School Report Card: This week, schools save snow days, and homecoming parties cause 75 to quarantine

Elise Solé
·9-min read
A New Jersey school district is keeping designated "snow days" to give children routine as the coronavirus pandemic continues. (Getty Images)
A New Jersey school district is keeping designated "snow days" to give children routine as the coronavirus pandemic continues. (Getty Images)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

New Jersey schools preserve snow days for virtual and hybrid learners: “These are times for memory-making”

The joy of snow days seems lost in the era of distance learning, but one New Jersey school district is fighting for the childhood tradition. Mahwah Township Public Schools, which serves both on-site and remote students, will keep designated snow days to make children happy.

“We have decided that few childhood acts remain unchanged due to COVID-19 and we will maintain the hope of children by calling actual snow days due to inclement weather,” read a Monday statement sent to Yahoo Life by the school district. “Snow days are chances for on-site learners and virtual learners to just be kids by playing in the snow, baking cookies, reading books and watching a good movie. These are times for memory-making, and we believe these types of opportunities should remain intact.”

A district spokesperson tells Yahoo Life, "The anticipation of a snow day transcends any community. We have rituals in our district in anticipation for inclement weather, inclusive of: Wearing our pajamas inside-out, flushing ice cubes down the toilet, and placing spoons under our pillows! These traditions can live on, and it’s all about this magic.”

The district, which is located in Bergen County, N.J., began classes on Sept. 8 with both hybrid and full virtual learning. Yahoo Life could not immediately confirm positive COVID-19 cases at Mahwah Township Public Schools. According to the state’s Department of Health, Bergen County has 25,235 positive COVID-19 cases as of Friday.

Other states like New York and Massachusetts recently gave districts the option to cancel snow days given the prevalence of virtual learning and parents with remote-work options.

Texas parents object to face masks for kids under 10: They “sneak air breaks”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises face coverings for children older than 2, an agreed position by experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins Medicine and other health organizations. Still, some parents have fought mask mandates at school through the court system and live and virtual protests.

This week, a small group of Texas parents took their concerns to board members at the Dripping Springs Independent School District, which requires staff and students to wear face masks on campus. School began Aug. 18 with remote instruction, while in-person learners voluntarily returned on Sept. 14.

“I’m not an anti-masker. We wear our masks; we go to the grocery store,” mother Monica Willis told Austin, Texas, news station KXAN. “It’s the mandate of forcing our students to wear them eight-plus hours a day with 20 minutes to breathe at lunch—all day long, every day. It’s impacting their moods; it’s impacting their potential health.”

“She says, ‘Well, we all sneak air breaks,” Willis told the news station about her daughter, who attends in-person classes. “She said, ‘Well, I go to the bathroom whenever I can, so I can take my mask off, because I just need to breathe.”

Not everyone is comfortable removing masks — parent Sharrah Pharr told KXAN that if the district abandons its policy, she won’t send her child, now in virtual classes, back to in-person learning in January.

A spokesperson of Dripping Springs ISD tells Yahoo Life, “...We know how important it is to our community to provide an option for on-campus instruction, and we are doing our very best to create the conditions to keep schools open without interruption. Masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 as concluded by federal, state and local authorities, including public health authorities. Our safety protocols have so far proven successful in helping to minimize COVID-19 infections in our district.”

During the Monday meeting, says the spokesperson, roughly 30 parents expressed safety objections, including to masks. In the 2020-21 school year, 7,275 were enrolled in the Dripping Springs ISD, a school spokesperson tells Yahoo Life.

There have been 24 positive COVID-19 cases out of 5,197 in-person learners since Aug. 18, reads the district COVID-19 dashboard. According to the Texas Education Agency, all school districts must comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s July executive order, which mandates masks for children, except for those under 10. A representative of the Texas Education Agency tells Yahoo Life that districts can enforce their own mask rules for children under 10.

Texas has 886,820 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and Hays County (where Dripping Springs ISD is located) has 6,109 positive cases, according to Wednesday data from the state’s Health and Human Services department. A recent South Korean study showed that kids younger than 10 spread the coronavirus less often than older ones; kids between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread it as well as adults.

