Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: August 13, 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 yesterday? 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.

  • Colorado (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Jared Polis (D) extended the state’s mask mandate, which was set to expire on Aug. 16. The mandate requires everyone 11 years of age and older to wear a mask in public indoor spaces, on public transit, or in a taxi or ride-share.
  • Connecticut (divided government): The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s Board of Control rejected a proposal to move high school football to spring 2021. It will instead move forward with a plan previously approved on July 30 which allows practices to begin Aug. 17.
  • New Mexico (Democratic trifecta): On Aug. 12, the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the New Mexico Restaurant Association over Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s (D) restrictions on indoor dining. The Court will hear the case on Aug. 26.
  • Texas (Republican trifecta): At an Aug. 13 news conference, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said he would need to see hospital capacity increase and the state’s positivity rate fall below 10% for a “sustained period of time” before he would consider reopening bars.
  • Vermont (divided government): The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development updated its mandatory health and safety requirement to allow businesses, nonprofits, and government entities to decline services to individuals without face coverings. Individuals must be given an alternative way to receive services or access the business.
  • West Virginia (Republican trifecta): Gov. Jim Justice (R) announced on Aug. 12 that he would prohibit nursing home visitations, effective at midnight, except for emergencies and end-of-life situations.

Tracking industries: Nursing home visits

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 may you visit someone in a nursing home? This does not include end-of-life or other emergency-related visits. Visits limited to family members only, or that are only allowed outdoors, are counted as “visitors allowed” in the chart and map below.

We last looked at nursing home visitation in the Aug. 6 edition of the newsletter. Since then, Texas began allowing nursing home visitation. Facilities with no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days can allow outdoor visitation. West Virginia closed nursing homes to visitors.

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

Vermont’s A Strong and Healthy Start

On June 17, 2020, the Vermont Agency of Education and the Vermont Department of Health released A Strong and Healthy Start, which provided guidance for safety and public health in school reopening. The state has also provided guidance documents on hybrid learning and decision making for local administrators. Individual school districts must decide if they will open for in-person, hybrid, or remote instruction.

Governor Phil Scott said, “At this time, Vermont data continues to support the reopening of schools and we will reassess that at any point,. Parents and our kids deserve the best education that we can possible [sic] provide. … We know a fully remote format creates gaps that some students fall through, and unfortunately this has a greater impact on some students than others.”

On July 29, Scott signed an executive order that moved the start of the 2020-2021 academic year to Sept. 8. According to EdWeek, public schools in Vermont traditionally start the academic year in late August, with the exact date varying by district. Scott said the delay would give districts more time to begin with fully remote learning, telling reporters, “It makes sense for some to start with this more conservative approach.”

On March 15, Scott ordered all K-12 schools in the state to close on March 18 until at least April 6. On March 26, 2020, Scott announced schools would be closed for the remainder of the academic year.

Context

Vermont has a divided government. The governor is a Republican, and Democrats hold majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The state has had a divided government since 2017.

The following tables show public education statistics in Vermont, 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.

Vermont public school metrics
Category Figure 50-state rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $20,327 4
Number of students (’18-’19) 83,716 50
Number of teachers (’16-17) 8,187 48
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 312 48
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 14.8 26
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 41.2% 38
Vermont public school revenue
Category Figure 50-state rank
Total revenue $1,758,461,000 48
Percent from federal sources 6% 43
Percent from state sources 90.1% 1
Percent from local sources 3.9% 49

Details

District reopening plans

On June 4, 2020, the Vermont Agency of Education released guidelines detailing the procedures for reopening. It said individual districts would submit reopening plans that would need to comply with the state-level guidelines outlined in its planning template.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

The state’s guidance document allows individual districts to decide whether to use fully in-person schedules, a hybrid model, or fully online learning for the 2020 school year. On July 25, the state released an updated document that stressed school flexibility in planning, saying, “[I]t is important that each district plan for a certain amount of flexibility to shift school instruction along a continuum of options from full in-person instruction to full remote learning, including a hybrid learning approach that might include both.”

Mask requirements

Students, teachers, and school staff are required to wear facial coverings while in the school building and outside if six feet of social distance cannot be maintained.

In-person health recommendations and requirements

A Safe and Healthy Start recommends students be kept together in the same groups as much as possible. It also requires the groups to comply with the occupancy standards to ensure they maintain a six-foot social distance. The guidelines recommend installing physical barriers where social distancing is more difficult. Libraries and other communal areas can remain in operation if social distancing is possible and enforced.

