Distance Learning, Disrupted Learning & Social Eruptions

38. We face new questions of keeping schools open–and current hopes of restoring on-campus learning–have had to take into account a large gamut of factors, while plagued with the uncertain absence of public health guidelines or from state officials who were scrambling to develop local policies for lack of federal oversight. Even as most schools were constrained by budgetary ceilings and limited funding for public education, principals faced questions of how to reconcile or revise existing contracts with teachers and instructional capacities even as they tried to balance student welfare and the expanding social needs that public schools filled.

If the map for reopening schools is unclear globally, as teachers struggled to image what sort of classroom arrangements and physical configuration of indoor learning sites might be acceptable in the global pandemic–

Planning for Reopening in New Zealand

–the question of how schools could continue to fill community roles and provide engaged learning opportunities were suddenly on the front burner of educators that made them re-evaluate the promotion of online learning resources that had been advancing at a steady clip, and expanding in public schools’ ecosystems at a clip for which there was no model. At this point, we are planning for Fall 2020 with the intention to strengthen our Distance Learning program, while also working on scenarios for having at least some of our students on campus. We will be working on these issues throughout the summer. We want you to know we are committed to supporting students to learn both on and off campus, and that we take seriously the call from many families that our schools reopen in the fall, as well as the concerns expressed by families about how to do so safely.

While many observers wrongly assumed that students were “all” equally interlinked on steady footing, and online learning communities were ready substitutes that could be counted on to provide readymade surrogates for classroom experience. If remote learning in practice allows all participants to “tap in” to an experience, from a conference, business meeting, awards ceremony, or sporting event, is “telepresence” an adequate means of learning in disembodied fashion? The fact that most instruction would now occur not in real-time, but by posting assignments to be completed, depended on the ability of all students to work without live instruction, due to differences in ability to access feeds, download times, and impossibility of assuming equal access, creates a tenuous remove from classroom time that suggests a radical interruption of learning as a process, and significant risk of learning losses remote learning increases, with a reduction of 52% being a good outcome.

Early modern philosopher René Descartes famously sought detachment from his body and isolation in an oven he retired for thinking, removed from distracting passions to facilitate reflective thought. But the isolation of internet chat rooms and zoom teleconferencing hardly offers much space for reflection, and is hardly a substitute for a learning environment, even if one participates in it: the absence of a space of reflection, or involvement in a passionate learning environment, may accentuate the very widespread depression and sense of isolation that social distancing has produced.

Hubert Dreyfus polemically observed, in ways that seemed to prefigure the current switch to online teaching to which school parents can all relate more concretely than before, the environment of the web has gained broad attraction precisely “because it eliminates vulnerability and commitment, although, if Kierkegaard is right, [the creation of] this lack of passion necessarily eliminates meaning as well”: if the medium of the web is a drastically diminished active involvement of the self in a social world, the medium diminishes one’s sense of the meaning of one’s life, by erasing the register of reality on which much active learning depends: if the web, for Dreyfus, “draws us into the unreal, virtual world populated by all those who flee all the ills that the flesh is heir,” should we not reflect more on what sort of learning environment it creates and perpetuates? The sorts of limited interactive spaces that the platform allows create a new sense of limited expectations for engagement.

The technological obstacles to participation are, in other words, only one side of the coin of offering an engaged and dynamic learning setting. But that side of the coin is already plagued with massive problems that were essentially offloaded to local schools and school boards in the massive remote learning experiment of COVID-19. The assumption of pre-existance of an interlinked community that could be readily accessed saw no need for planning a transition to a remote lesson plan. The difficulties for developing any sense of involvement is plagued by structural inequalities not only in the uneven ownership of personal computers, but in the undue pressure that very limited broadband service in the United States places on rural and removed areas for learning, let alone for fostering full community schools. The large range of areas that lacked even three quarters of households that had broadband subscriptions–although this maps not only households with children of learning age, the basic metric of 80% broadbands connectivity across the United States indicates broad inequalities in online learning environments; the islands of connectivity over 85% in major cities or urban agglomerations from the Bay Area to Austin to San Antonio to the east coast corridor from Boston to Baltimore to Chicagoland suggests educational assignments skip over many counties; yellow counties, of less than one third connectivity, where students often travel further to school, would be particularly poorly served.

