A reminder as schools reopen — federal law now gives some parents paid time off to help their kids with remote learning

Last month, a recently-reopened school district near Atlanta, Ga. told more than 1,000 students and staffers they had to quarantine after a coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier this month, approximately 450 students and employees in a central Florida school system needed to isolate after positive COVID-19 cases. Almost 2,000 miles away, around 100 teenagers and staff in a Denver-area school had to do the same because of cases in their school.

Rocky school reopenings are already upending educators’ plans this fall — and they’re likely doing the same thing to the work schedules of many parents who, if they aren’t already working from home, may suddenly need to be there with their quarantined student.

The good news is there’s a range of employee leave laws that could conceivably kick in to protect parents in this situation, separate and apart from an employer’s own paid time off policies. The tricky part, however, is that there’s a complicated mix of rules. And the worrying note, some say, is that the laws don’t do enough to help parents who are trying to make it all work right now.

New federal laws temporarily expanded paid family leave

During the early days of the pandemic, federal lawmakers passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Though America is the only highly industrialized country without a federal paid family leave law, the FFCRA temporarily enabled paid leave for families pulled from work to quarantine, care for others with COVID-19, or care for children who are at home because of closed day cares and schools.

The FFCRA has two important parts: one portion addressing emergency paid sick leave and another portion for expanded family and medical leave.

When it comes to school and child care, the U.S. Department of Labor says covered workers can access up to two weeks (80 hours) of emergency paid sick leave at two-thirds pay. The cap on pay in this time period is $200 daily and $2,000 total, according to the Center for WorkLife Law within the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

A covered worker (they have to have been on the payroll for at least 30 days) can also tap the law’s expanded family and medical leave for an additional 10 weeks of pay at two-thirds their compensation. In that 10-week period, an employer pays a maximum of $200 a day and up to $10,000 total, the Center for WorkLife Law. Employers ultimately receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit that covers them for paying the leave.

The law applies to employers with fewer than 500 workers. A small business with fewer than 50 workers can apply for an exemption if it can show the absence of employees would jeopardize its operations and bottom line.

The paid leave provisions are in effect from April 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020.

If a school closes for half a day, parents can get paid time off

The Labor Department weighed in late last month on how the FFCRA fit in with the fall school year.

If a student attends school some days but has distance learning on other days, parents can receive paid leave on the days their child is home.

If a student physically attends school some days, but has distance learning on other days, the department said a parent can get paid leave on the days their child is home. That’s because the school is essentially “closed” to the student for the day in eyes of the law. (If a child is home under a quarantine order, that can justify the parent’s paid leave.)

On the other hand, if a parent chooses all remote learning instead of in-person instruction, they cannot access paid leave under the federal law. The school is not “closed” in that context, the Labor Department said.

If school administrators start the year remotely and say they’ll make a reopening decision at a later date, the school is still closed and the paid leave is still available.

Likewise, a school might be open, albeit for a half day. The FFCRA allows workers to apply for paid leave in bite-sized pieces, like from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“You may take intermittent leave in any increment, provided that you and your employer agree,” a Labor Department questionnaire said. “The Department encourages employers and employees to collaborate to achieve flexibility and meet mutual needs.”

State and local laws can support working parents too

Now consider the fact that FFCRA isn’t the only paid leave law out there.

As the pandemic continued, various states and cities have expanded their paid leave laws to incorporate things like school closures. Is it possible to stack the time off, so that a parent could pull paid leave from one law and then turn around and pull from another?

“It depends what law you talking about and what the context is,” said Liz Morris, deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law. “The bottom line is, it’s extremely complicated the way these laws all interact.”

The center launched a helpline in April to assist workers navigating all the rules out there. “Anybody who has COVID-19 caregiving issue in workplace can call,” Morris said.

The center’s helpline is (415) 851-3308 and its email is: covid19helpline@worklifelaw.org.

