National Scene

March 2, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 8

National Scene


Education Week (2/25, Lieberman) reports federal officials warned schools Tuesday to begin preparing for a “nationwide surge in cases of the coronavirus that’s currently wrecking global havoc and could disrupt daily life in some communities.” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press briefing, “You should ask your children’s schools about their plans for school dismissals or school closures,” adding, “Ask about plans for teleschool.” Messonnier said the CDC is confident an outbreak will occur in the US and is now investigating “exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

Education Week (2/26, Superville) reports President Trump “sought to reassure the American public that the risk for the spread of coronavirus in the United States remains low” at a Wednesday press conference, but “school districts are likely to be on the front lines in efforts to limit its impact.” In response to a reporter’s question, Trump said, “I think schools should be preparing,” adding, “Get ready just in case.” Hours after warnings from CDC officials that the spread of coronavirus was “inevitable,” Daniel Domenech, president of the AASA, the School Superintendents Association, “was fielding calls and emails from superintendents seeking more information on what they should do.” He said superintendents “are very nervous” and looking for details from the CDC “on how to respond, what to communicate to parents, when to actually shut down a school system if that becomes necessary, and other factors they should consider.”

The Washington Post (2/26, Natanson) reports, “Hastened preparations are taking place in elementary, middle and high schools throughout the nation as Americans watch for the arrival of the coronavirus.” Some schools have canceled international trips, while at others, parents have received “essay-length emails...meant to reassure.” However, any related school closings “are unlikely in the near future, experts said, because relatively few coronavirus cases have been diagnosed” in the US.

Colorado school districts have “pledged to work closely with local public health authorities to keep students safe as federal health officials expressed mounting concern about the spread of coronavirus cases,” Chalkbeat (2/26, Robles) reports. Districts plan on keeping schools open unless ordered by public health authorities.

In New York City, Chalkbeat (2/26) reports officials said there are no immediate plans to cancel classes amid “growing concern about the coronavirus.” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference, “We have the greatest public health capacity of anywhere in this country,” adding, “There is not a single reason for panic.”

Meanwhile, Chalkbeat (2/26, Burke) reports the Illinois Department of Public Health “is advising that any student who has recently traveled to China should not attend school for 14 days, and that schools should automatically excuse such absences so as not to deter families from keeping children home.”

The New York Times (2/27, Goldstein, Bosman) reports the CDC this week issued “a stark new order” to schools across the US: “Get ready for the coronavirus.” Across the US, “school officials and parents were flummoxed by the sudden warning that if a coronavirus epidemic hit the United States, school buildings could be shut down for long periods of time, leaving children sequestered at home.” Meanwhile, schools “are hastily making their own plans, or updating those drafted during previous scares over viruses like H1N1 and Ebola.”

The AP (2/28) reports that “school letters sent home from Florida to California this week sought to assure parents that, in most communities, the risk of exposure to the virus is still very low.” Districts already have plans in place for natural disasters, flu outbreaks, and other emergencies, “and many have planned for widespread infections before, most notably during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. But most have never faced the prospect of closing for weeks at a time, as has happened in China and other countries working to prevent the virus from spreading.” Some US districts “say they already have online learning systems that could be used to provide classes online, but not all schools have that technology.”

ED Creates Coronavirus Task Force. Inside Higher Ed (2/28, Fain) reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Thursday that the ED is forming a coronavirus task force, led by Dr. Mitchell “Mick” Zais, Deputy Secretary of Education. An ED spokeswoman said in an email that the group will “lead the agency’s continuity of operations plan and run point on the interagency work.” DeVos made the announcement during her congressional testimony before the House Appropriations Committee.

Seattle-Area High School Closes Due To Coronavirus Scare The AP (2/27) reports Bothell High School in a suburb of Seattle “closed Thursday after a staffer’s family member was placed in quarantine for showing symptoms of possibly contracting the new virus that started in China – an action health officials say is unnecessary.” Bothell High school “will be cleaned and disinfected on Thursday while students stay home, Northshore School District superintendent Michelle Reid said in an email to families Wednesday night.” Also reporting are CNN (2/27, Andone), Fox News (2/27, Hein), and the Los Angeles Times (2/27, Shalby).