The plan recommends cafeterias and gyms should not be used for their normal purposes. Rather, they should be used as additional classroom space to help a school to properly allow for social distancing. Before and after school programs are allowed to remain in operation with social distancing requirements and with strict record-keeping suggested.

The guidance recommends that anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate until they have had no fever for 24 hours without the use of medications. Students and staff will be excluded from school activities and buildings if they:

  • Show symptoms of COVID-19, such as a cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell
  • Have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days
  • Have a fever (temperature higher than 100.4°F)
  • Have a significant new rash, particularly when other symptoms are present
  • Have large amounts of nasal discharge in the absence of allergy diagnosis

If COVID-19 is confirmed in a student, the school must:

  • Close off areas used by a sick person and do not use these areas until after cleaning and disinfecting; wait 24 hours or as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfecting to allow droplets to settle
  • Open outside doors and windows and use ventilating fans to increase air circulation in the area.
  • Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas and shared electronic equipment used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces.
  • Ensure safe and correct use and storage of cleaning and disinfection products, including storing products securely away from children.
  • Participate in contact tracing as requested by the Health Department.
  • Communicate with staff and parents/caregivers with general information about the situation. It is critical to maintain confidentiality.

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

All students and staff must wear facial coverings while on school buses or other transportation. In addition, students should go through a health screening before boarding the bus. The state recommends assigning students to a bus based on their grade cohort and that students are assigned specific seats.

Responses

The Vermont-NEA, the state’s largest teacher’s union, called for the state to adopt a phased approach rather than let individual districts decide how to reopen. The group has also called for the state to establish a “State Commission comprised of educators, school counselors, school nurses, educational support professionals, custodians and bus drivers, administrators, school board members, parents/caregivers, and AOE representatives” that can evaluate COVID-19 reopening plans.

In an open letter to her school district opposing the plan, Harwood Unified Union School District Superintendent Brigid Nease said:

Under the guise of local control and the need to respond flexibly to the differences in each district, leaders were told by state officials to basically go figure it out. … The truth is most school employees are scared to death they will get sick (or worse), bring the virus home to loved ones, have a student in their care become ill, or experience the death of a coworker. However, the even bigger reason for leave requests is the untenable position this state has put school employees in by creating homegrown reopening schedules that do not align.

Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French said the decision offers individual districts options rather than dictates policy for the entire state. On Aug. 10, he told VTDigger:

When you get into a pandemic, this is all unchartered territory. People want to be told exactly what to do. And the message that ‘Look, we can really tell you what to do up to a point, you still have to use your professional judgment,’ isn’t necessarily well received.

Virginia’s Recover, Redesign, Restart

The Virginia Department of Education most recently updated its school reopening guidance on July 6. When the guidance was first introduced in June, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said, “Resuming in-person instruction is a high priority, but we must do so in a safe, responsible, and equitable manner that minimizes the risk of exposure to the virus and meets the needs of the Virginia students who have been disproportionately impacted by lost classroom time.”

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said a phased opening of schools was designed with social and emotional wellbeing in mind. Qarni said, “These plans are informed by a range of perspectives and will help ensure that we prioritize the social emotional well-being of all of our students, their families, and educators as we go back to school this summer and fall.”

Virginia does not have a statewide date for public schools to reopen. Each district will decide when and with what form of instruction to reopen schools. According to EdWeek, public schools in Virginia start the academic year no earlier than 14 days before Labor Day.

On March 14, Northam ordered all K-12 schools in the state to close for at least two weeks, effective March 16. On March 23, he announced that all schools would be closed for the rest of the school year.

Context

Virginia is a Democratic trifecta. The governor is a Democrat, and Democrats have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The state became a Democratic trifecta in 2020.

The following tables show public education statistics in Virginia, 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.

