By Bob Spires
As American school officials debate when it will be safe for schoolchildren to return to classrooms, looking abroad may offer insights. Nearly every country in the world shuttered their schools early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have since sent students back to class, with varying degrees of success.
Israel: Too Much, Too Soon<p>Israel took stringent steps early on in the coronavirus pandemic, including severely restricting everyone's movement and closing all schools. By June, it was being <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/08/middleeast/israel-coronavirus-second-wave-netanyahu-intl/index.html" target="_blank">lauded internationally</a> for containing the spread of COVID-19.</p><p>But shortly after schools reopened in May, on a <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/224fa625-657c-4ffb-a6a0-a40e04d685b9" target="_blank">staggered schedule paired with mask mandates and social distancing rules</a>, COVID-19 cases <a href="https://twitter.com/DrEricDing/status/1278682387325616129" target="_blank">surged</a> across Israel. <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/israeli-data-show-school-openings-were-a-disaster-that-wiped-out-lockdown-gains" target="_blank">Schoolchildren and teachers</a> were among the sick. Today, <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/school-openings-across-globe-suggest-ways-keep-coronavirus-bay-despite-outbreaks" target="_blank">several hundred Israeli schools have closed again</a>.</p><p>Some blame <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/7/15/21324082/coronavirus-school-reopening-trump-children-safety" target="_blank">lax enforcement of health guidelines</a> in schools. The weather didn't help: In May, a <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/school-openings-across-globe-suggest-ways-keep-coronavirus-bay-despite-outbreaks" target="_blank">record heat wave hit Israel</a>, making masks uncomfortable for students to wear.</p><p>But schools were only part of a broader reopening in Israel that, many experts say, <a href="https://www.timesofisrael.com/where-we-went-wrong-expert-says-these-3-blunders-caused-new-israeli-covid-chaos/" target="_blank">came too soon and without sufficient testing capacity</a>.</p><p>"The reopening happened too fast," said <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/israeli-data-show-school-openings-were-a-disaster-that-wiped-out-lockdown-gains" target="_blank">Mohammed Khatib, an epidemiologist on Israel's national COVID-19 task force</a>. "It was undertaken so quickly that it triggered a very sharp spike, and the return to more conservative measures came too little, much too late."<br></p><p>Israel's public health director, Siegal Sadetski, resigned in early July, saying the health ministry had ignored her warnings about <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/israel-battles-new-wave-coronavirus-infections-after-reopening-n1233139" target="_blank">reopening schools and businesses</a> so rapidly.</p>
Sweden: A Hands-Off Approach<p>Schools never closed in Sweden, part of the Scandinavian country's risky <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/05/15/world/europe/sweden-coronavirus-deaths.html" target="_blank">gamble on skipping a coronavirus lockdown</a>. Only students 16 and older stayed home and did remote learning. <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/05/sweden-hasnt-locked-down-but-normal-life-is-a-luxury/" target="_blank">Social distancing</a> and <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/school-openings-across-globe-suggest-ways-keep-coronavirus-bay-despite-outbreaks" target="_blank">masks were recommended but optional</a>, in line with the Swedish government's emphasis on personal choice.</p><p><span></span>This strategy earned <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/schools-reopening-coronavirus/2020/07/10/865fb3e6-c122-11ea-8908-68a2b9eae9e0_story.html" target="_blank">praise from President Donald Trump</a> but some resistance from Swedish parents, especially those whose children have health issues. The government threatened to <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-sweden-compels-parents-send-kids-to-school-2020-5" target="_blank">punish parents</a> who didn't send their kids to school.