This uneven terrain reveals where the major effort will have to be spent before reopening education and schools in the Fall: both in the huge expansion of WiFi access across the country–of which ht uneven terrain of broadband access in California alone is telling–leading to the quick formation of a task force to address the “technology divide” in the state that may not look that strong, but sets up a deep-running inequality in the hope of using any constellation of remote and on-site learning in the coming school year.

Inequalities in Internet Subscription Rates in California, 2018 (Linked to Interactive Map)

And even where broadband technologies are available, the absence of technologies suggest in a gap needed in the hardware of online education–although the huge gaps in access suggest a need to develop investment not only to procure protective gear, custodians to clean and disinfect public spaces and classrooms, but also regularly take temperatures, as well as ramping up WiFI and providing some 600,000 devices for statewide education: even as the Secretary of Education has released guidelines asking states to offer CARES money from COVID-19 response grants to be assigned to private schools, the costs for leveling the playing field for public education is striking, and the challenges are steep.

Such sharp chromatic divides spread out from Silicon Valley, to be sure, but suggest the fragmentation not only of San Jose, but the proximity to areas where broadband drops off like a cliff. To be sure, a massive effort of Chromebook distribution in Berkeley, CA, one of the more progressive school boards, was not even considered; the disparity in our economy was revealed with the announcement, on what is often known as April Fool’s Day, April 1, 2020, that Google had sufficient on hand to make up for the disparities in computer ownership in California, by “donating” four thousand Chromebooks as well as free Wi-FI to rural communities for  three months, a case of the sort of needed public-private partnerships on which public schooling is forced to depend, covering some 100,000 rural households in California–areas that had essentially fallen through the cracks in ways that fed fears for regional separatists who felt long ignored in the state, but also revealed its lopsided economy.

While three months. in all fairness, was a minimum, with state schools definitively closed through summer, all education shifted to remote, creating a problem of what that meant for a lost year, or how a year could be written off: with fifty-five million students across the nation out of their classrooms, we heard credible projection that students would be returning to school in 2020-21, assuming they did that Fall, with 63-68% of learning gains under their belts, in comparison to a normal school year, and maybe more troubling, 37-50% of their learning in math.

The divide is not only digital: if th CEO of Desire2Learn, an online learning platform adopted in Chicago Public Schools, promoted “a way for students to be able to participate just like they would in a traditional classroom,” the CEO was only revealing how far his own expectations for his virtual learning platform–and others that are preapproved for online learning by the district, as Zoom, Canvas, or Google Classroom–as a way to continue learning without interruption.

39. The transition to distance-learning as it stands has revealed a tendency to view instruction as akin to content provision. Yet the extension of such a metaphor for the work of instruction, an absent level of interest leaves content with the best of all intentions remaining unused. Is the digital environment even inviting? Despite available digital access–in Chicago Public Schools, an estimated 93%–distribution of 100,000 laptops to student has not been able to generate a vital online learning atmosphere. The massive and unexpected switch to online learning not only lacked a dry run through, but was never imagined undertaking the transition amidst widespread anxiety. With an estimated 40% of the almost 300,000 students in the Chicago Public Schools logging onto online learning platforms two days a week or less, less than 60% of students in the third largest national school system have logged on for three or more days a week, with those homeless, black or Latin even more remote from their alleged learning experience. While statistics slow in coming out, the absence of connectivity within learning groups that have emerged are striking. If 87% of white and Asian children in the Chicago Public Schools have gone online at least once to look at their assignments, African American and Latino students that comprise a far larger share of the district–83% of students–have logged on more rarely, and a quarter of all students didn’t even log onto a Google Classroom or Google Meet at all in a learning week, if two-thirds of middle schoolers did join at least three times in the same week. But claims of continuity of learning experiences are without grounds.

It is unfair to ask families to chose between endangering their own health by sending children to school–particularly if they have vulnerable populations in their households, either elderly or health-compromised–and educational opportunities. School closures became part of the proscribed national response guidelines to contagious emergencies quickly drafted in 2008, in the context of a fear of the prospect of national emergencies on a new scale; lest schools become petri dishes for infectious disease. Slowing down the spread of the disease was the first step to gain better understanding of the ability to ramp up testing, hopefully 10,000 per day, to develop a better picture of the virus’ spread: without such a map of the spread of the virus, and ability to control it, as Alessandro Vespignani, who directs the Network Since Institute at Northeastern University, affirmed in late March, “we should shelter in place for the foreseeable future.”