Michigan Education, Health Leaders Take Steps To Prepare For Coronavirus Outbreak. Chalkbeat (2/27, Catolico) reports Michigan education and health leaders are “joining forces to create guidance for school districts across the state in the event of a novel coronavirus epidemic.” Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said decisions about whether a school needs to close should be made with input from local health officials. Meanwhile, officials in the Detroit Public Schools Community District “plan to send home a letter to parents regarding what actions the district will take if a coronavirus case appears.”

Tennessee School Districts Told To Start Crafting Coronavirus Contingency Plans. Chalkbeat (2/27, Jones) reports there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Tennessee, but school districts “are being told to stay on top of developments involving the coronavirus and to start crafting contingency plans now.” Superintendents are ordering principals to “prepare for the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak in their areas and heed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and their local health departments.”


The AP (2/27, Martin) reports, “A South Carolina law banning sex education teachers from mentioning any relationships other than heterosexual ones — unless the talk involves sexually transmitted diseases — is fueling a climate of state-sanctioned discrimination, a federal lawsuit says.” The lawsuit “seeks to overturn the Comprehensive Health Education Act of 1988 as an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.” The article says, “The law, which mandates how sex education classes are taught, also subjects students to bullying and violence and stigmatizes a group that’s already at a heightened risk of suicide, the lawsuit contends.”

The AP (2/26) reports Ohio is sharing free online video training “to help more school districts use threat assessment strategies to identify concerning behavior and prevent targeted violence.” The videos total about three hours “and feature experts discussing how to create and use threat assessment teams, providing useful information not just for educators and law enforcement but parents and students as well, Attorney General Dave Yost said.” The goal of the videos is to “make sure in every school district there is a somebody to reach out to, that there are people who are trained to know the warning signs and are prepared to take action,” Yost said.

In a piece published by Seventy Four (2/26), Christensen Institute fellow Thomas Arnett takes an in-depth look at whether online learning has led to a “student-centered transformation in US K-12 schools.” The answer is “yes and no. If we judge disruption purely by the adoption of ed tech in schools, the disruption is well underway and continues to unfold.” But online learning has “not disrupted conventional approaches to instruction to make education more personalized.” Arnett goes on to say that it “may take another two decades for online learning to transform conventional instruction.”

Student Well-being

The AP (2/27) reports the General Assembly passed an “amended bill that will allow K-12 students excused absences for mental health issues and create uniformity for how Virginia school districts address emotional and mental health needs within its schools.” The measure gives Virginia Department of Education until Dec. 31 to “establish guidelines for public school districts to grant students excused absences if they are dealing with mental or behavioral health issues.” Mental health issues “among young people in the U.S. have become more prevalent over the past few decades.”

NPR (2/27, Knight) reports “one in 5 American children struggles with anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and almost half experience at least one serious stressor at home – like divorce, poverty or a parent’s addiction – according to the nonprofit Child Trends.” To help students “cope, a growing number of schools like Warner are turning to mindfulness. Its boosters claim all kinds of benefits, and there is research to back them up.” But the “explosion of interest has some researchers and proponents advising caution.”

Special needs students

The Baltimore Sun (2/27, Sanchez) reports Maryland lawmakers are “considering a bill that would mandate surveillance cameras in all special education classrooms by the start of the upcoming school year.” The bill would “require parents to be notified of the cameras’ existence and for signs to be posted in clear sight outside each classroom.” The proposal comes “three months after an Anne Arundel County Public Schools special education student died after choking in a special education classroom.”

School Safety

The Washington Post (2/26, Armus) reports administrators at two Wisconsin schools ordered three students to cover up T-shirts featuring pro-gun slogans “with jackets and banned them from wearing any gun-themed clothing on campus in the future.” The boys and their families are now suing, “saying the schools violated their constitutional rights.” This is not the “first time gun-themed clothing has caused a stir in recent years,” but the conflict this time “may be the result of a Wisconsin campaign to encourage students to wear gun-themed clothing to class on #2ATuesdays”. The Washington (DC) Examiner (2/26, Mastrangelo) reports the school district said it had “legitimate pedagogical concerns in preventing violence in its schools.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (2/23) reports the lawsuits “come a few months after Markesan High School settled a similar case” in which the principal agreed to not restrict the student “from wearing shirts with guns or weapons if they don’t advocate or imply violent or illegal use of guns.”


