#childsafety | Arne Duncan on the Shaky Plan for Reopening American Schools

Arne Duncan is not optimistic about the fall.
Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Shutterstock

Few questions loom larger for millions of Americans than what, exactly, school will look like for their children in the fall. California’s two largest school districts announced on Monday that they would start the year online only, joining New York City — which is expected to try a hybrid system, with some students in classrooms and some learning from home — in acknowledging that the coronavirus pandemic would prevent them from fully reopening. The debate is underpinned by the lack of conclusive science about the coronavirus’s effects on children, but it has also taken on a political dimension in recent weeks, as Donald Trump tries desperately to turn it into a culture-war-style campaign issue. Barack Obama’s first Education secretary, Arne Duncan, who now works at the Emerson Collective on an initiative to help young Chicagoans, isn’t optimistic about the fall as long as virus cases continue spiking in states like Texas and Florida. Intelligencer spoke with Duncan about how districts and schools can build plans to protect their most vulnerable students, even if their classmates won’t be returning to the classrooms anytime soon.

We’re now at a point where we can look at other countries that have handled school reopening in a variety of ways and try to draw some lessons on what’s working or not. So let’s start with a simple question: Is anyone doing it right?
I haven’t studied every country, but what you’re seeing with schools abroad is a little bit like what you’re seeing here with states: When people try to do too much too fast, it doesn’t work. When people ease into it, that seems to work. And that logically makes sense. I’m not an epidemiologist, but the goal here is slow and steady, not fast and furious. The goal is not to open but to stay open.

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