NEA Urges Nationwide School Shutdown in Wake of Coronavirus

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March 16, 2020

All schools in the country should close for two weeks, according to the National Education Association. The NEA, the largest teachers union in the U.S., made that recommendation in the wake of the coronavirus COVID-19, which continues to spread across the country and the world.

Figures regarding infections and deaths have changed rapidly. As of mid-March, 160,000 people around the world have been infected and, of those, 6,000 have died. The U.S. death toll has topped 60.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a ban on all gatherings of more than 50 people. In response, a very large number of industries have either closed altogether or have drastically reduced their openings hours or number of people allowed in one place at one time. Among the developments:

  • Supermarkets and other retailers have reduced opening hours.
  • Churches have canceled weekly services.
  • Gyms have closed or restricted numbers.
  • Musical acts have canceled concerts.
  • Movie theaters have closed or limited the number of moviegoers at any one screening.
  • Live theaters have closed or postponed shows.
  • Nightclubs and resorts have closed their doors.
  • Professional sports teams have suspended their season or preseason.
  • Organizers of pro golf and tennis tournaments have canceled some annual events.
  • Collegiate sports have canceled postseason tournaments.

A great many schools across the country (64,000 schools as of March 15, according to the National Center for Education Statistics) have already closed, with many parents struggling to meet childcare needs. New York City, which has the country's largest school district with 1.1 million students, has announced that its schools are closing, until at least April 20. Other districts, large and small, across the country have made similar announcements.

Many restaurants and bars have closed around the country. Some eateries have remained open but have restricted their sales to pickup and delivery. Some schools have followed suit, closing for classes but remaining open at certain times in order to feed small amounts of students the breakfast and/or lunch that they would otherwise miss.

Many schools have shifted to online learning, using existing systems of trialing new ones. Such solutions are not available to a great many schoolchildren, and so schools and teachers are pursuing other alternatives to declaring school holidays. As well, some districts have arranged small-scale gatherings for meals and/or playtime for children who would otherwise be in school, in an effort to provide some semblance of normality.

The CDC did say that school closures would have to last for eight weeks in order to deal effectively with the possible spread of the virus, citing evidence that shorter closures would not be enough.

Seconding the NEA's recommendation was the National Federation of School Administrators, a union that represents 20,000 principals and vice principals across the U.S. The other nationwide teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, has said that schools should be ready to close but has not issued such a call.

Situations are similar in other countries. A recent international study run by UNESCO found that 20 percent of all primary and secondary students in the world were staying at home because of fears regarding the coronavirus. Indeed, schools in Italy, which has been hit particularly by the virus, have been closed for weeks. The number was higher with postsecondary students, UNESCO said. A full 25 percent of universities around the world have sent their students home and, to varying degrees, implemented distance learning programs.

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David White