Berkeley provided a surprisingly acute vantage on an even more acute, and often unseen tug-of-war that is ongoing with school lunch programs–and the blind-spot that the same Dept of Education that promotes “choice” has taken to the growing role of the full community school. The realization that only 15% of those eligible for school meals had received them opened a gap in trust between school networks and community: the gap was long there, but only evident after a private New York Times analysis of late May examined the tragedy that delegating responsibility to distributing funds to states left only twelve states actively sending needed monies for food, and only two–Rhode Island and Michigan– having fully performed their obligations: the attentive and active governors’ offices of Rhode Island and Michigan sent payments to 4.4. million who qualify for assistance, but also raised questions of the fate of the almost thirty million qualifying for food assistance. Will the maladministration of COVID-19-related response create near-famine conditions in the United States amidst a public health crisis to which the government has not yet figured out an ability to respond? Most benefits have simply not “gone out,” leaving many families without funds that would have been assigned to schoolchildren who derive most of the protein and carbohydrates needed from the subsidized meals they qualify. In the state of Louisiana, almost eighty percent of students qualify for subsidized meals in public schools and is even greater in West Virginia.

On top of food stamp cuts that were already enacted in 2016 in much of America-a map with can be best read not in the stark choropleth, but in the variegated terrain of food poverty need in the Deep South and southwest–

Termination of SNAP/Socialist International
FRAC–Households Contributing in SNAP/2016

Although many schools continued preparing meals the were distributed on bus routes or in set points of distribution, even as bus drivers often sickened and succumbed to COVID-19, from school closures in mid-March, in sites where hunger jumps due to school closures as twenty-two million rely on school lunch meals: if India’s Midday Meal Scheme feeds nearly 100 million, and half of the global low- to middle-income students rely on subsidized or free meals–some 310 million children in total–many in the US rely on lunches for calories, protein deficiencies, and poor diets in ways that the “cost” of meals purchased and assembled in bulk at low prices cannot compensate. How will global food needs be met with the pulling out of this necessary rug of nutritional support? The broad reliance on SNAP–as Food Stamps are now known–suggests broad areas of the nation, sadly in line with many “Food Deserts,” where no easy access exists to fresh or nutritious food options with ten miles or more–as of 2018–before Trump made cuts in the program by introducing further “work requirements” that place poorer populations at risk of food shortages.

Supplemental Nutrional Allowances Program (SNAP) as per share of County Population

The innovative application of the Berkeley Unified School District to guarantee regular meal distribution in a time of closure may have taken up a lot of resources, but met a dire need that the district was quite aware it was not able to live up to–and the And the resilience of the network reminded us of the way the community-based schooling most efficiently runs based on its own disbursement of lunches and foods, in ways private or parochial schools cannot hope on such a large and centralized scale. But even with engagement of the community members and central kitchen, to provide warm meals during Shelter-in-Place, the school system relies on being supplemented by local food banks and food networks, to distribute prepackaged groceries, for those in need, joining the broad Bay Area food distribution network–some serving all children; many with eligibility requirements– brown markers with hearts serving food on all weekdays.

Grab & Go meal services expanded in Oakland dramatically the very week it began, on March 16 giving out 25,000 meals to 4,000 students on its second day, and doubling the meals for 10,000 students the second day; in Berkeley, bags of groceries were added on the last day of the week courtesy the Berkeley Food Network at schools, meeting the strong need in the community for providing nutrition in a time of need, when many school parents had been furloughed or laid off and were no longer receiving income, as well as from UC Berkeley’s Basic Needs Pantry.

Berkeley and East Bay Sites for Grab’n Go Meals/
Breakfast and Lunch Distribution with a Bag of Groceries in Berkeley

From March 16, the Berkeley Food Pantry and  Berkeley Food Network both helped with transition to Shelter-in-Place policies that placed such an onus on providing needed foods to communities, by distributing free food items and necessities to members of the community, making a major investment in ending hunger during the disruptions created by COVID-19 . Infusions of needed funds from corporate donors helped create a sense of continuity and security for a community that was in need of assistance not provided in many other cities as intensively and immediately.