Virginia public school metrics
Category Figure 50-state rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $13,052 25
Number of students (’18-’19) 1,289,367 12
Number of teachers (’16-17) 91,628 11
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 2,122 17
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 14.8 26
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 41.2% 38
Virginia public school revenue
Category Figure 50-state rank
Total revenue $15,624,013,000 12
Percent from federal sources 6.5% 41
Percent from state sources 39.9% 40
Percent from local sources 53.6% 12

Details

District reopening plans

On June 6, Northam introduced a phased guide to reopening public schools in Virginia. Phase One uses distance learning as the mode of education, with limited access to school facilities for students with disabilities. Phase Two allows for limited in-person instruction, especially for grades K-3. Phase Three allows for in-person instruction with social distancing and health and safety precautions taken. When he announced the phased plan, Northam said that most schools could reopen in Phase Two.

The Recover, Redesign, Restart plan was revised on July 8 to include further instructions for Phase Three of reopening. In the revision, the state recommends practices and procedures for reopening schools but leaves the specific plans for reopening to individual school districts.

According to the Virginia Department of Education, at least 15 days before instruction begins, “Public school divisions are required to submit a plan for providing new instruction to all students in the 2020-2021 academic year, regardless of phase or the operational status of the school at the time. This plan must also include strategies to address learning lost due to spring 2020 school closures. This should include a plan for fully remote instruction should public health conditions require it.” Districts are also recommended to post their plans on their websites for public viewing.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

According to state guidance, schools will offer a variety of learning models depending on the plans they submit to the state. All districts must include plans for fully remote learning, but the phased model of reopening requires schools to plan for some level of in-person instruction. The guidance document states, “While the broad parameters of each phase are defined by the state, a great deal of local autonomy exists and school divisions have the flexibility to respond to this guidance within the capacity and resources of the division.”

The state says alternative schedules may be necessary to maintain physical distance and outlines multiple possibilities in its guidelines. The guidelines state, “In order to adhere to the physical distancing requirements, schools will need to consider alternative and innovative schedules for their school buildings. These schedules will need to consider the developmental abilities and academic needs of the students served in each scenario, while maximizing physical distancing of students.”

Mask requirements

During all phases of Virginia’s plan, face coverings are recommended when six-foot physical is not possible. Face coverings are not required in any phase.

In-person health recommendations and requirements

Social distancing is required in all phases of the state reopening plan. In Phase Three, the most advanced phase of the plan, all individuals are required to be at least three feet apart. Each phase also accounts for increased occupancy of spaces like auditoriums, playgrounds, and cafeterias. Phase One allows 10 people in a space, Phase Two allows 50, and Phase Three allows 250. All phases require that space allows for six feet of distance.

The state guidelines recommend daily health screenings for all students, faculty, and staff, and that any person who does not pass the health screening stay home. Those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to isolate, and those who experience symptoms in school are required to isolate.

According to the Virginia Department of Education:

If there is a confirmed case of COVID 19 in a school, the local health department will work closely with school administrators to determine a course of action for their schools. Schools should follow the CDC Interim Guidance for K-12 for schools and use the School Decision Tree to determine school closing in collaboration with the local health department.

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

During Phase One, bus capacity is limited to 10 students per bus. During later phases, bus capacity is recommended to be at an amount that allows for appropriate physical distancing. Face coverings are recommended but not required.

Responses

According to Richmond Magazine, the organization Virginia Educators United launched a petition in July, suggesting the state “keep classrooms closed until infections trend downward for at least 24 days and until preventive measures such as proper classroom ventilation, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment are fully funded by the state.”

Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder (D), now a professor of public policy at Virginia Commonwealth University, told the Virginia Mercury he disagreed with Northam’s decision to allow individual districts to determine their reopening plans, saying, “I would not have done it that way. There need to be comprehensive, almost uniform requirements across the state. The plan cannot be helter-skelter.”

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 Aug. 11, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin dismissed a lawsuit challenging Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s (R) authority to mandate the wearing of face masks to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged the mask mandate was declared in violation of the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act (AAPA). The plaintiffs alleged the Alabama Board of Health failed to meet statutory notice and administrative review requirements before issuing the mandate. As a result, the plaintiffs argued, the order was “nothing more than an expression, and does not carry the weight of law and it cannot be valid or effective against any person or party until the proper procedures are met.” In their motion to dismiss, state officials argued that the plaintiffs incorrectly challenged the legal basis for the mask mandate. They argued that because Ivey incorporated the order into a gubernatorial proclamation under her own authority, granted by the Emergency Management Act, the plaintiffs’ claims were without merit. After hearing oral arguments, Griffin dismissed the case from the bench without explanation. The plaintiffs’ attorney said that they would appeal the decision.



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