Anya Kamenetz | KNKX

Anya Kamenetz

From shiny red pencils reading "My Attendance Rocks!" to countless plaques and ribbons and trophies and certificates and gold stars: For as long as anyone can remember, taking attendance — and rewarding kids for simply showing up — is a time-honored school ritual.

For good reason: Just being there, day in, day out, happens to be one of the most important factors that determines a child's success in school. And average daily head count forms the basis of school funding decisions at the federal, state and local level.

A new national effort asks K-12 schools to voluntarily — and anonymously — report their confirmed and suspected coronavirus cases, along with the safety strategies they're using.

Monday, Sept. 21, was supposed to mark the start of in-person classes for New York City's 1.1 million public school students. It was the only big-city district planning to start the school year in person. But with just four days to go, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced that only the youngest students, in 3-K and Pre-K, and those with significant special needs, would be coming back on Sept. 21. The rest of the students will phase in by grade level between through Oct. 1.

I catch Patricia Stamper with a Zoom meeting going in the background and a child at her knee asking for attention. Stamper works as a teacher's assistant for special education students in the Washington, D.C., public schools.

These days, her virtual classroom is at home — and so is her toddler, who has a genetic disorder called Noonan syndrome, and her kindergartner, who receives speech therapy. Her husband works outside the home at a golf course.

Teen and youth anxiety and depression are getting worse since COVID lockdowns began in March, early studies suggest, and many experts say they fear a corresponding increase in youth suicide.

At the end of June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed Americans on their mental health. They found symptoms of anxiety and depression were up sharply across the board between March and June, compared with the same time the previous year. And young people seemed to be the hardest-hit of any group.

There's a LOT of education news these days. Here's an overview of the stories from this week that you might have missed, plus some valuable links we've gleaned from around the web.

First let's turn to the world of higher education.

At Dwight D. Eisenhower Charter School in Algiers, a low-slung brick building across the river from downtown New Orleans, school leaders greet students as they make their way into the building. All are masked.

In the cafeteria, a movable wall cuts the space in half, separating the students into socially distanced groups of nine. Strips of tape mark separate pathways for students and staff. Big pumps of hand sanitizer sit on each desk, and everyone, teachers and students, is wearing a mask.

On the morning of March 15, I started getting texts from worried parents at my daughter's New York City public school. Rumors were rocketing around that a second-grade teacher had tested positive for the coronavirus after being out sick for a week. The school hadn't made any announcements, and parents were getting frantic. The tension ended a few hours later when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that evening that all New York City school buildings would be closed the next day.

New York City, the largest school district in the country with 1.1 million students, is also the only big-city school district planning to open its doors to students — albeit on a hybrid schedule with virtual learning — on time this fall. But at a press conference Wednesday, the president of the city's largest teachers union said the mayor needs to make major changes to meet the union's criteria for safe reopening.

As the school year starts in many districts across the country, a new national poll of teachers from NPR/Ipsos finds overwhelming trepidation about returning to the physical classroom.

As schools across the country grapple with bringing kids back into the classroom, parents — and teachers — are worried about safety. We asked pediatricians, infectious disease specialists and education experts for help evaluating school district plans.

What we learned: There's no such thing as zero risk, but certain practices can lower the risk of an outbreak at school and keep kids, teachers and families safer.

Kirk Gallegos is a single father of four. He works construction in Barstow, Calif. Prudence Carter is a single mother of one. She's the dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley.

Both share the same problem with tens of millions of other parents around the country: Their public schools aren't operating full time in-person this fall. And the rest of the child care system, which had been stretched even before the pandemic, is itself under pressure.

Wayne Banks is a middle school math teacher and principal in residence for KIPP charter schools. These days, like many teachers around the country, the 29-year-old is working from his apartment in Brooklyn, New York.

Banks has never been formally trained to teach online, but that hasn't stopped him from trying to make his classes as engaging and challenging as possible.

"I really took the opportunity in March to be like, 'I just have to figure this out.' [It was] a do or die for me," Banks says.

