Bay Area educators, medical professionals concerned after Pres. Trump pressures schools to reopen

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Despite spikes in new cases of the novel coronavirus, the Trump Administration is making an all-out push to get kids back into the classroom.

"We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants it. The moms want it. The dads want it," said President Trump on Tuesday at a roundtable discussion on how to safely reopen schools.

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A Petaluma private school principal and student were invited to the discussion. Saint Vincent sophomore, Cameron Vaughn, said he's anxious to return back to class.

"It really means a lot just to be able to get back out and it means a lot to our emotional health and our mental health just to be out there with our friends because a lot of us don't have that opportunity," Vaughn said.

President Trump's comments were echoed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who slammed distance learning.

During a call with governors, DeVos criticized distance education and split schedule plans by many of the county's school districts, saying schools must reopen.

"It would really fail all of American students and it would fail taxpayers who are paying high taxes for education," DeVos said. "Ultimately, it's not a matter of if need to open, it's a matter of how. Schools must fully open and must be fully operational. And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders."

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But many of those educators feel differently.

"I'm highly concerned," said Awele Makeba, a drama teacher at Skyline High School in Oakland, a Title I school.

She's in favor of distance learning at Skyline in part, because she's not even sure how students will get to school safely.

"45% are Latino, 45% are African American, and 10% are other," she said. "So the population of my school is greatly impacted and about a thousand of those children travel by AC Transit and they're packed in like sardines, on top of each other. And I've not heard conversations around under safety, physical and social distancing, what does that look like on a bus?"

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And at school, Makeba says they often run out of basic health supplies.

"Soap runs out every month at different points, trying to find a different bathroom with soap. We don't have hot water at our schools, or we hadn't had hot water.... Paper towels run out, toilet paper runs out," Makeba said.

The medical perspective on returning to school is nuanced.

"Younger children seem to be somewhat less susceptible to infection, and if infected they seem to be somewhat less likely to transmit the virus," said Dr. George Rutherford, a UCSF epidemiologist and pediatrician.

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"Once you get to middle school and high school though, all bets are off."
Dr. Rutherford explained why. "Children 10 and under have fewer of these receptors that the virus binds to. As they get older you get more and more of the receptors, until you reach 18 and they have the exact same number that adults do."

Dr. Rutherford thinks a mix of in-person and distance learning is the best option.

"You want to keep class sizes around 15, which means that you've created social distancing within the class," Rutherford said.

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"I think half time is a lot better than full time distance learning. I think they'll get better socialized, I think they'll get better educational skills, and especially the younger ones will get used to school."



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