Feature: As U.S. schools reopen, major class divisions at play


by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, July 20 (Xinhua) -- David, a high school teacher in the U.S. state of Virginia, said there is a major clash of opinions among his students' parents.

Working class parents want their kids to go back to school, while professional class parents want their kids to continue to learn in online classrooms until there's a coronavirus vaccine available, he told Xinhua, declining to give his full name.

There are class issues at play here, which are reflected nationwide. Working class parents have jobs in which employees must be physically present, such as waiters, construction workers and house cleaners. Their children, if they are young, cannot learn from home because there's no one there to supervise them. Many are unable to afford the exorbitant costs of child care, and many live far away from relatives.

In sharp contrast, professional class people have the luxury of working from home, utilizing email and the internet, as well as Zoom and Skype to have meetings. That gives them the flexibility to oversee their kids' at-home learning. Such parents also tend to be higher-earners, and can often afford child care if needed.

David's school, like other schools nationwide, shifted to teaching classes online during the COVID-19 shutdown, with teachers utilizing technology such as Zoom.

Lauren Hillard, a mid-level employee at a Fortune 500 company outside of Washington, D.C., told Xinhua that she wants such policies to continue, and wants to wait to send her kids back to school. "The numbers (of coronavirus infections) are still rising and there is too much uncertainty." She is working full time from her laptop at home.

Sharon Smith, who works at home, full time on her laptop, for another large corporation in the area, told Xinhua that she wants to "wait longer until a vaccine has been fully developed and dispersed" before she sends her kids back to school.

Tate, an attorney in New York City who declined to give his full name, told Xinhua, "Well, I like working at home. It's relaxing. So I think it's OK for the lockdown to keep going."

Other parents are caught somewhere in the middle -- they can't stay home to supervise kids' at-home or online learning, but are not sure whether it's safe for children to return to school amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

A consensus is starting to form among scientists around how the virus spreads, as well as how to protect against it. Mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing and avoiding prolonged contact with others can dramatically reduce the chances of catching the virus, reported The Wall Street Journal in a recent article.

Many schools are taking this into consideration. David's school will reopen in shifts this fall -- students will learn online some days and in the classroom on other days, so as to keep class sizes small and allow students to sit six feet apart. Students and teachers will wear masks and take other precautions.

Critics of at-home learning said it amounts to denying kids an education -- if there's no one at home to supervise them, they are not likely to learn much. Minority children are likely to be disproportionately impacted, as many African American and Latino families do not have parents at home during the day to supervise their kids' education, some experts said. Many are single parent households.

David, who taught his students online last semester, said they appeared to be sleeping all day and staying indoors far too long. Such extended periods of isolation and lack of physical activity can lead to detrimental physical and mental health issues, experts said.

U.S. President Donald Trump is pressuring schools to reopen in fall, but three major school districts -- those in the cities of Los Angeles, Atlanta and San Diego -- will have all students learning from home.

Other large cities may do the same. David's school will do a mix of at-home and in-school learning.

Trump views reopening schools as key to getting the economy moving again, as it will get many parents back to work. Public schools also provide meals for low-income children considered to be at-risk.

"It's about the economy. It's about the education of their kids. Parents are extremely frustrated," said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the Trump campaign. The White House has threatened to defund schools of federal money if they do not reopen.

Rival Joe Biden's stance is in line with the position of most teachers' unions, most of which support the Democratic Party, and who do not want to reopen schools this fall.

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