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Five big questions about when and how to open schools amid COVID-19

By Bethany Brookshire, Aimee Cunningham, Erin Garcia de Jesus, Jonathan Lambert and Laura Sanders

It’s back-to-school time in the United States, but for the world’s leader in coronavirus infections and deaths, what “back to school” means is anything but clear. Many countries have gotten ahead of the pandemic with extensive testing, tracing and quarantining. That tight control means that children in Denmark, Singapore and China have returned to school, with extra safety measures. The situation is fundamentally different in the United States. No other country has attempted to send children to school with coronavirus infection levels as high as they are in some parts of the country. Many large school districts, including those in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston, will begin the school year with all kids learning from home. Other districts have yet to announce their plans, which may include models that mix in-person learning with remote classwork.

School districts have been struggling to make the call, given a lack of data on how to reduce risk. Two major scientific societies have provided some guidance. On June 25, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended that policy decisions be made with the goal of having children in school, in person. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine agreed, urging in a July 15 report that to the extent possible, in-person education should be prioritized, particularly for young children and those with special needs.

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