Berkeleyside/Items Available for Pick-Up at UC Berkeley’s Basic Needs Pantry/ Pete Rosos

The crowded coverage sought to create a more uniform network of grab-n-go stations that could be approached in a car, wearing a protective mask, often run by a combination of school district workers and volunteers, as in this network in Oakland–

OUSD Food Distribution Sites during COVID-19

Great discrepancies in neighborhoods were evident in Los Angeles, but the roll-out of the network suggests the neighborhood-embedded nature of schools, as well as pointing to the problem of guaranteeing equitable distribution of foods in public school networks that are increasingly financially stressed–

Los Angeles County Schoo. Grab’n’Go Sites

And if BUSD came in for some backlash and public grousing of the abandonment of educational priorities in the face of the coronavirus, as if the need to keep students equally involved at a distance neglected the needs of higher-performing kids, the sacrifices and amazing performance of most all students in a time of national difficulty as local rates of infection with COVID-19 grew should not detract from the deep success in keeping the community school alive and central in student’s lives. Calls to keep attention focussed on the steep challenges public schools face to meet community needs even in a time of coronavirus forces families to use innovative educational strategies in a time of increased hardship.

40. Is the recognition of the need for providing necessary meals to children a vindication of sorts for how New York’s Bill de Blasio bucked the nationwide trend? The question of how he resisted closing the largest school system in the United States seems important to remember, during criticisms of his endorsing of the police. For even if he quickly did so after the first COVID-19 death in New York, de Blasio long resisted the prospect, acknowledging the crises school closure posed for students, families, and teachers’ unions. To be sure, that one death diagnosed was revealed the tip of the iceberg of the scale of infections that have been modeled in retrospective estimates of infection rates in New York City–but at that. time, the actual range of infections in the city seems to have crested above 10,000 and far exceeded the data at hand across American cities–if their signs of infection were hardly visible.

Instinctually, however, de Blasio resisted for the very reason that he had no model for suspending a schools’ social roles. “I know just how much our parents depend on our public schools” in multiple ways that distance-learning cannot equal, weighing the “full cost” of school closure in more measured ways than other mayors–and even after the United Federation of Teachers–New York’s largest union of educators–had called for school closures to intensify social distancing. New York’s Schools’ Chancellor Richard Carranza allowed when he introduced the new remote learning possibilities that “It belies any logic to say it will be the same thing as a student in a classroom with the teacher” as educational engagement, but only addressed the problem of closing the “connectivity gap” ​that had opened by shipping printed materials to schools for Pre-k and elementary school students, without access to 1:1 devices, and providing remote learning options to students in temporary housing or living in poverty. While providing breakfast and lunch at Meal Hubs–making up for the absence of any sense of a social compact in the White House or American government, and despite the viability of many cultural centers and coops, sending waves of distrust through many other urban areas. many of these very sites were posed to close for the summer.

22. The failures in rolling testing policy in an accessible manner needed is haunting the nation. The absence is entirely inexcusable, for it would enable containment of the sort seen in China, where testing had been ramped up in February and March without regard for profit–but as a necessary investment in the nation. The need for better access to testing for SARS-CoV-2 is paramount to our abilities to map viral spread, but school closures were seized upon as the primary means of mitigation, as school closures were predicted to dramatically reduce mathematically reduce probability of transmittable pathogens that is moderately contagious by 25%, and that proactive closures significantly postpone the peak of an epidemic; once a pathogen or virus becomes community-acquired, even if it is not present in the school system, the measure seemed to be a crucial measure of mitigation that would slow the virus’ spread.

41. In the era of fears of avian flu in the post-9/11 world, when we valued goals of better preparedness, the policy was incorporated in the playbook of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions to a pandemic, or NPI’s. Back in the era of a drive to formulate response plans, circa 2006-7, the arguments that began to circulate after John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza ended up on President Bush’s nightstand, against the backdrop of an early outbreak of zoonotic disease, the avian flu, led Bush to believe it akin to a forest fire, and able to be prevented by early containment of its perimeter, led schools to become drafted as centers of potential infectious growth.

Without much evaluation in relation to COVID-19, the projected ability to disrupt the contact network of contagion of influenza entered the public playbook, endorsing “targeted social distancing” as effectively curtailing contagious spread, and immediate attention to the sites judged the “perfect environment” for spreading the disease. And, indeed, National Guard members sent to New Rochelle went into high hear sanitizing community centers’ childcare equipment, in military fatigues and protective gear, responding to the state of emergency the Commander-in-Chief declared, lest it bare traces of SARS-CoV-19.

