Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: August 3, 2020

Each day, we:

  • Track the status of reopening in all 50 states.
  • Compare the status of one industry or activity across the country.
  • Answer key questions about state school reopening plans.
  • Give you the latest stories on other reopening plans and ideas.

Want to know what happened Friday? Click here.

Since our last edition

What is open in each state? For a continually updated article on reopening status in all 50 states, click here. For our last edition, click here.

  • Arkansas (Republican trifecta): On July 31, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced that high school football and volleyball practices could begin on Aug. 3. Hutchinson also announced the creation of the High School Sports Advisory Group, a 14-person committee meant to advise the governor and state Department of Health on how to approach school sports for the fall 2020 season.
  • Maryland (Divided government): On Aug. 3, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said that private and religious schools could choose when to reopen. He issued an emergency order preventing county officials from requiring such schools to remain closed. On July 31, Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles ordered private schools to close. Hogan called the order “overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer.”
  • Nevada (Democratic trifecta): On July 31, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) extended his emergency order limiting businesses to 50% capacity and indoor gatherings to 50 people. The new order lasts until canceled or modified. The previous order was set to expire on July 31.
  • New Jersey (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Phil Murphy (D) lowered the state’s cap on indoor gathering limits from 100 people to 25. The order does not apply to religious gatherings, weddings, funerals, or political activities. Murphy also announced all students will be required to wear face coverings in schools, with exceptions for students with disabilities.
  • Tennessee (Republican trifecta): On July 31, Gov. Bill Lee (R) issued Executive Order 55, which removes restrictions on contact sports, including football and soccer, so long as organizations and schools follow safety guidelines. The order also extended an earlier executive order that permitted local governments to determine mask requirements.

Tracking industries: Face coverings

All 50 states are reopening in some way. Here, we give the status of one industry or activity across the states. Today’s question: in which states must you wear a face covering in public?

We last looked at face coverings in the July 27th edition of the newsletter. Since then, no states have enacted or rescinded a mask mandate.

This is an in-depth summary of two state plans to reopen public K-12 schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

South Dakota’s Starting Well 2020

In June, the South Dakota Department of Education partnered with the Department of Health to release “Starting Well 2020,” a series of documents containing guidance on reopening and daily operations for K-12 schools. The documents cover several areas, including guidelines for teachers, special education, libraries, distance learning, school buses, and COVID-19 mitigation. Many of the guidelines were updated throughout July.

South Dakota does not have a statewide date for public schools to reopen. According to EdWeek, schools in South Dakota typically start in mid-August.

On March 17, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) first ordered schools to close. On March 24, Noem extended the closures through May 1. On April 6, Noem ordered schools to close to in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year.

Context

South Dakota is a Republican trifecta. The governor is a Republican, and Republicans have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

The following tables show public education statistics in South Dakota, including a rank comparing it to the other 49 states. Rank one is the highest number of each figure, rank 50 is the lowest. All data comes from the Common Core of Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

South Dakota public school metrics
Category Figure 50-state rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $11,531 36
Number of students (’18-’19) 138,444 45
Number of teachers (’16-17) 9,777 45
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 702 41
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 14.1 16
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 37.9% 43
South Dakota public school revenue
Category Figure 50-state rank
Total revenue $1,420,613,000 50
Percent from federal sources 14.9% 1
Percent from state sources 30.4% 49
Percent from local sources 54.8% 8

Details

District reopening plans

“Starting Well 2020” calls for school leaders to “develop plans in concert with local government and state health officials, using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the South Dakota Department of Health as key resources to inform their decision making.” The guidance says plans should be adaptable to changing conditions. It also asks schools to communicate their plans with staff, students, and communities.

The state does not need to approve schools’ plans. “Starting Well 2020” contains the following guiding principles for schools:

  • Schools can take practical steps to mitigate spread of the virus while continuing to focus on student learning.
  • Each district will make decisions based on scientific information at the time, current status of virus spread in and around the school community, and best interests of staff, students, and families.
  • Schools will continue to be a safe environment for students, focusing on both social-emotional and physical health. Local decisions will be rooted in what is best for students.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

“Starting Well 2020” says “Schools will provide instruction in the fall and throughout the 2020-21 school year, with a priority placed on face-to-face instruction.” However, schools are encouraged to develop flexible plans that allow for remote learning when necessary.