For American families with children, the pandemic has meant lost income, increased child care responsibilities, worry and stress. But a majority are not eager for schools to reopen this fall, given the health risk.

The NAACP has become the latest organization to sue the Education Department over the distribution of more than $13 billion in federal aid intended for K-12 schools.

This fall, public school districts should prioritize full-time, in-person classes for grades K-5 and for students with special needs. That's the top-line recommendation of a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

On Monday, Los Angeles and San Diego public schools announced they will be starting the school year remote-only in August as coronavirus cases rise in Southern California.

"The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control," a joint statement said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics once again plunged into the growing debate over school reopening with a strong new statement Friday, making clear that while in-person school provides crucial benefits to children, "Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics." The statement also said that "science and community circumstances must guide decision-making."

Jeanne Norris is a teacher, the wife of a teacher and the mother of an 8-year-old in St. Louis. She'd love to send her son back to school in August. But, she says, "I feel like my government and my fellow citizens have put me in a position where it's not really in the best interests of our family."

Norris has a long list of reasons why. She says she has taught in buildings where ventilation systems are outdated and malfunctioning, and even soap for hand-washing is in short supply.

The nation's pediatricians have come out with a strong statement in favor of bringing children back to the classroom this fall wherever and whenever they can do so safely. The American Academy of Pediatrics' guidance "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school."

When Arizona schools shut down in mid-March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Tatiana Laimit, a nurse in Phoenix, knew she needed a backup plan. Laimit is a single mother of a 6-year-old girl and had recently relocated to the area. She didn't have any friends or family nearby to ask for help.

It was past 8 on a Friday night when she shot off an email to her local YMCA to ask if they were providing emergency care for the children of front-line workers. "And immediately [someone] responded and let me know, 'Yes.' "

At least two-thirds of American high school students attend a school with a police officer, according to the Urban Institute, and that proportion is higher for students of color. Now, the national uprising for racial justice has led to a push to remove police officers from security positions inside schools.

There is no one answer for what the coming school year will look like, but it won't resemble the fall of 2019. Wherever classrooms are open, there will likely be some form of social distancing and other hygiene measures in place that challenge traditional teaching and learning. Future outbreaks will make for unpredictable waves of closures. Virtual learning will continue.

Columbia, Brown, Penn, Purdue — universities with hallowed traditions, proud alumni and another thing in common: Right now they're being sued by disgruntled students.

The students claim that when campuses shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, they should have been entitled to more of their money back. And the list of institutions facing such challenges is growing, including private institutions and entire public systems in California, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona.

Four out of 10 of the poorest U.S. students are accessing remote learning as little as once a week or less, according to a new survey from ParentsTogether, an advocacy group. By contrast, for families making more than $100,000 a year, 83% of kids are doing distance learning every day, with the majority engaged over two hours a day, the survey found.

For Ananay Arora, this spring has brought good news and bad news.

The good news: The Arizona State University sophomore snagged one of the most prestigious internships in the country. He'll be working with the software engineering team at Apple.

In a typical summer, more than 14 million campers and staff attend overnight and day camps in the United States. But summer 2020 will be far from typical. To prepare for that, the nation's largest summer camp associations, the American Camp Association and the YMCA of the USA, have released a "field guide" for how summer and day camps can operate more safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nightmares. Tantrums. Regressions. Grief. Violent outbursts. Exaggerated fear of strangers. Even suicidal thoughts. In response to a call on social media, parents across the country shared with NPR that the mental health of their young children appears to be suffering as the weeks of lockdown drag on.

For millions of college students around the country, coronavirus lockdowns effectively canceled their hobbies and extracurriculars. But that's not the case for Madison Cragle, a graphic design major at the State University of New York at Canton. She's co-captain of her school's Super Smash Bros. Ultimate team — an esports team. That's right, varsity video games.

No field trips. No game rooms. No teddy bears. These are some of the CDC's guidelines for reopening schools, childcare centers and day camps safely in places where coronavirus cases are on the decline.

Pages