New Rochelle Community Center Cleaned by National Guard/Andrew Seng/New York Times

Even if children make up less than 2% of the 149,760 cases of infection confirmed February 12 and April 2, the dangers that they could transmit the virus to vulnerable populations may have detracted attention from the question of attending to more vulnerable populations, and created a deep disruption difficult to determine–although the danger of bathrooms as sites of transmission at schools may have provided dangerous hot-spots, and dangers of exposing teachers and staff to the virus steep–although not nearly as steep as health workers, nursing home aides, or apartment building doormen. Yet were we not nearly as attendant to the centers where the circulation of air and droplets provided dangerous sites of the incubation of viral loads in the air of sites of true confinement–of prisons; airports; meat-processing plants; old age homes; hospital wards–even if we were right to close malls?

There was little imagined follow-through on the pedagogic impact of school suspension. This was perhaps because of the huge optimism in those years for distance-learning as a viable option, but also because of a sense that the spread of infection would be quickly contained: and even as the failure of the undue enthusiasm distance-learning originally been promoted s a means able to guarantee the arrival of high-quality education online to make an Ivy League education universally accessible worldwide, and antiquate brick and mortar universities, circa 2000, online no consideration was given to the bruising effect suspending embodied educational networks might have. We were not investing monies in education in the Bush era, perhaps, and had little sense of bringing the Dept. of Education to the table in drawing up the rules, perhaps this was because Margaret Spelling had promoted school accountability and entrepreneurial ideals, convinced they would be able to , and that the Dept. of Education had never gained the sort of leadership in public education that had been projected at its founding by President Carter: the standardized tests that school accountability promoted wold perhaps be more able to transmission online, and let little room for defenders of classroom-based learning, geared as it was to the dismantling of public education as we knew it.

After all, what is the current United States Department of Education of Betsy DeVos–or has it become?–than an avenue to promote school “choice” able to “serve as a catalyst” by promoting “standards and accountability” that sacrifice public education to free enterprise? Without sounding dark, promoting remote learning seemed a short stretch from a policy that appeared designed to conclude an era of the community school. The closure of schools is argued not to have been nearly so quick or effective a means to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus as social distancing policies. But so the quick closure of 56,000 schools by March 15 went into high gear, hoping to hold the infection that could double every three to five days: the policy indiscriminately affected a minimum of 29.5 million children, and exposed them to unequal access to distance learning, and unequal attention span that underwrite an achievement gap: if instruction would depend on remote learning long advocated by some, the platforms of distance learning depended on access to computers, and wifi, that many students didn’t possessed, but unclear expectations about the practice of distance learning and the disembodied context of education: many students have gone “AWOL” and not performed assignments or checked in. 

And so, in an era when no national health policy or framework for testing was developed, the policy of school closures emerged as a powerful means argued to contain the disease and curtail infection of what was known to be a highly infectious disease, if one whose pathways of infection were only beginning to be studied. Yet the casualties of a massive top-down shift in learning settings created a disruption in students’ lives that could only be explained by exceptionalism, as we’ve “never before encountered.” Was it possible that since schools provided sites for mixing populations from different neighborhoods, socio-economic backgrounds, they were readily recognized or feared as sites of contracting the virus, akin to finding that one’s child is afflicted by lice?

42. Closing urban school school systems was however cast as a base-level intervention as if it was a no-brainer, prioritized before a full “shut-down.” Although few modelings of a pandemic outbreak were undertaking by state or city health officials, or in dialogue with them, the prioritization of school closures seemed quick to prioritize. The comforting and essentially not disruptive chorography of uniform school closures in the pandemic seemed oddly reassuring in an age of insecurity spurred by the arrival of COVID; it revealed an apparent if fairly remarkable bottom-line consensus in school closure across the country even as there was no clear sense of the scale of SARS-CoV-2 infections, or a policy of testing for infection, or even something like a consensus of testing procedures for COVID-19: the dark blue uniformity was comforting given the division of electoral preferences, and it made it seeme we had a fairly common policy in place going forward–even if it only really to conceal the absence of a plan to contain COVID-19.


Was the sense of such disruption truly what America needed, coinciding with a sense of increased lack of security and anxiety? While online tools were an important means of attending to issues of child care in months-long shelter-in-place policies, the eagerness to retain and indeed encourage online resources of remote education, if they may be an increased part of our future educational landscape, will not be remembered by parents and students in the best light. The associations of distance learning with COVID-19 may have not been the best selling point that Kahn Academy founders could coldly imagine, but you take lemons to pump your business model with the lemonade that is there. The CARTO image is a bit schematic, as the “recommended closure” conceals large numbers of districts that had already undertaken closure, but reinforced an image of near-national consensus in a time of pandemic.