Morris’ team has talked to people trying to figure out the leave laws, pregnant women and new mothers who are concerned about being at work and others with health conditions who are worried about returning to work.

There’s a range of federal and state laws, but Morris said they may not be good enough for everyone — especially if they’ve already used up their paid leave under the FFCRA.

‘We’re trying to rely on this patchwork… What we really need is a single comprehensive law that protects everyone.’

— Liz Morris, deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law

“We’re trying to rely on this patchwork of laws to bring together a set of legal rights for people so that they just have a job to return to when this is all over and need income … What we really need is a single comprehensive law that protects everyone.”

Paid time off is important for parents juggling work and school right now, but it’s not everything, said Rich Fuerstenberg, senior partner in the Life, Absence and Disability practice at Mercer, a human resources consulting firm.

For one thing, leave under the FFCRA “is a one-shot deal. Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he noted.

Going into the fall, Fuerstenberg said the companies he’s been working with have been thinking hard about their work schedule flexibility policies, how they can assist with child care costs and also looking at how much paid time off they are giving staff.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of companies said they were allowing parents to change their work schedules so employees could manage their child’s new school routine this fall, according to a July-August Mercer survey of more than 800 employers.

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As schools reopen, scientists say some children could spread COVID-19 even if they already have the antibodies

As schools and colleges reopen across the country, scientists say social distancing remains a critical public-health response to COVID-19. New research released Thursday sheds more light on children who test positive for COVID-19, and the contagiousness of coronavirus. Children often remain asymptomatic or display very few symptoms, and the research also offers insights into the course of the disease at an important time for families and communities.

A study published in the latest edition of the Journal of Pediatrics finds that the virus and antibodies can coexist in young patients. “With most viruses, when you start to detect antibodies, you won’t detect the virus anymore. But with COVID-19, we’re seeing both,” says Burak Bahar, lead author of the study and director of Laboratory Informatics at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. “This means children still have the potential to transmit the virus even if antibodies are detected.”

‘Children still have the potential to transmit the virus even if antibodies are detected.’

— Burak Bahar, director of Laboratory Informatics at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The researchers reviewed an analysis of 6,369 children tested for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and 215 patients who underwent antibody testing at Children’s National between March 2020 and June 2020. Out of these 215 young patients, 33 tested positive for both the virus and antibodies during the course of the disease. Nine of those 33 also showed presence of antibodies in their blood while also later testing positive for the virus.

What’s more, researchers found that patients aged 6 years through 15 years old took a longer time (a median time of 32 days) to clear the virus, meaning that it had left their systems, versus patients aged 16 years through 22 years old (a median of 18 days). Females in the 6 to 15 age group also took longer to clear the virus than males: A median of 44 days for females versus 25.5 days for males. “We can’t let our guard down just because a child has antibodies or is no longer showing symptoms,” Bahar said.

The study also found that 25 days was the median time from viral positivity to negativity — the moment when the virus can no longer be detected; it took 18 days to go from viral positivity to seropositivity — or the presence of antibodies in the blood — and it took 36 days to reach adequate levels of neutralizing antibodies. These “neutralizing antibodies” are important in potentially protecting a person from reinfection of the same virus, the researchers wrote.

Four important caveats: Firstly, the study looked at a relatively small number of children. Secondly, the next phase of research will be to test whether coronavirus that is present along with the antibodies for the disease can be transmitted to other people. Thirdly, scientists need to explore whether antibodies correlate with immunity and, fourthly, they need to establish how long antibodies and potential protection from reinfection actually lasts. As such, Bahar reiterates the need for social distancing.

Related:Dr. Fauci: It’s ‘conceivable’ we’ll know by November if a safe, effective vaccine is coming

A separate study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that children can spread SARS-CoV-2, even if they never develop symptoms or even long after symptoms have cleared. It found a significant variation in how long children continued to “shed” the virus through their respiratory tract and, therefore, could potentially remain infectious. The researchers also found that the duration of COVID-19 symptoms also varied widely, from three days to nearly three weeks.