</p><p>Sweden's plan <a href="https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-schools-sweden-denmark-5ff88c81-67e3-4c33-8b74-fe57b9555827.html" target="_blank">seems to have been safe enough</a>. Its health agency reported on July 15 that <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-sweden-schools/swedens-health-agency-says-open-schools-did-not-spur-pandemic-spread-among-children-idUSKCN24G2IS" target="_blank">COVID-19 outbreaks among Sweden's 1 million school children</a> were no worse than those in neighboring Finland, which did close schools. And pediatricians have seen <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa864" target="_blank">few severe COVID-19 cases</a> among school-age children in Stockholm. Only <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/1107913/number-of-coronavirus-deaths-in-sweden-by-age-groups/" target="_blank">one young Swedish child is believed to have died of the coronavirus</a> as of this article's publication.</p><p>However, officials in Stockholm have admitted they don't know how the disease may have affected teachers, parents and other adults in schools.</p><p>Sweden had <a href="https://www.coronatracker.com/country/sweden/" target="_blank">over 70,000 COVID-19 cases</a> as of July 21, which puts it in the middle of the pack in Europe, according to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa864" target="_blank">a joint study</a> from Sweden's Upsala University and the University of Virginia. Of those, slightly more than <a href="https://www.folkhalsomyndigheten.se/contentassets/c1b78bffbfde4a7899eb0d8ffdb57b09/covid-19-school-aged-children.pdf" target="_blank">1,000 involved children and teens</a>.</p>
Japan: So Far, So Good<p>Japan, which has mostly <a href="https://www.coronatracker.com/?country_code=JP" target="_blank">kept COVID-19 under control</a>, took <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/japan-coronavirus-schools-reopen/2020/06/06/9047be8c-a645-11ea-8681-7d471bf20207_story.html" target="_blank">a conservative approach</a> to reopening schools in June.</p><p>Different schools have <a href="https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/06/bdd000c967a7-school-restarts-picking-up-in-japan-amid-lingering-coronavirus-fears.html" target="_blank">different strategies</a>, but generally Japanese students <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/05/18/national/japan-schools-reopen-state-of-emergency/" target="_blank">attend class in person on alternating days</a>, so that classrooms are only half full. Lunches are silent and socially distanced, and students undergo daily temperature checks.</p><p>These precautions are <a href="https://globalhealth.washington.edu/sites/default/files/COVID-19%20Schools%20Summary%20%282%29.pdf?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTkRreE5XWXlORFF3TXpNeCIsInQiOiJIbVNQTTVySEo0Vzk1cHVBZVVqWnFGVmR1UEJxRGdpd01mTXg4OGw3Mk5nTnpmaUoyMGt2UXIwWVZBOE5GVjIybHA5aStrbzJ3MUxsanoxamZibmlocmpSbXZyVFVoV0VHYU1aTGx0RnpsMXlmOEtXSVJqaDJsZ0RJU1BQcVZjZSJ9" target="_blank">more stringent than those in many other countries</a>. Still, some Japanese school children have <a href="https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/06/bdd000c967a7-school-restarts-picking-up-in-japan-amid-lingering-coronavirus-fears.html" target="_blank">gotten COVID-19</a>, particularly in major cities.</p><p>A survey from Save the Children found that Japanese school children <a href="https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-data/h00744/" target="_blank">wanted more clear and detailed information</a> about the virus and the outbreaks. <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/04/06/national/japan-parents-back-to-school-coronavirus/" target="_blank">Parents</a>, students and <a href="https://japan-forward.com/what-its-like-going-back-to-school-after-the-coronavirus-emergency/" target="_blank">teachers</a> continue to express hesitancy about returning to school and <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/06/09/national/japanese-students-coronavirus-measures-school/" target="_blank">displeasure over reopening measures</a>.</p>
Uruguay: A+ for Safety<p>Analysts credit Uruguay's <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/post/small-uruguay-big-proof-committing-public-health-can-contain-covid-19#stream/0" target="_blank">well-organized and efficient public health system</a> and Uruguyans' <a href="https://theconversation.com/uruguay-quietly-beats-coronavirus-distinguishing-itself-from-its-south-american-neighbors-yet-again-140037" target="_blank">strong faith in government</a> for its success stopping the coronavirus. The progressive South American country of 3.4 million has the region's <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/post/small-uruguay-big-proof-committing-public-health-can-contain-covid-19#stream/0" target="_blank">lowest rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths</a>, and it never shut down its economy entirely.