The open-ended policy of closures that soon expanded to the entire school year, and punted on the question of school reopening, necessitated a national rejiggering of curriculum and distance-learning options, as increased demand for immediate social distancing further hampered any sense of onsite contact between teachers, among students, and by educators or members of the school board: all grading policies converted to P/F, the expectations of work outcomes were disrupted, and the abilities of schools to maintain contact with parents was facing its own stress test as folks were increasingly furloughed, fired, or unable to search actively for work, leading many schools to try to recuperate their roles by the basic services of nutrition they provided–and honor contracts to food providers–by offering meal distribution services.

Ryan Berry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle, April 13, 2020

The skeletal provision of meals at some school sites reminded many of the importance of schools to communities. But in-place community mitigation strategies meant that school closures became a policy norm from Arizona to Minnesota to New York to North Carolina by March 16–as well as in cities from Austin to Atlanta to New York, to Washington, DC; school closures fallowed in most all states by March 17, in many states along the eastern seaboard, and much of the south and southwest, as some states left the decision limited to some districts, but states with major cities that were afflicted by COVID-19 outbreaks–from Seattle to New York to Chicago to New Orleans–set a terrifying picture that led education across the states to shutter–in almost a herd mentality–

March 17, 2020/EdWeek

–only a week after the President seem to have indicated a detached relation to the nation of which he was the executive, both promising widespread testing to be imminent, but offering few specifics of a testing roll-out, perhaps gripped by fears of a stock market that had been growing by leaps and bounds from being sent jitters. And in these days, it is to be remembered, the testing for SARS-CoV-2 around the nation was quite limited, even if we had known of the first arrivals of infected individuals in the nation from mid-January: testing was negligible in the United States by late March, and no sense of the geographic dispersion of the novel coronavirus was available, even if South Korea, the UK and Italy had far higher testing rates–even if they are woefully inadequate, the United States had hardly begun concerted testing rates until late April. on the level of other nations with public health programs.

Tests for SARS-CoV-2 Administered by Country/OurWorldinData, February 16-May 20, 2020

Unwittingly, the nation has entrusted Jared Kushner to coordinate a public-private response plan. Kushner quickly roped in Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, and grumbling that “I don’t remember any Democrats saying its terrible that the private sector is saving Obamacare,” even as the far broader proportions of a network of testing for the novel coronavirus–a complex practice, requiring a well-timed instrument apparatus–was imagined to be staffed locally, not centrally. The Task Force was imagining a network of drive-thru sites that might be semi-autonomous, with oversight cobbled together from HSS, FEMA, and Kushner’s business contacts, with federal contractors, but with little sense of the massive nature of testing, and perhaps an inclination to not want to increase public anxiety by broad testing practices. Eventually, the Task Force decided they could send out self-administered kits, suggesting little interest in an actually accurate count.

Those who depended on insurance-sanctioned testing kits, found national testing services like Lab Corp who had wired in exclusive contracts at hospitals to be without the necessary flexibility to use other testing options even as many public laboratories expanded their services of testing, even if they were not able to keep up with demand–and created a lack of a framework for testing where little public health network existed: absence of a public health system could not be outsourced to the public sector, or constructed from LabCorps or Quest, who had service hospitals, but were forced to use public health laboratories to cover the overflow.

Testing for SARS-CoV-2, in Multiple Countries/Our World in Data, May 20 2020

The epidemiological value of testing for COVID-19 were undermined by removing tests from a lab setting, moreover, with the failure to regulate the consistency of tests for SARS-CoV-2, that could enable a clearer sense of how the virus moves. All too often, a failure of oversight of testing practices led serological tests for antibodies to be indiscriminately lumped with diagnostic tests, confusing apples and oranges and providing no sense of the progress of the virus or infections, or at least the data from Virginia, Maine, Georgia, Vermont, and Texas–in ways that suggest little CDC or government oversight over data for diagnostic ends–as if they want to alter the public guidance for the reopening of states, rather than to follow the criteria for “reopening” and ending social distancing.

43. Yet few states are trending well, based on requirements for reduced hospitalizations, greater testing goals, positive tests, and ICU capacity–all benchmarks to move through phases of reopening the economy. After the inclusion of these serological tests, C.D.C. trackers reported that the number of tests umped from 10.2 million to 10.8 million nationwide, even if the outlook was hardly rosy.