A recent systematic review estimated that 16% of children with a SARS-CoV-2 infection are asymptomatic, but evidence suggests that as many as 45% of pediatric infections are asymptomatic, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in children are similar to other infections and noninfectious processes, including influenza, according to the CDC.

A separate study in JAMA Pediatrics said children may spread SARS-CoV-2, even if they never develop symptoms or even long after symptoms have cleared.

Under pressure from the teachers union to delay the start of the school year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that in-person classes will be pushed back until Sept. 21, 11 days later than planned. Remote learning, also originally slated to start on Sept. 10, will now commence on Sept. 16. Other countries have not fared so well with school reopenings. Israel, which also reopened schools this week, experienced outbreaks when it reopened schools on May 17.

Bahar also advised teachers and students to wear masks. To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, it may be preferable to use high-quality cloth or surgical masks that are of a plain design instead of face shields and masks equipped with exhale valves, according to an experiment published Wednesday by Physics of Fluids, a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal covering fluid dynamics that was first established by the American Institute of Physics in 1958.

As of Sunday, the U.S. still has the world’s highest number of COVID-19 cases (6,262,989), followed by Brazil (4,123,000), India (4,113,811) and Russia (1,022,228), according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. California became the first state in the country to surpass 700,000 confirmed cases. COVID has killed 188,711 people in the U.S. Worldwide, cases are near 27 million.


, in combination with Oxford University; BioNTech SE

and partner Pfizer

; GlaxoSmithKline

; Johnson & Johnson

; Merck & Co.

; Moderna

; and Sanofi

are among those currently working toward COVID-19 vaccines.

The Dow Jones Industrial Index
the S&P 500

and the Nasdaq Composite

ended lower Friday. Doubts about traction for further fiscal stimulus from Washington may be one factor discouraging investors who have been betting on Republicans and Democrats striking a deal to offer additional relief to consumers and businesses.

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It seemed safe to reopen Israel’s schools, but then came COVID-19 outbreaks — what can we all learn from those mistakes?

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implemented a strict lockdown in Israel in February, by early May, roughly a dozen daily new cases of coronavirus down from more than 750 per day were being reported among the country’s population of roughly 9 million people.

But three months ago, the cost of reopening schools with so few cases of coronavirus did not seem to come close to the benefits that were believed to be gained from holding in-person classes — or so the Israeli government thought.

However, a heat wave that made it difficult for students to wear masks, full classrooms that made social distancing near-impossible and, perhaps, the illusion that the virus had been vanquished all contributed to a false sense of security.

Within days of reopening schools on May 17, one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the country occurred, prompting many schools to revert to online instruction. The hardest-hit school was Gymnasia Rehavia, a middle school and high school in the county’s capital, Jerusalem, where some 153 students and 25 staff members tested positive for coronavirus.

As Rebecca Nussbaum, a teacher, told The World radio program of the first attempt to reopen schools in Israel: “We did not feel like we had any adequate time to prepare for that, in order to make sure the school was appropriately equipped for that many students coming back in one go.”

“To everybody’s surprise in the school, the Thursday night before we were going back on the Sunday, we were in a staff meeting about how capsules would work; it was 9 o’clock at night and a news report came out saying that schools were opening as normal,” she added.

Now the country has become a cautionary tale for what NOT to do when reopening schools.

To date, Israel has reported 118,538 cases of coronavirus and 957. That translates to 10.8 deaths per 100,000 of the population or a 0.8% fatality rate. To put that in comparison, the U.S. has reported 56.4 deaths per 100,000 people and a fatality rate of 3%.

The Israeli government now has a staggered system of return under its “Safe Learning” program. The country’s education ministry said approximately 2.4 million children and 205,000 education workers have resumed their school year. There will be smaller capsules for older students, and a mixture of online and in-person classes.

