Schools, Coronavirus, and the Election: What’s Next for K-12 Education in the US?

By Courtney Rockness

The coronavirus pandemic has made this election cycle more tense than ever. Throughout the year of 2020 Americans have been constantly uncertain and wondering what’s next, and as the presidential election grows nearer, divisions over the virus and the right path to take in addressing it have become increasingly widened.

The daily lives of many Americans have been seriously impacted by the virus and the precautions that have been put in place to combat it. For young families, one of the biggest challenges this year has been the closing down of schools.

The argument for keeping schools closed makes sense: it works as an additional measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Yet one could argue that the shutdown has been more harmful than helpful for families.

With students unable to attend classes in person, many parents, teachers and school administrators have been left in a tight spot. Parents are more responsible for assisting their children with learning. Education now relies on access to computers, Wi-Fi, and the technological savvy of parents, children, and educators.

Now more than ever, the economic gap between schools, regions, and individual families is becoming blatantly apparent in the education system.

While more wealthy communities or schools may have made a relatively seamless transition into digital learning, this has not been the case for all. Some schools at the beginning of the shutdown completely ceased learning, focused more on feeding their students during the pandemic rather than trying to figure out how to keep teachers on staff or provide digital learning opportunities.

Other schools have transitioned to digital learning, but describe difficulties with getting students to actually attend class, stay focused, or turn in assignments. 

Amid all these challenges, the question remains of just how effective school closures are at mitigating the spread of the virus. Studies have come out showing that it is actually mostly adults that spread and are impacted by the virus, not school-aged children and teens. 

With these factors in mind, many schools have begun reopening even in the face of rising coronavirus cases in the United States.  

The question remains whether this will soon change. How will the November election impact the K-12 education system and decisions being made about reopening schools? As with most coronavirus-related questions right now, the answer seems hazy. 

The two main candidates for the 2020 presidential election have touched on the subject, however minimally, in recent debates. Some research into their respective platforms provides further insight as to what exactly their stance on the issues of education and school reopenings will be. 

Biden’s Five-Step plan

Biden has released a “Five-Step Plan” for reopening schools which focuses heavily on making sure there are more clear federal guidelines and increased funding in place for when schools do reopen. He seems to be in favor of both opening schools with caution, or choosing not to re-open at all. He plans to provide additional funding to schools that need it regardless of whether they choose to open. 

His plan is more conditional, and its implementation will look different depending on the community. Under his plan, it’s more possible that many schools will remain closed, especially as numbers of people infected with the virus continue to surge.

Health and safety seem to be the priority here, though there is a recognition that to provide proper education while focusing on safety, schools will need additional funding.

Increased funding is promising, yet what about students who have difficult home lives that make remote learning impossible? If they are deemed to be in “high-risk communities” they will not be able to go back to school and thus would still not be provided equal access to quality education regardless of the efforts Biden’s administration would make. 

Trump pushes for reopening of schools

Trump, on the other hand, has continued to push for the reopening of schools. Unlike his Democratic opponent, he has taken a more forceful stance on reopening, thinking in-person instruction to be necessary for proper education and for life returning to normal amidst the coronavirus pandemic. His administration thinks that funding should only be provided for schools who reopen. 

If Trump were to be reelected, it would likely mean an increase in open schools, which would potentially be better for the lives of students and mean more security for teachers’ jobs. Yet what effect would this have on the state of COVID-19 cases in the country? The answer is uncertain, and could potentially have damaging results. 

There is no clear answer as to what the right course of action is here, yet it can be certain that the two candidates have taken slightly different stances on the issue and it will be up to America to decide which they would prefer. 

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