Whether a district is able to accommodate long-term remote learning and instruction in the classroom, in parallel throughout the year, is a local decision. Districts are encouraged to determine to what extent, if any, such parallel instruction can be accommodated and communicate that policy to parents and the community. Districts are further encouraged to set policies that, to the extent practical, provide for stability in the learning environment when allowing for long-term remote learning.
Regardless of other factors that currently exist, SD DOE recommends districts have a plan in place for fully remote learning and building closures should circumstances dictate during the year. (Example: a student tests positive and you need to close a section of your school upon SD DOH recommendation for cleaning. Or, there are multiple active cases in your school, necessitating additional steps based upon SD DOH recommendations).

Mask requirements

The South Dakota Department of Education is not requiring students or staff to wear masks. The decision is left up to schools and districts. The Department of Health and Department of Education back-to-school FAQ says:

“The DOH and DOE encourage school leaders to use a variety of mitigation strategies in their planning for SY 2020-21. In selecting which to use, school leaders need to balance public health considerations and current conditions of the virus in their communities with the overall health of students and staff.”

In-person health recommendations and requirements

Schools should answer the following questions before reopening:

  • Have appropriate safety inspections, including water quality, been conducted in accordance with state statute, regulation, and CDC guidelines for buildings that have been unoccupied for long periods of time?
  • Are sufficient inventories of cleaning supplies and procedures in accordance with the school’s opening plans (see below) in place?
  • Will additional protective devices for personnel be necessary to procure prior to opening? (See below; for example, plexiglass for reception areas, cafeteria cashiers, and other high traffic/high contact areas).
  • Are you able to replace touch equipment with touchless (for example, PIN pads used in the cafeteria, automatic soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, hand dryers, etc.)?
  • Have you developed a protocol for bus transportation and drop-off/pick-up of students? (See below regarding transportation).

The guidance includes the following information on classroom design decisions:

  • Understand how many students you will have in your building, grade, classroom during peak times (given traditional enrollment numbers, any remote learning accommodations or “opt outs,” etc.) 2. Can you reorient desks in classrooms to minimize students facing each other?
  • Can you reorient desks in classrooms to minimize students facing each other?
  • Consider how to minimize the number of students in the hallways at any one time, and the number of times students change classrooms where possible.
  • For classrooms where this is not possible to change orientation (for example, lab spaces), consider steps to minimize the number of students in the room at any one time as appropriate.
  • What steps can you take to minimize sharing of high touch materials (example: art supplies, classroom libraries, etc.)

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

“Starting Well 2020” including the following considerations for transportation and busing:

  • Determine whether you have the vehicles and/or staff to provide for social distancing on vehicles.
  • Consider the use of cloth face coverings for riders and staff.
  • Review cleaning and disinfecting protocols for vehicles and determine appropriate routines.
  • Can you stagger arrival times, drop off points, or other methods to avoid high congestion?

The Department of Health guidelines for school buses, which were last revised on July 7, recommends:

  • Practice proper hygiene
    • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before getting on the bus.
    • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer again after reaching your destination.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth while on the bus.
    • Limit touching frequently touched surfaces such as hand railings, buttons, and other seats when
    • possible. If you must touch them, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands as soon as you can.
    • Clean/sanitize bus after each use.
  • Social distance
    • During travel, create as much space as possible between riders. CDC guidance for social distancing suggest 6 feet. If space is limited, encourage members of the same household to sit near one another rather than mixing households. Encourage riders to practice similar protocols as they wait in line for buses to arrive.
    • Consider wearing a cloth face covering when physical distancing may be difficult.
  • Use ventilation
    • Consider improving ventilation in the bus by opening windows or setting air to non-recirculation mode when possible.

Utah’s Planning Requirements and Recommendations for K-12 School Reopening

The Utah State Board of Education most recently updated its school reopening guidance on July 17. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) said, “We appreciate the thought, care and work that went into these requirements and recommendations. We appreciate that so many health care professionals, teachers, administrators, parents, classified workers and others devoted their energies into creating these guidelines to help keep our children and our school employees safe and healthy this coming academic year.”

On July 28, the Utah Education Association asked Herbert to delay reopening schools: “We call on Gov. Gary Herbert to lead with science and safety and declare that schools in impacted areas will open remotely this fall,” the union wrote in a letter unanimously approved by its board of directors. “We call on him to declare that local school districts should NOT return to in-person learning until COVID-19 cases decline.”

