The temperature was in the 70s in State College, Pennsylvania on Friday, but the local school board voted to call a “snow day,” cancel classes, and have students in the town’s public schools stay home.
The university’s plans to bring its students back to the area, though, were a big part of the school board’s decision to go online. “In any given moment, after the [University of Virginia] students come back into our town, the local numbers are going to be really different than they are right now,” Jennifer McKeever, chairwoman of the school board, told The Daily Progress in July.
Instead, the local increases were driven by outbreaks at Penn State University. “We knew that we were opening schools at the same time Penn State was opening,” Amber Concepcion, the school board president, said during a meeting. “We knew there would be a growth curve.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said that getting those students back in a classroom should be the priority. “It is most important to get the youngest children back into school buildings, to stop the alarming slide in their learning,” Susan Dynarski, a professor of education, public policy, and economics at the University of Michigan, wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
The school board in Charlottesville, Virginia made the call to move to virtual learning at the end of July, weeks before students at the University of Virginia were set to return to the area.
That’s one reason the local school district asked the state department of education for permission to start the school year online, and why today — the first day of school — was virtual.
Even though COVID-19 cases are falling in counties around the country, they’re climbing in places where college students make up a big part of the population, according to two separate analyses by The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Many are deciding whether they should open their elementary, middle, and high schools after all. “There’s a tradeoff,” says David Rubin, the director of the PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. “If you keep local colleges online, you provide a way for K-12 schools to be open. “If you keep local colleges online, you provide a way for K-12 schools to be open.
Experts told The Verge in August that college towns would be the center of coronavirus transmission this fall: each year, thousands of students arrive from out of town and live in dorms or group housing.
He’s starting to see bumps in some places, including in the counties around State College, home to Penn State University. “That makes me concerned that some of the transmission in State College is starting to spread out,” he says.