Schools deal with new plans, Trump demands

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — With bit more than a month before an incredible number of U.S. schoolchildren return to class, much is still up in the air – and not just due to the surging quantity of coronavirus cases nationwide.

Last week, President Donald Trump and his administration demanded schools fully reopen right away, calling for new guidance from federal health officials and slamming schools that want to create students right back for just a few days weekly.

At the same time, some states are only now issuing their own directives, and school district leaders say they expect those guidelines to be revised again prior to the classroom bells ring.

While there isn’t any indication school administrators are changing their plans yet because of the latest word from the White House, they’re working on multiple reopening scenarios. Those cover everything from where students will eat lunch to navigating online learning.

Here is a look at what several school districts are intending and discussing.

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NEW DANCE

Like many schools, the Forth Worth Independent School District in Texas will give parents a choice between in-person and remote learning. So far, about 40% have chosen virtual school, said Clint Bond, district spokesman.

The district is designing its plan with guidance released by the Texas Education Agency on Tuesday, but administrators are watching the debate in Washington and waiting to see whether any new rules or clarified guidance arises from the Centers for Disease Control, Bond said.

“It hasn’t caused us to do anything right now,” that he said.

Schools will adjust to permit social distancing depending on the quantity of students who opt to attend. Among the considerations: Plexiglas separators for multi-student desks, separating individual desks as well as using gyms, cafeterias and auditoriums as spaces distancing students.

“This is a dance we’re learning as we go,” Bond said.

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HOLDING PATTERN

In suburban Cincinnati, the Lakota School District’s reopening framework has four different outlines, from nearly all students returning to their classrooms to entirely on line instruction.

While the intent now’s for classrooms to reopen fully the following month, Superintendent Matthew Miller’s message to parents has been this: “What I’m telling you now could change in an hour.”

The district’s decisions, that he said, are increasingly being based on advice from education and health experts, maybe not politicians. Lots of what’s appearing out of Washington and the state capital isn’t helping, he said.

“It just puts us in a bad situation because we know how polarizing this can be,” Miller said.

For now, the district is “in a holding pattern” whilst it waits to see if you have any new guidance, that he said. “This is probably likely to change 2 or 3 times before school starts.”

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TWO APPROACHES

All students in Tennessee’s second-biggest district will start the entire year virtually, an announcement made Thursday on the heels of Trump’s threat to attend federal money if districts don’t open their buildings.

Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Adrienne Battle said students won’t go back to classrooms until at least after Labor Day.

“This will allow social distancing, mask mandates and other measures to take effect and reduce the spread of COVID-19 before tens of thousands of students and staff return to our schools,” she said.

Nashville has seen some of its worst daily totals for COVID-19 confirmed cases before week.

In northeastern Tennessee, schools in Sullivan County are on schedule to fully open as long as the coronavirus cases don’t rise, said David Cox, the director of schools.

The district is working off an idea it devised with local health officials and is modeled following the Nashville district’s plan, that he said. “I don’t think any plan is rigid,” he said.

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LUNCH LIMITS

Davis School District, just outside Salt Lake City, is working to reconfigure its classrooms to allow more space between students, but that’s proving to be a challenge.

“You know, we don’t have the ability, unfortunately, to move our classroom walls,” said spokesman Chris Williams.

There will be no salad bars at lunch and students will no longer have the ability to spoon out their own food servings in the cafeteria. Lunches will undoubtedly be “grab-and-go,” eaten during multiple periods so fewer students are mingling in the cafeteria.

The district, he said, hasn’t altered its plans because of the Trump administration’s recent statements, nonetheless it now will demand masks after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced a mandate.

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MOVING TARGET

“It’s an ever-moving target,” Superintendent Chris Knutsen said concerning the reopening framework for the Florence Unified School District, southeast of Phoenix.

He, too, said Trump’s comments haven’t affected the district’s intentions, but that he does want more guidance from state officials, specially on wearing masks when social distancing isn’t possible in classrooms or on buses, that he said.

The district, which has students coming from across 1,000 square miles, can’t reduce capacity on its buses. “We would have to run our buses 24 hours a day to try to get our kids back to school,” that he said.

Classrooms pose a similar problem, trying to space desks six feet apart, Knutsen said.

“So you put masks on everybody on the bus and in the classroom and you try to go back to school as normal,” he said. “So, I don’t know. I mean, it’s a mess.”

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Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York, and Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed.

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