Utah does not have a statewide date for public schools to reopen—individual districts that meet the state’s requirements can set their own timelines, depending on the virus’ effect on their community. According to EdWeek, public schools in Utah traditionally start the academic year in mid- to late August, with the exact start date varying by district.

On March 13, Gov. Herbert closed schools from March 16 to March 31. On March 23, Herbert extended the closure through May 1. The governor closed schools for the rest of the academic year on April 14.

Context

Utah is a Republican trifecta. The governor is a Republican, and Republicans have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The state became a Republican trifecta in 2011.

The following tables show public education statistics in Utah, including a rank comparing it to the other 49 states. Rank one is the highest number of each figure, rank 50 is the lowest. All data comes from the Common Core of Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Utah public school metrics
Category Figure 50-state rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $8,810 49
Number of students (’18-’19) 676,440 28
Number of teachers (’16-17) 28,841 34
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 1,072 33
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 22.8 3
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 36.4% 47
Utah public school revenue
Category Figure 50-state rank
Total revenue $5,127,846,000 33
Percent from federal sources 8.8% 27
Percent from state sources 54.6% 19
Percent from local sources 36.6% 32

Details

District reopening plans

The plan says: “Local education agencies (LEAs) are required to develop comprehensive reopening plans that are approved by the local school board or charter school governing board in an open and public meeting and made available to the public on the local education agency’s and each schools’ websites by August 1, 2020.” The plans need to comply with state requirements.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

Districts are responsible for choosing in-person, hybrid, or fully remote schedules depending on the coronavirus’ effect on their community and the advice of local health officials. Districts are required to offer alternative schedules (like remote options) for students and families at higher risk of severe illness. The plan also encourages local school officials to develop an online option for other not-at-risk students and families who want to opt-in.

Mask requirements

The plan says, “each individual, including an employee, student, or visitor” is required to wear a face covering on public school property, in compliance with Gov. Herbert’s July 9 executive order.

In-person health recommendations and requirements

School districts are required to develop a process to train teachers in identifying and mitigating risk in classrooms. The plan also recommends:

  • Assign seats and/or small groups to support contact tracing
  • Keep the same students and teachers or staff with each group to the greatest extent practicable
  • Maximize space between seating and desks (acknowledging that 6 feet of distance between desks is not feasible for most Utah classrooms)
  • Seat students facing forward
  • Establish separation of students through other means, such as plexiglass barriers, if practicable
  • Identify and use large spaces (auditoriums, gyms, and outdoors) to maximize distancing
  • Move nonessential furniture and equipment out of classrooms to increase distancing footprints

For specific requirements and recommendations relating to cafeterias, restrooms, assemblies, entering and exiting school buildings, recess, and special education, click here (starting on page four).

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

In creating their reopening plans, school districts are required to address the following mitigation tactics:

  • Implement strategies to ensure driver safety
  • Develop protocols for minimizing mixing of students from different households and regularly cleaning and disinfecting seats and other high-touch surfaces

The plan also recommends districts:

  • Assign seating to support contact tracing
  • Maximize physical distancing, acknowledging that physical distancing of 6 feet or greater is not feasible in many instances
  • Plexiglass around driver

Additional activity

In this section, we feature examples of other federal, state, and local government activity, as well as influencers relevant to recovering from the pandemic.

  • On July 31, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said the city’s schools would not reopen unless the city’s coronavirus infection rate remained below 3 percent.
  • On July 31, city officials in Somerville, Massachusetts, announced the city was indefinitely delaying its move to Phase Three of the state’s reopening plan. Somerville is currently the only Massachusetts city not in Phase Three.
  • On July 28, a group of unions representing poultry processing plant workers in multiple states filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Plaintiffs say increased processing demands have raised safety concerns. The suit seeks to set aside a 2018 USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) waive. The waiver allows bird processing line speed to rise to a level the unions argue “could increase risk of injuries and illnesses among establishment employees.” According to the unions, though FSIS adopted a rule in 2014 capping the processing speed of poultry plants to 140 birds per minute, 2018 waiver they are challenging  “now permits nearly 43 percent of all plants subject to that regulation to operate at 175 [birds per minute].” The unions also allege FSIS adopted the waiver program in violation of notice-and-comment procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). A representative for the USDA declined to discuss the lawsuit, telling reporters the agency does not comment on pending litigation.



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