The Washington Post (2/27, Shepherd) reports on Alicia Hobson, the mother of a Utah middle-school student who sparked a “passionate discussion about the tension between honoring kids’ autonomy and encouraging kindness” when she complained her daughter was required to accept invitations to dance with anyone who asks during a recent Valentine’s Day dance, including a boy “who made her feel uncomfortable.” Hobson says the unwanted dance raised “concerns about rape culture, teaching children to appropriately handle rejection and respecting boundaries students set for themselves.” In an interview, the school principal, Kip Motta, denied the 11-year-old was “forced” to dance, but “admitted the school requests students accept all invitations to dance. The dances are part of a physical education curriculum that teaches the kids to do box step, swing, and line dancing.”

ABC News (2/27, Kindelan) reports Motta has confirmed that he and the superintendent are reviewing the policy, saying, “We want to protect every child’s right to be safe and comfortable at school.” A 2018 study by the Center for American Progress found that less than 10 states in the US require lessons concerning consent be part of the sex education curriculum in K-12 schools.

NBC News (2/26, Aviles) reports a lesbian Texas elementary school teacher “who was placed on administrative leave after showing her students a picture of her fiancée has reached a $100,000 settlement after a judge ruled that her suspension was unconstitutional.” According to her lawsuit, a parent complained to Mansfield Independent School District school board and superintendent that the teacher “was promoting a ‘homosexual agenda’ in the classroom by showing students a picture of the woman who is now her wife during a ‘Get to Know Your Teacher’ presentation.” The complaint led to her “being placed on administrative leave in September 2017 and then being asked the next month for her resignation, which she refused to give.” The district said the two parties agreed to settle in an “amicable” manner and that it denied “any wrongdoing or liability.”

The AP (2/26) reports the settlement also says “the district’s human resource and counseling staff must undergo training about LGBTQ issues in school as well as optional training for administrators, educators, staff and parents in the district.”

State-level Policymaking

The AP (2/27) reports a federal judge on Thursday denied a request to “undo Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive action that reorganized the state school board with a completely new lineup of members.” Beshear disbanded the former Kentucky Board of Education on his first day in office in December, then recreated the board with new members, all Democrats. This action “drew an immediate court challenge from ousted board members who had been appointed by Beshear’s Republican predecessor, Matt Bevin.”

The AP (2/27) reports Alabama voters will “decide next week whether to do away with the elected state school board and replace it with an appointed commission tasked with coming up with an alternative to Common Core curriculum standards.” Supporters, including Gov. Kay Ivey, say Amendment 1 LA will “ensure education experts are making education policy decisions.” Critics, however, “call it a power grab that would strip citizens of their ability to directly vote on those in charge of education.”


Chalkbeat (2/26, Veiga) reports, “New York City Council members will vote Thursday on a bill that would require schools to share prominently information about sex and gender discrimination, harassment, and assaults on campus.” The law would direct the city’s Commission on Gender Equity “to collect data from the education department and post it on a single, user-friendly website.” The NYC Department of Education would also “have to report annually on what schools are doing to prevent and address harassment and issues relating to Title IX, the federal law protecting students from sex discrimination in schools and colleges.”

The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer (2/26, Hui) reports data released Wednesday by the civil rights group Southern Coalition for Social Justice found “racial bias in North Carolina’s public schools is leading to black students being punished too much and falling behind academically.” The group released “racial equity report cards” showing black students in North Carolina “are more likely to be suspended and referred to the court system than their white classmates. The report cards also show that black students are lagging behind white students academically.” Meredith Horton, deputy executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, cited factors such as implicit racial bias, structural racism, and explicit discrimination for the results.