</p><p>Uruguay was one of the Western Hemisphere's first countries to send its students back to school, using a <a href="https://blogs.iadb.org/educacion/en/uruguayreopening/" target="_blank">staged approach</a>.</p><p>In late April, Uruguay <a href="https://www.elobservador.com.uy/nota/gobierno-anuncio-que-el-22-de-abril-se-pueden-retomar-las-clases-en-973-escuelas-rurales-202048204622" target="_blank">reopened schools in rural areas</a>, where the student population is small. In early June, it brought vulnerable student groups, which were <a href="https://blogs.iadb.org/educacion/en/uruguayreopening/" target="_blank">struggling to access online learning</a>, and high school seniors back into classrooms. Then all students in non-urban areas went back to classrooms.</p><p>Finally, on June 29, <a href="https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2020/06/29/uruguay-completa-la-reapertura-de-las-escuelas-256-mil-alumnos-vuelven-a-clase-en-montevideo/" target="_blank">256,000 students in the capital of Montevideo</a> returned to school. An <a href="https://labs.ebanx.com/en/notes/uruguay-one-of-the-first-in-the-americas-to-reopen-schools/" target="_blank">alternating schedule</a> of in-person and virtual instruction reduces the number of students in classrooms at one time.</p><p>Uruguay is notable for residents' <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-30/in-midst-of-covid-chaos-one-latin-american-nation-gets-it-right" target="_blank">consistent and early adoption of measures</a> like social distancing and masks. Its successful pandemic response comes despite its <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-30/in-midst-of-covid-chaos-one-latin-american-nation-gets-it-right" target="_blank">proximity to hard-hit Brazil</a>, where schools remain closed.</p>
Final Grades<p>There is no perfect way to reopen schools during a pandemic. Even when a country has COVID-19 under control, there's no guarantee that schools can reopen safely.</p><p>But the policies and practices of countries that have had some initial success with schools point in the same direction. It helps to slowly stage the reopening. Strict mask wearing and social distancing is critical, both in schools and surrounding communities. And both officials and families need <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/puar.13252" target="_blank">reliable and up-to-date data</a> so that they can continually assess outbreaks – and change course quickly if necessary.<span></span></p>
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The newly elected mayor of England's northernmost region wants to put a UN-accredited climate change teacher in every state funded primary and secondary school, making his region the first in the world to do so, as the London Economic reported.
By Reynard Loki
Many children play with toys that evoke the bucolic life on a farm. And many will likely visit a small local farm, where animals have space and access to sunlight and the outdoors. But most kids are probably not aware that, for the vast majority of farmed animals, life is anything but happy.
In a rebuke to efforts by the Heartland Institute and at least 10 state legislatures, a large majority of Americans believe climate change should be taught in schools, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) reported Wednesday.
When the YPCCC asked Americans, "Should schools teach our children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming?", a national average of 78 percent either somewhat or strongly agreed that they should.
Kathryn "Kat" Taylor, a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers and wife of billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, made an unprecedented public call on Harvard University to divest from fossil fuel stocks.
The action comes after the university's $37.1 billion endowment—the world's largest academic fund—reported a lackluster 8.1 percent return that reflected "deep structural problems" that will take years to turn around, its endowment manager said.
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By Jie Jenny Zou
Jennifer Merritt's first-graders at Jefferson Elementary School in Pryor, Oklahoma, were in for a treat. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, the students gathered in late November for story time with two special guests: state Rep. Tom Gann and state Sen. Marty Quinn.
A piece of legislation in South Dakota is stirring concerns that school systems may soon be allowed to teach skepticism about science in the classroom.
Advocates say SB 55, which passed the state Senate last month and goes to a House Education Committee hearing today, would allow teachers to include "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, like climate change and evolution, in their lesson plans.
