By Eamonn Burke
As the Coronavirus spreads at its fastest pace yet in the United States, schools and colleges are facing the tough question of how to face the fall semester. Education facilities from kindergarten to graduate school have to rethink how classes will be run in person, and if they will be run in person at all.
According to the Federal Government, opening all schools in person is the imperative course of action. President Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are practically demanding schools to re-open, as Trump even threatened to cut funding to education if they do not. “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools—get them open.” Trump said at an event last week. Secretary DeVos backed him, asserting that re-opening schools “should absolutely be the goal.”
However, for public school districts and colleges, the situation is not so clear-cut. California, one of the COVID-19 hotspots in the world, the two largest districts of San Diego and Los Angeles have announced that they will not reopen for in-person instruction. Many districts, such as New York City, are pursuing a more hybrid plan, which involves partial in-person learning in three different models propped by Mayor DeBlasio. The state of New York as a whole is allowing districts to open based on certain criteria. In some cases, such as Nashville, districts have actually had to backpedal and turn over plans to re-open in light of the recent spike in coronavirus cases across the nation.
Colleges, both public and private, face the same dilemma. While some have announced full closure in the fall, such as the State universities in California, others such as Harvard, Princeton, and Georgetown will bring students to campus in a limited manner. Harvard and Princeton will have roughly half of the students on campus for each semester, split by grade, although all classes will remain online. Harvard will not discount their tuition, while Princeton will offer 10% off. Other universities such as Carnegie Mellon are offering more flexibility, allowing students to choose which semester to come back and offering some classes with both a remote and in-person option.
Another complicating factor in decisions for colleges are the new restrictions on international students put in place by ICE under Trumps administration. These rules, stating that international students who have only online classes must go back to their country, have caused more than 200 universities to sue the Trump administration, following in suit of Harvard and MIT. These rules were dropped quickly after facing the wide opposition.