Reopen Safely/May 20, 2020

But was this a game, akin to a real-life version of Matt Leacock’s 2008 Pandemic, a board game that responded to the first threats of viral outbreaks? Leacock had designed the board game in 2004, in the wake of the SARS epidemic, and after the realization that board games were disrupting his marriage. in the very time that the school closure policy was adopted to interrupt the social networks by which contagion was imagined to spread? Is this game, designed form 2-4 players, able to be played across the nation? More importantly, perhaps, could humanity be saved, if no preparatory measures were taken for the next time round?

Meanwhile, the rates of the the reproduction of the virus were especially troubling in how Texas tops the list of reproduction, followed by Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, and Ohio–all states with large cities, as well as Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Alabama. Can the nation expect an easy outcome of monitoring the virus’ spread, as we seem to be relying on amorphous trust in labs that are disembodied from the nation to understand and track the pathways of its transmission? (Our expectations probably incline to trust that Silicon Valley will, in the end, be able to track the disease–as they have been able to track our consumer spending habits, motion, and web traffic.)

So how will we play the game? Despite the snazzy trench coat of the heroine of Leacock’s boardgames, which I never played, our national health care network is biased against the laboratories who hoped to offer their expertise and unique capacity for quick, reliable polymer chain testing that was lacking in the nation, found few takers for their services–although in cases had procured 10,000 kits and allowed for the expansion of up to 4,000 tests a day in sterile settings. Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute offered the robotic capacities of quick testing in its 2,500-square-foot scientific laboratory to be re-imagined as a facility able to ramp up testing for signs of the novel coronavirus at a rate of 3,000 tests daily, replicating the emergency clearance for polymerase chain reactions; executive director Jennifer Doudna was thrilled about possibilities to put her robotic equipment at disposal as a testing pipeline in mid-March, after Dr Deborah Birx of the Coronavirus Task Force raised hopes for expanding testing—only to see it halted by existing contractual obligations of hospitals and HMO’s. The specialized microbiology labs at UCSD planned a designated lab to process tests of up to 1,200/day. But lack of uptake to these plans to testing high-risk groups or health professionals; the absence of connections between labs and governors or the integration of labs in a laissez faire market for medical care was not able to accommodate the new testing needs.

Doudna’s lab had purchased 10,000 testing kits they were potentially not able to use by a streamlined robotics process. The shift of ramping up a high-tech lab to a public testing center with such speed won global applause, and not only because the testing center would be run with an all-volunteer team: the notion of being immediately impactful while generating necessary data to understand the virus’ spread and confront future infectious risks. It was a perfect illustration of the streamlining of the public university’s facilities or immediate public impact, allowing a clinical lab to gain public prominence, but Berkeley Lab turned to frontline care workers, diagnostic tests on UCB’s own campus health services, and any city workers, after local hospitals turned the other ear. In San Diego, the designated microbiology labs fell short of capacity; academic clinical labs went untapped as public resources.

This was not part of the plans the savvy team at the White Hous imagined. The accelerated emergency clearance granted to the polymerase reactions developed by Thermo Fishe remained the lynchpin in the sanctioned testing complex exclusively. Fisher provided the sole approved diagnostic tool, which it called the KingFisher, allowing rapid turnaround of samples and swabs. But the equipment needed to be sent to states, and no network existed to link the potential range of unconnected testing centers to which they would forward their results, introducing multiple foreseeable possibilities for communicative failures to arise in getting this last-minute project off the ground. If Health services promised first a hundred, and then over two hundred and forty sites, test kits were slow to arrive–and sending health administrators on a crash-course to learn about tasting, nucleic acids, and as well as laboratory practice that they had no previous experience, as the manual approach to testing was not only arduous, but required up to a week to provide results.

30. For the lack of a national health policy, school closures seemed the one step of mitigating viral spread that was easy to agree on, although the needed infrastructure or preparation for the necessary follow-though was not in place. The schools were quick to close, however, and policies of school closure had spread to most all states by late March–suggesting that the national consensus was at least relatively easy about what had come the least common denominator of sorts for a process we were in the midst of learning about on a very steep learning curve.

–although two states, Wyoming and Montana, remained reluctant to impose mandatory closures of school as late as mid-May, even as public health experts in California called for a permanent closure of all learning institutions during the coronavirus crisis.