4 scientific facts about #climate Trump can't deny https://t.co/8eBmWSGEhP via @WorldResources @EcoWatch… https://t.co/y2ZBXbCuhj— climatehawk1 (@climatehawk1)1486261862.0
A similar version of this bill has been introduced in the state for the past four years, but this is the first time it has passed the Senate. Three similar bills are before state legislatures in Oklahoma, Texas and Indiana, and science groups have expressed concerns that the Trump administration could encourage a new push towards science skepticism in statehouses nationwide.
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EarthEcho International, a leading environmental education nonprofit organization, is working with the NEA Foundation and Discovery Education to bring educators and students new resources to EarthEcho’s Water Planet Challenge site. Continuing to engage youth through Web-based interactive tools, the new features include Student Achievement Grants with the NEA Foundation and a webinar with Discovery Education that will empower youth to design, create and implement service-learning projects in their communities.
On Jan. 25 at 2:00 p.m. EST, EarthEcho will partner with Discovery Education, the leading provider of high quality, curriculum-based digital content and professional development resources, to host a food-focused webinar featuring Philippe Cousteau, Jr. The webinar will explore the environmental and community impact of daily food choices and include commentary from guest experts Brent Kim—content developer on Teaching the Food System—and Ralph Loglisci of Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Based on the What’s On Your Fork? Action Guide, the webinar will give participants a new perspective on issues associated with modern industrial food production and its environmental impacts. To sign up for the What’s On Your Fork? webinar and download the Action Guide, click here. For teachers and students interested in learning more about a MEATLESS MONDAY campaign, the Action Guide provides information on offering plant-based food choices one day a week at school, at home, and throughout the community.
What’s On Your Fork? is authored for EarthEcho by Cathryn Berger Kaye with contributions from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The Guide was inspired in part by the Participant Media-River Road Entertainment film, Food, Inc., released by Magnolia Pictures, and the discussion materials Participant Media and Center for Ecoliteracy created for the film. Active participants will have a chance to win Food, Inc. videos during the webinar.
The NEA Foundation-EarthEcho Water Planet Challenge Grants in amounts of $2,000 are available as Student Achievement Grants to middle and high school public educators. A collaborative effort between EarthEcho and the NEA Foundation, the Water Planet Challenge grants support service-learning programs that improve the health of our water resources. To apply, applicants must cite specifically how they are utilizing EarthEcho’s Water Planet Challenge Action Guides in the classroom with their students. The application deadline is Feb. 1. For more information, click here.
From conserving energy and improving the quality of our drinking water to understanding the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the Water Planet Challenge’s extensive collection of Action Guides, videos, lesson plans and service-learning materials helps educators and their students affect change one classroom, one community at a time. The Water Planet Challenge resources are available to middle and high schools through a partnership with Discovery Education. Water Planet Challenge Action Guides and resources are provided at no cost to students, educators and community leaders.
Primary funding for the Water Planet Challenge is provided by the Toyota U.S.A. Foundation, a $100 million charitable endowment created to support education programs serving kindergarten through 12th grade students and their teachers in the U.S., with an emphasis on mathematics, science and environmental science. For additional information about the Toyota U.S.A. Foundation, click here.
For more information, click here.
Discovery Communications (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) revolutionized television with Discovery Channel and is now transforming classrooms through Discovery Education. Powered by the number one nonfiction media company in the world, Discovery Education combines scientifically proven, standards-based digital media and a dynamic user community in order to empower teachers to improve student achievement. Already, more than half of all U.S. schools access Discovery Education digital services. Explore the future of education by clicking here.
The NEA Foundation is a public charity supported by contributions from educators’ dues, corporate sponsors and others who support public education initiatives. We partner with education unions, districts and communities to create powerful, sustainable improvements in teaching and learning. We have invested $8 million in grants for more than 2,500 educators to help students succeed. For more information, click here.
EarthEcho International is a leading environmental nonprofit committed to youth engagement, action, and leadership through education. EarthEcho helps young people everywhere understand the critical role we play in the future of the planet through the one thing that connects us all – water. EarthEcho International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded by siblings Philippe and Alexandra Cousteau in honor of their father Philippe Cousteau Sr., son of the legendary explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau. For more information about EarthEcho International, click here.