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Schools increasingly return to online learning as Covid-19 spikes across the U.S.

From grade schools to universities, schools are shifting back to virtual learning or delaying in-person classes as coronavirus cases continue to soar nationwide.
Image: Remote Learning Florida
A student attends an online class from home in Miami, Fla., on Sept. 3, 2020.Eva Marie Uzcategui / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Schools around the country are returning to virtual learning or delaying in-person classroom plans as coronavirus cases continue to soar nationwide in record-breaking numbers.

Some school districts that had been engaging in hybrid learning — with some days of virtual schooling alternated with in-person class days — are switching to a full virtual model through the end of the year. Maryland’s Hartford County Public Schools announced Monday that it was making the transition by Friday due to the new cases.

The district said it would reconsider its decision when cases fall below 15 per 100,000 new positive tests per day and under a positivity rate of 5 percent for two weeks.

“There are many details to work through, but as the county COVID-19 metrics have met our threshold, we must take action to ensure the health of our students and staff,” Hartford County Public Schools said on Facebook.

Des Moines Public Schools will also return to total virtual learning for all grades beginning next week. Iowa’s Department of Education approved a waiver submitted by the district to return to virtual learning until the end of November, Des Moines Public Schools said on Twitter Tuesday.

A Covid-19 positivity rate of more than 15 percent in Polk County, the state’s most populous county, had the school board considering the recommendation to submit a waiver, it said last week.

Philadelphia Chief of Schools Evelyn Nunez sent a letter alerting schools to plans to delay in-person plans until at least the end of November, NBC Philadelphia reported Tuesday. The city’s school district hoped to transition to hybrid learning after Nov. 17, assuming public health recommendations regarding the pandemic allowed it.

"It continues to be our goal to transition to hybrid learning; but we remain committed to doing so only when guidance says it is safe to do so," Nunez wrote in her letter.

Colleges and universities, which have struggled to mitigate cases among its young adults, have also looked at delaying in-person learning and adjusting school calendars over concerns.

Sacred Heart University, a private Roman Catholic university in Connecticut, returned to a full virtual model of the majority of its classes on Monday, with the exception of some modules. Campus events have been canceled for at least two weeks and students who live on campus have been asked to avoid off-campus gatherings.

“We recognize that some students need to meet the required hours for course progression and graduation, which means lab experiences and clinical and public school placements may need to continue on ground,” the school said on its Covid-19 dashboard. “The final determination will be made by the deans in consultation with program directors, and you should expect to hear from your dean or program director soon,”

The State University of New York school system released its Covid-19 plan for the spring semester on Sunday, which included eliminating spring break for students, mandatory pre-testing and isolation upon return to campus. Universities in the SUNY system will also push back the start of its in-person learning date until Feb. 1, with SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras noting the administration would be flexible as “issues emerge.”

“Our students have done a remarkable job given the circumstances,” Maltras said. “This aggressive strategy gives us the best chance to return our students once again to classrooms in early 2021. But as we know, this is a fluid situation so we will continue to adapt and be flexible as issues emerge.”

The U.S. saw record breaking numbers last week as positivity rates around the country have increased. The country saw 104,429 new cases on Wednesday, breaking the single-day record of 98,583 new cases set a week before. The next day, there were 120,048 new cases.

President-elect Joe Biden has listed Covid-19 on his transition website as one of the main priorities for his administration, along with the economy, climate change and racial equity. Biden’s website said he will direct the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to provide specific evidence-based guidance on when to open or close schools along with how to keep classrooms safe.

The website also said Biden will direct Congress to pass an “emergency package to ensure schools have the additional resources they need to adapt effectively to COVID-19.”