Ryan Berry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle;, April 13, 2020

The eventual conscensus on school closures is not the greatest casualty of the spread of COVID-19 by any means, but was one that was nationally felt, and ramped up across the country as it seemed the easiest to sign on to.

Yet questions had since mid-April arisen as to whether national school closures were effective in combatting COVID-19:  while the novel coronavirus was often compared to influenza, and not only by President Trump, the studies of shuttering schools were based on influenza pandemics reducing flu, while COVID-19 spreads in different means:  whether children are significant in spreading SARS-CoV-2 is not clear, and despite the success of many distance-learning efforts, the inequities in computer access, and abilities to provide stimulating remote learning tools, Can one better map the discrepancies in turning it online work, attending classes, or accessing remote learning? 

The mid-May map was even more strikingly definitive:

School Closures_in_Response_to_Coronavirus Pandemic,_2020

The intent of closing schools was a response to the fears of the influenza-like spread of the pandemic, and the fear of multiple routes of transmission through children’s interaction–and fears that the virus would run wildly through classrooms, gyms, and playgrounds, resting on surfaces in ways that would expose multiple more numbers to the danger of infection. While the threat of the avian bird flu led experts to promote social distancing as a form of “protective sequestration” adopted in the military to protect against flu outbreaks, the return of “social distancing” and school closures public health experts promoted over the resistance of the US President, and has led to school closures across thirty eight states across the country, and thousands of kids out of touch with their assignments and teachers, including 15,000 in Los Angeles alone, where up to 40,000 are not in regular contact with teachers since the March 16 shutdown.

31. It still may be uncertain what models of infectious transmission that are rooted in spread of the virus from Wuhan, as a rates of infection doubled every four to five days. The virus defined a feared paradigm of widespread contraction across a massive area of a transportation web from the city–

Risk of Spread of COVID-19 Outside of Wuhan Province

–even before the infectious transmission within the network was not clearly studied or understood, and citywide quarantine adopted to stop the threat of its spread, with the adoption of monitoring of temperature of individuals traveling from the city.

Is the model of the classroom as a site of infectious transmission of the zoonotic disease best understood by imagining “contact networks” in relation to individuals who have contracted the disease. But person-to-person transmission of the virus is less easily geometrically mapped by contact networks in an abstract topography, independent of the concentration of COVID-19 in individual settings, in airborn droplets, or in terms of their effect on the range of aggravating factors that can accentuate the danger of the novel coronavirus for compromised constitutions.

Is the coronavirus so easily traceable by a contact network? Or do we still need to develop a better understanding of how the virus spreads, and the danger of contraction by droplets v. on surfaces? The problem of mapping is impossible without testing for cases, but we are already far beyond that so far as the deep fraying of social bonds goes.

Education once seemed so flexible in its models. But it seems poorly regarded as a service provider, when it has also provided a foundation for a social network that holds many parts of society together, and allows them to survive. The misguided emphasis on the closures of classes and suspension of community assistance may stand at the center of a broad failure in containment of the virus, and a failure to provide services of assurance that allowed society to function: if the murder of George Floyd has exposed the inequalities before the very figures of law enforcement who work by inspiring fear in urban populations, the increased vulnerability of populations to COVID-19 has failed to be addressed. In what began as a problem of mitigation never was resolved, but morphed into a new problem of containment, we dropped all concern for needed community efforts as the danger of the coronavirus spread. It seems that only by moving from large-scale clinics to community-based medicine can COVID-19 best be contained, but the public health care systems that we have, such as they are, no longer have community-based components, and the community basis of the school system itself is in danger of eroding–a change that figures in the Trump cabinet seem fine to oversee.

Although educators want to flip the classroom, unbox the curriculum, and break form models of pedagogical hierarchy, remote learning poses a problem of replicating that hierarchy, the removed nature of instruction, and destabilize huge gains that have ben gained in shaping and enlivening the classroom environment as a community. We need to affirm schools as a part of the community; but the sudden shift to distance learning is a critical moment that has been overlooked, one that leaves teachers trying to map relations to students suddenly flattened to inexpressive icons, and students frustrated to map their place in a learning process, while dispersed, increasingly isolated and with diminished interest, curiosity or public trust.   

Leave a comment

Filed under Coronavirus, COVID-19, education policies, remote learning, school closures

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.