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.
Florida students are required to do standardized testing in person during the pandemic
In a move that sparked backlash, Florida is requiring students to take standardized tests in person. The Florida Standards Assessments can affect graduation and teacher salaries, among other things.
Brett Tubbs, press secretary for the Florida Department of Education, tells Yahoo Life that many schools in the state are already doing in-person learning, making testing just another time students are in a classroom. “Thanks to Florida’s dedicated educators and local school leaders, all school districts opened for in-person instruction this year, so nearly 65 percent of Florida’s public school students are learning full- and part-time in person,” he says. Tubbs also points out that “more than 840,000 assessments have been safely administered, statewide” since the summer.
“The fact is, Florida’s districts and schools have proven operating schools and administrating assessments can be done safely,” he says. The state has added some flexibility to its testing, extending windows for tests and retests by up to 11 weeks. The next round of Florida Standards Assessments is scheduled to start in April.
But some educators and parents are pushing back, including the United Teachers of Dade, the union for more than 30,000 employees of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The organization wrote this on its Facebook page earlier this week: “Why are we continuing to subject children to high stakes testing during this pandemic?” People in the comments agreed, with some citing pandemic health concerns, and others worrying about the stress for teachers and students during an already trying year. “This year has been very overwhelming, and enough with everything else happening to have to deal with the pressure of testing,” one wrote. “Our doctor told us to stay away from testing sites,” another said.
Dr. John Sellick, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo, tells Yahoo Life that in-person standardized testing can be done safely if proper COVID-19 precautions are taken. “If the kids are already going to school, there’s no reason they can’t take the exam in person,” he says. “The classrooms just have to be set up in a safe way. You don’t want to suddenly jam groups of kids into one room at one time.”
Dr. Juan Salazar, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and physician in chief at Connecticut Children’s, agrees. “If the standardized testing facilities are socially distanced and people are wearing masks, there’s probably a way to do that,” he tells Yahoo Life. “But if it’s a typical setup, which is one cubicle next to another and you’re very close, there’s a potential risk of an asymptomatic person shedding the virus to others.”
The Florida Department of Education has launched a #COVIDStopsWithMe initiative that encourages students and staff to stay home if they feel sick; asks people to help protect vulnerable populations; and says “don’t panic” if COVID-19 cases happen but “quickly assess and limit the impact” and communicate.
Remote testing is “not an option” for any of Florida’s state assessments, Tubbs says.
Schools across the country have differing quarantine policies
A reported 52 people at Virginia’s Prince George High School are in quarantine after having close contact with a positive COVID-19 case. Superintendent Lisa Pennycuff told NBC12 that the school requires masks and is doing social distancing and frequently sanitizing to help prevent the spread of the virus. The school is also in the process of vaccinating teachers and staff.
Pennycuff did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.
But while quarantine requirements remain in some schools in the U.S., others are now loosening them. Indiana state officials relaxed quarantine and contact-tracing rules on Monday. The new guidelines state that students and staff will not have to quarantine or participate in contact tracing if they’re exposed to someone with COVID-19, provided they were 3 feet apart and wearing a mask.
“We hope that these steps will help decrease the disruption that COVID-19 continues to cause in our educational system,” Indiana State Health Commissioner Kristina Box said during a press conference on Wednesday. Spokespeople for the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana State Department of Health did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.
Other states have waived quarantine requirements altogether. Schools in Oklahoma with a mask requirement that have COVID-19 safety protocols in place will no longer need to quarantine students and staff who are exposed to the coronavirus, state officials announced in a news conference in mid-January.
Quarantine recommendations are changing, Salazar says, pointing to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance that says people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to quarantine after an exposure. “That gives an indication of where things will be going,” he says.
Salazar says it can be “difficult” for schools to figure out the right quarantine rules that allow learning to continue while keeping students safe. “Schools will often be all in or all out,” he says, “but somewhere in the middle is where the truth lies.” Salazar predicts that rules for quarantining will be “modified” in the future.
High school players in Michigan have to wear masks during games, even with a negative COVID-19 test
Youth contact sports in Michigan are allowed to resume this week, with very specific mask mandates in place. The Michigan High School Athletic Association shared in new guidance that “certain masks” are to be worn “at all times when required.” Specifically, masks are required “at all times in practices and competitions for basketball, competitive cheer and ice hockey.” Officials have been told to enforce the mask rule by sending players off the court, ice or competition for noncompliance, the guidance says.
Additional guidance says that student-athletes must wear a mask “even if an individual receives a negative rapid or PCR test.”
It’s not the first state to take this step. In December, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association announced that masks would be required, even on players participating in a game. Masks are also required in Virginia’s Fairfax County “at all times” with exceptions for wrestling, gymnastics, and swimming and diving over “safety concerns.” Minnesota also has a mask mandate in place for student-athletes, stating that “all persons in youth and adult sports wear a mask/face covering at all times, including practices, games or competitions.”
Sellick admits that this has been a controversial policy but stresses that it’s necessary to keep students safe. “What it comes down to is the basic principle of who you are sharing air with,” he says. “That’s how you get infected. Students are huffing and puffing on top of each other.”
Salazar calls school sports mask mandates “a good precaution.” But, he adds, “it’s hard to play with a mask when you’re breathing heavily and sweating.”
Overall, though, Sellick says that asking students to wear masks is “absolutely the right thing to do if you can do it.”
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.
Read more from Yahoo Life:
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.