A divisive start to the school year
The first U.S. schools to resume in-person teaching have shown the perils of reopening with the virus still out of control, painting a picture of chaos and deeply divided communities. In one district in Georgia, nearly 1,200 students and staff members have already been ordered to quarantine.
By the end of the first week of classes in Cherokee County, Ga., more than 10 principals had informed families of virus cases at their schools, prompting mass two-week isolation orders. One high school has closed its doors until the end of the month. But the situation has been viewed very differently by parents in the community.
“You have these people saying, ‘We told you so. This shows you how dangerous this is,’” our colleague Richard Fausset, a correspondent based in Atlanta, told us. “And then you have people saying, ‘No, this is how it’s going to look from now on.’”
As schools in other parts of the country prepare for the academic year, two states are emblematic of the debate over in-person instruction.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and the education commissioner have demanded Hillsborough County School District, which covers Tampa and is one of the nation’s largest, to reverse its plans to provide only remote education initially. An executive order was issued in July requiring the option of in-person classes.
In New Jersey, Gov. Philip Murphy, a Democrat, is allowing districts to offer classes exclusively online, relaxing his original mandate for some form of in-person teaching. The decision came after the state’s teachers union criticized a lack of uniform safety guidelines and called for an all-virtual start to the school year.
Who’s responsible for the virus? Pennsylvania State University is requiring students to sign a waiver saying they accept the risk of infection on campus and absolve the institution of liability in case of infection.
Deepening divisions on masks
A small piece of cloth continues to divide Americans. Mask wearing is still fiercely debated — largely along political lines — and has led to a well-documented spate of arguments, assaults and arrests.
In Illinois, where coronavirus cases are on the rise, the governor enacted a measure last week that makes it a felony to assault a retail worker who is enforcing a mask-wearing policy. In Miami Beach, Fla., where mask wearing is now required, people can face a fine of a minimum of $50 for not wearing a face covering, even when outdoors and social distancing. In the month since the rule was enacted, the city has handed out $14,000 in fines, though most have not been collected.
But the sheriff of Marion County, Fla., has come down hard on the opposite side. Sheriff Billy Woods has ordered his deputies not to wear a mask on duty in almost all circumstances, and has banned visitors to sheriff’s offices from wearing them. He said the rule was to improve communication, because masks can muffle officers’ voices.
After thousands of unmasked bikers converged at a motorcycle rally last week in Sturgis, S.D., the governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, switched course ahead of a motorcycle rally in his state and issued an order requiring masks at gatherings of more than 100 people.
“Sturgis was a clear warning sign to us,” Mr. Sununu said. “I don’t think anyone saw the photos out of Sturgis and thought, ‘That looks safe.’”
What else we’re following
What you’re doing
I was my daughter’s study buddy for her University of Texas online Operations Management class this summer. She aced it and wants to continue our collaboration through the fall semester. We’re gobsmacked both at how much we enjoyed it and that we didn’t kill each other the first week. What a surprise to be back in college at 65.
— Lucia Johnson, Austin, Texas
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