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Classes in Chicago are reopening today as Los Angeles and other counties try to test students for the coronavirus. And the federal lawsuit accuses 16 leading private colleges and universities of fixing financial aid prices.
Chicago opens; schools try tests
Chicago schools reopened today after the teachers’ union and the city struck a deal. Students are back in school for the first time since last Tuesday, when the school district canceled classes after teachers voted to stop attending their classes.
City officials said the deal included provisions for more testing as well as indicators that would close schools with major outbreaks.
Union leaders said the agreement was imperfect but necessary given the conditions teachers face during the pandemic.
And the parents were upset wherever they fell on the re-opening questions. They had to race to find child care and fight uncertainty.
“I feel like there’s a lot of political stuff going on,” said Aaron Wise, whose two children are in high school. “It is difficult, the situation is difficult. But it really shouldn’t be that difficult.”
But large-scale testing can be difficult to implement. Leading questions include:
Rapid antigen tests are available in limited quantities.
Tests that can be done at home are central to the “tests to stay” strategy.
But supply chain problems and weather problems could exacerbate shortages. In California, for example, a winter break hurricane destroyed a million test kits intended for schools.
And tests can be wrong. This month in Florida, an attempt to test teachers in Broward County ended up with expired kits.
Many counties also opted for the opt-out option.
This means they only test a select group of students whose parents agree to have them tested, i.e. those who may already be from families with more viruses.
In Seattle, only about 14,000 of the district’s 50,000 students and 7,800 employees showed up when classes were canceled for testing.
Unfortunately, about one in 25 tested positive. By Monday, two Seattle schools were closed due to staffing shortages and infections, and the district was considering a return to distance learning.
Parents may not understand how to use tests.
Take Chicago. The county – the third largest in the country – mailed out about 150,000 PCR tests during the break.
Most have never been returned. And of the roughly 40,000 tests sent in the mail, most returned incorrect results.
The lines can also be very, very long.
Parents may need to take time off, time they may not have.
In Seattle, some kids waited for hours, some in pouring rain. Families from Los Angeles have also been queuing for blocks at schools for most of the past week to get swabs.
Public health experts say few areas are doing enough testing, and strategically enough, especially after Omicron.
County data from Los Angeles showed that in the week ending Monday, 66,000 tests out of about 458,000 came back positive. That’s over 15 percent positive—lower than the county, state, and national averages, but still high enough to be alarming.
“I’m worried, as are many parents,” said Amanda Santos, whose 7-year-old is in first grade.
Despite high levels of positive feedback, Los Angeles, the second largest county in the nation, continued with plans to reopen classrooms for in-person learning on Tuesday. Santos said she was reassured by the testing policy.
“They don’t let anyone on campus who has a positive test or who doesn’t get tested,” she said. “So I feel safe.”
And tests can be expensive.
As of 2020, Los Angeles has one of the most ambitious testing programs in the country.
But the initiative, which has more than 600,000 students and staff, relies on PCR tests provided by a start-up that costs about $12 apiece and is contractually required to provide results overnight.
The county’s cost per test is about half the amount the state has agreed with another provider for its tests. But testing still costs about $5 million a week, the vice president of the school board said.
Do elite colleges fix prices?
A new federal lawsuit accuses 16 elite private colleges and universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago and many Ivy League schools, of conspiring to cut aid through a price fixing cartel.
The allegations are based on a decade-old antitrust exemption that allows these universities to cooperate on financial aid formulas — provided they don’t factor in a student’s ability to pay in the admissions process. (Perhaps you know that this “needs a blind confession.”)
The lawsuit alleges that the nine schools are not really blind to needs because over the years they have found ways to account for the ability of some applicants to pay. Because the schools cooperate in an organization called the 568 Presidents’ Group, the lawsuit says, the actions of nine affect all 16.
Coronavirus pandemic: what you need to know
One statement: The University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt University have considered the financial needs of applicants on the waiting list.
Another claim: other schools have “special treatment for children of the rich” donors, which, given the limited number of places, harms students in need of financial assistance.
And the bottom line: The lawsuit alleges that colleges inflated prices for about 170,000 students who were eligible for financial aid for nearly two decades.
“Providing privileges to the rich and depriving the financially needy are inextricably linked,” the lawsuit says. “These are two sides of the same coin.
News about viruses
Politics and alliances
Politicized tensions over a return to distance learning — an effort often led by teacher unions — could taint Democrats’ medium-term outlook.
In The Atlantic, one parent explains why she turned her back on the Democrats. “What I have lost is the belief that the party is really interested in acting in the interests of those whom it supposedly serves,” she writes.
A major teacher union in Rhode Island is calling for a statewide transition to remote learning.
Teachers in Denver also called for a week-long break from face-to-face teaching.
Lack of staff
Schools across the country are transitioning to temporary remote learning as staff report testing positive or needing to quarantine due to infection.
Tip: Resolve Conflicts with Jenga
Henry Garcia, a fifth-grade public school teacher at 107th Street in south-central Los Angeles, uses jenga to help his students talk about difficult subjects.
“It gets very serious very quickly,” he said of the block stack game. “All of this makes it easy to get distracted and fully immersed in the game.”
Recently, he said, two of his students had an argument. At some point, they both said that they were done with their friendship, which was once quite close.
“I thought, ‘How can I help heal this?'” he said.
So he brought Jenga out. Their annoyance dissipated as the tower shook. Soon they both started laughing. An old friendship shone through their disappointment.
“Once I realized they were having fun, I brought it up,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, what really happened?’
But jenga is only the first step. Garcia also tries to guide his students in their conversations. He helps them listen to each other and then mirror each other’s positions. In the end, he said, the students reconciled.
“They were so focused on the game that they didn’t want to lose, so they let their guard down enough to be able to talk a little more openly,” Garcia said.
But he also said that there is nothing special about Jenga – any game will do. According to him, it is important to create “a more informal and less serious environment in which we can play, have fun and talk.”
That’s all for today’s briefing. If you have other classroom strategies to share, please email us at [email protected]. I would like to share more teacher brilliance with you in future newsletters. See you next week!
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