Homecoming events and a party bus cause 75 high school students to quarantine

On Wednesday, a Michigan superintendent blamed two probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school district on Northville High School off-campus parties. Those events, she said, led to 75 students being quarantined.

“Several ‘homecoming’ parties, including a party bus, were reported during contact tracing, with reportedly little evidence of mask-wearing or physical distancing,’ wrote Mary K. Gallagher of Northville Public Schools on the school website. “Contact tracing also revealed that, in some cases, students who were supposed to be quarantined due to a family exposure still participated in out-of-school activities. At this point in time, two positive cases of COVID connected with these parties have resulted in over 75 quarantined students. The quarantines have impacted students at Northville High School, along with siblings at our middle and elementary schools.”

The district has reported 30 positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff since Aug. 23, which resulted in quarantines of 234 individuals. Classes began on Sept. 8 and offered students two options: Starting virtually, then returning to either in-person or hybrid instruction (depending on grade level) or a full-virtual option.

The city of Northville straddles Oakland and Wayne counties, which have 21,031 and 37,738 confirmed COVID-19 cases, respectively. As of Friday, Michigan currently has 171, 220 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to Thursday data from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“Michigan presently has 172 cases per million people, and positivity of tests has increased from about 2% to 5.5% and both indicators have been increasing for over four weeks,” read a Thursday press release from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have doubled over the last three weeks while the state death rate has increased for five consecutive weeks.”

State indoor gathering sizes (for events “in nonresidential settings without fixed seating”) were also reduced from 500 to 50 people due to 34 outbreaks stemming from bridal showers, weddings, funerals, bowling parties and church services, though the latter function is exempt from the enforcement. The order notes that only six people can sit together at bars and restaurant tables, both of which were linked to 12 state outbreaks.

A history teacher at Rancho Minerva Middle School in Vista, Calif., told news station KXAN she is concerned about lack of social distancing in her classroom. (KXAN)
A history teacher at Rancho Minerva Middle School in Vista, Calif., told news station KXAN she is concerned about lack of social distancing in her classroom. (KXAN)

California teacher says lack of social distancing in classroom is “frightening”

This week, a history teacher at Rancho Minerva Middle School in Vista, Calif., gave KGTV television cameras a look inside her empty classroom. The classroom, which she says accommodates 34 students, is set up so that two students share a table.

“It is frightening,” Laura Whitehouse told KGTV. “The distance between each table is probably two feet.” According to the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, people should remain six feet apart; other experts suggest that measure isn’t enough, especially when inside with poor ventilation.

“They’re just on top of each other,” said Whitehouse. “[The kids] want to clump together; they want to go to each other’s desks.” She received a plexiglass barrier and a HEPA filter on Tuesday, she told KGTV, and claimed that her room isn’t cleaned between classes. Whitehouse did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.

Rancho Minerva Middle School principal Christina DeSanto tells Yahoo Life, “In the instance of this teacher, her assigned room was prepared and ready to go. She elected to move rooms the morning of our first day without notifying the office and did not take the PPE with her. The classroom that she moved to wasn’t assigned in-person learning, so it was prepared differently.”

DeSanto added, “In addition, we only have two classes currently with 34 scholars — and neither are assigned to this teacher. ... We will continue to monitor and modify our protocols daily so we can tweak our model to make it stronger and more efficient.”

The district started all-virtual classes on Sept. 8 and Rancho Minerva Middle School opened for voluntary in-person learning on Oct. 26 (other schools in the district opened doors on Oct. 20). Currently, 280 students and 45 staff are learning on-campus, while 400 students are remote learners, said DeSanto.

Vista Unified School District is in San Diego County, which can hold in-person learning, having been released from the state’s monitoring list for lowering its coronavirus cases and meeting other benchmarks. The district began school virtually on Sept. 8 and welcomed back students for in-person learning on Monday.

San Diego County has 55,898 positive COVID-19 cases, according to Wednesday data. There are 916,918 positive COVID-19 in California, per Thursday data from the California Department of Public Health.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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