Americas

Europe’s Locked Down, but Schools Are Open

Germany’s bars, restaurants, theaters, concert halls, gyms and tattoo parlors are shuttered to stem a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. France and Ireland have also moved to shut down large swaths of society. But in all three countries, students and teachers are still in classrooms.

Europe has largely steered clear of controversy from parents or teachers about reopening school after the spring’s initial wave, or whether to keep schools open as the virus has returned. Distance learning, or the hybrid of in-person and online learning, is not offered in most European countries.

Instead, the continent’s leaders have largely adopted the advice of experts who contend that the public health risks of keeping children in school are outweighed by educational and social benefits, reports our colleague Melissa Eddy, a correspondent based in Berlin.

“We cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of this disease,” said Micheal Martin, the Irish prime minister, in a national address. “They need their education.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany cited the “dramatic social consequences” of closing schools and day care centers during the lockdown in March and April. “To name it clearly: Violent assaults against women and children increased dramatically,” Ms. Merkel said.

Children account for less than 5 percent of all cases of reported coronavirus in the 27 countries of the European Union and Britain, according to a study by the European Center for Disease and Prevention and Control. The agency found that school closures would be “unlikely to provide significant additional protection of children’s health.”

The risk of keeping schools open is certainly not zero, as the experience of Israel has shown. But countries in Europe are trying to mitigate the dangers by requiring masks, social distancing and — in some cases — opening classroom windows for better ventilation. And there is still a chance that schools might close: If a German region’s rate of infection rises to more than 50 cases per 100,000 people, the government recommends that schools move to blended or distanced learning.

“We say, yes keep schools open, and keep following the rules for the levels of infection,” said Heinz-Peter Meidinger, president of the German Teachers Association. “But do not keep schools open at any price.”

A “best by” date for coursework

Sharon Mitchler changed her due date philosophy.

Although she was hardly strict with extensions before, Mitchler, a community college professor in Washington State, knew she had to respond to the pandemic. Instead of deadlines, she now has “best by” dates. The phrasing came to her in the grocery store.

“Here’s the thing,” she said in a video sent to her class, which she also posted to Twitter. “This is the middle of a pandemic.”

Many of her students at Centralia College, a community college located halfway between Portland, Ore. and Seattle, do not have internet at their homes. Others are trying to keep or find jobs after the economic shake-up. Many are parents themselves, trying to help their own students learn.

That’s all totally fine, she said, especially right now, life can get in the way. “There’s no penalty for anything that comes in late in this class,” Mitchler, who teaches English and Humanities, said in the video.

About a third of her class — who range from teenagers to middle-age students, hand in work past the best by date each week, most just by a day or two. Some, like Sheila Vazquez, sometimes need to take a little longer. Her aunt died from the coronavirus a few weeks ago. School just wasn’t front of mind.

“I was definitely not thinking about my papers at all,” said Vazquez, 18, who is enrolled through Running Start, a program that allows 11th and 12th graders in Washington State to take college courses at technical and community colleges.

“It just made me feel more comfortable,” she continued. “I knew that once I was ready to start working on my work, I could come back to it.”

Some might see best by dates as an easy way for students to slack off. Students learn time management in school, and the real world has deadlines. But Mitchler sees that criticism as ill-informed.

“That response assumes that students have equal access and lives that are able to be focused only on school,” she said in an interview. “And that’s not reality.”

Courtney Meyer, another Running Start student, has spotty internet at her house. Although she received a hot spot for remote learning, Meyer, 17, does not have reliable cell service. Once, to attend class, she left her house, called a friend and asked her to hold the phone up to the computer. Sometimes, she drives to town. “I just find an empty parking lot and hope I don’t get killed,” she said, laughing.

Still, Meyer is a week ahead in Mitchler’s class. She’s motivated, she said. It’s the first work she does when she gets home.

“It’s a mutual respect thing,” Meyer said. “I respect her more as a teacher because she understands that my Wi-Fi might go out and be terrible, and she also cares.”

Around the country

College update

Clemson’s star quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black university in Florida, canceled sports for the rest of the academic year. It is the first Division I school to do so. “It’s not over,” the women’s basketball coach said. “It’s just over right now.”

Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, has indefinitely suspended all fraternities and sororities for repeatedly violating Covid-19 protocols in the code of conduct.

A good read: Washington State University and Eastern Washington University both had large outbreaks, even when classes were online. “Public health officials say that’s because it’s not college itself driving the spread of Covid-19,” Wilson Criscione writes in The Inlander newspaper. “Rather, it’s the college experience. That includes the Greek life, parties and small social gatherings in dormitories.”

K-12 update

Los Angeles public schools are also looking at January as the earliest likely reopening date for most students. That’s also the case in Pittsburgh, where most K-12 students will learn remotely at least until January, and in San Diego, which plans to stagger January returns for most elementary students and middle and high school students.

Staffing shortages around Burlington, Vt. have kept some fourth graders out of classrooms.

New Haven, Conn., pushed back hybrid reopening as cases climb in the state and local wastewater showed a spike in the concentration of Covid-19 RNA.

A good read: Greenbrier Elementary School, in Charlottesville, Va., is a case study for the ways remote learning can worsen racial inequalities. It’s a nuanced piece, and worth your time. But here’s the gist: “In the end, every single kid in the pod was white,” Dan Kois wrote in Slate.

Tip: Adolescents in a pandemic

We’re in for a pretty bonkers few days. Saturday is Halloween (here are tips for a safe holiday). On Sunday, we set the clocks back (here are tips for helping your kids adjust). And then on Tuesday, it’s Election Day.

But for teenagers, this whole period of time is out of whack. Some are worried about meeting basic needs, like housing and food access. Many are dealing with mental health concerns.

“A lot of teens who have friction with their parents, or may not feel accepted by their parents for any variety of reasons,” said Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist and the author of our Adolescence column, “and for whom going to school each day and being around the ‘good grown-ups’ of school, were how they were getting through their adolescence.”

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