team at the University of Florida, is in critical but stable condition after he collapsed on the court during Saturday’s game. Johnson, 21, had the coronavirus this summer.
Employees at local businesses in Ithaca, N.Y., home to Cornell University, have started a petition to shut down indoor dining, receive hazard pay and maintain clear safety protocols, Simran Surtani reported for The Cornell Daily Sun, the student paper.
Uber drivers had a frustrating semester ferrying students at Emory University from dorms to bars and clubs, Ulia Ahn and Matthew Chupack reported for The Emory Wheel, the student paper.
The president of the University of Iowa said a pass/no pass grading option for the fall semester could negatively impact students’ futures, Kelsey Harrell reported for The Daily Iowan. Despite lobbying from the student government, university administrators chose to maintain traditional grading.
A coach remembered: Tom Burek, the head swimming and diving coach at Monmouth College, died of Covid-19 complications on Saturday. Burek, 62, repeatedly led his team to victory in regional conferences and helped college athletes break records.
A columnist’s view: Our colleague Kurt Streeter tackled a longstanding ethical question in college sports that has new urgency during the pandemic: Should athletes get paid?
A good read: Student athletes at Harvard University struggled through a fall semester of at-home workouts and Zoom meetings, Alex Koller and Ema Schumer reported for The Harvard Crimson, the student paper. “When you work your whole life for something, and then you’re told you can’t play, or you can’t participate in it,” one football player said, “that just compounds and adds onto itself, kind of creating a dumpster fire of a semester for mental health.”
Buffalo, N.Y., will delay the start of its reopening until at least Feb. 1, because of high levels of community transmission. High-need students will return first in a phased reopening through mid-March.
A teacher in Bend, Ore., was suspended after she was shown in a viral video shouting at a crowd of anti-lockdown protesters.
Hackers continue to target American schools in ransomware attacks, U.S. intelligence officials said.
An opinion: A group of teachers in Connecticut laid out their fears and frustrations with in-person learning in an opinion piece for The Hartford Courant: “Why we don’t want to teach your children, in person.”
A good read: About 100 teachers in Chandler, Ariz., staged a sickout on Friday, demanding that schools close after winter break and stay remote until the region’s infection rate declines. Schools did not close: Only a fraction of the district’s 2,000 teachers participated in the action. But it underscores the anxiety of many teachers in Arizona, where cases have soared in the last week.
Tip: Monitor internet use
Connie Chang’s daughter started the school year in distance learning. But without constant surveillance, she could move freely through the internet with relative ease.
“My 9-year-old was in multiple, unsanctioned Google Hangout groups chatting with her friends,” Chang wrote. “Within minutes, my phone had garnered 80 additional notifications — all with messages along the lines of an unending stream of ‘hi’s’ or a parade of unicorn emojis.”
She spoke with experts and shared a few tips for other parents worried about dialing back the digital overload. Some suggestions: Normalize digital play and respect your child’s need for communication, while teaching children how to navigate the internet as a literate user.
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