MarketWatch spoke with Eli Waxman, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and former chairman of the team advising Israel’s National Security Council on the pandemic, to understand what went wrong and what the U.S. and other countries can learn.

Waxman left his position at the NSC in May after the recommendations his team made were ignored by the Israeli government, the Times of Israel reported.

Eli Waxman, pictured, is a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and former chairman of the team advising Israel’s National Security Council on the pandemic.

Weizmann Institute of Science

MarketWatch: What was the thought process back in May when schools reopened? What was lacking from Israel’s initial school reopening plan?

Eli Waxman: The contact tracing infrastructure was not built. Due to hurdles and objections within the health ministry, and due to the lack of the decision by the political level. And so we reopened physically without having this infrastructure, so there was no way to control new outbreaks.

‘The contact tracing infrastructure was not built. Due to hurdles and objections within the health ministry, and due to the lack of the decision by the political level.’

We proposed the gradual relief of social distancing measures starting with activities that are less dangerous such as construction and only later opening commerce and schools very gradually.

Due to the political pressures, this program was not implemented, far from it, and all the restrictions were relieved, almost at the same time, and without proper regulations prepared for conduct in public places.

So the combination of these factors led to the new uncontrolled outbreak that we’ve seen in June and July.

MW: So was there really no plan for how to deal with outbreaks of the virus that occur in classrooms and spread across schools and, ultimately, people’s homes?

EW: There was no plan. The health ministry was totally unprepared and, in parallel, they also removed restrictions.

The original plan was to first resume activity at the lower grades up to third-grade and with reduced numbers of students per class, with masks and alcogels [disinfectants] and, after monitoring the situation for a couple of weeks, considering the resumption of activity for higher grades.

We started with the lower grades and, in three days, all the grades were back to school and all the restrictions were removed. It was no surprise that we had these outbreaks. There were no capabilities to trace contacts and to isolate them and there was no way to stop the spread.

‘It was no surprise that we had these outbreaks. There were no capabilities to trace contacts and to isolate them and there was no way to stop the spread.’

MW: What has changed since May?

EW: There are several steps that have been taken. One major development was the realization by the government and by the health ministry that an efficient and strong contact-tracing capability should be used. It was also accepted that the health ministry is not capable of doing this, and the responsibility for the construction [of this system] was moved to the army.

This is something that we were recommending for months and it didn’t happen. This has happened now, and the army is building this capability. It is not set yet it is not ready but it will be ready I hope within a couple of weeks.

There still debates about how school activity would resume.

An Israeli pupil heads to his classroom upon return to school after the COVID-19 lockdown, at Hashalom elementary in Mevaseret Zion, in the suburbs of Jerusalem, last May. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images.)

Some argue that the plan should be gradual, as I just described. Starting with lower grades and reducing the number of students per class, and walking in capsules, and requiring safety measures like masks and alcogels.

I hope this will be implemented but it’s not at all clear to me because there are pressures to resume all activity of all grades at the same time. I’m worried that if this happens due to the pressures then we will face again serious danger of uncontrollable outbreaks.

‘If we repeat the same thing that we did last time we are going to face serious problems.’

MW: A lot of countries are looking at Israel now as an example of what NOT to do. But is there anything your country has done well that you feel is not getting enough recognition?

EW: The response to the first outbreak. The sooner you act, the faster you suppress the outbreak and the faster you can resume activity. The decision to close down flights and also to close school activity, and then to apply more restrictions on general activity — I think this was done in the right way early on.

It allowed us to get very low numbers in April ‘and May. However, the steps that should have been taken during the time between early March and mid-May — the construction of the contact-tracing capability and setting up rules for a gradual resumption of activity — did not happen.

These steps are crucial for safe resumption of activity in the presence of the virus.

MW: If schools were to reopen again in Israel for in-person learning, are you confident that the country would have things under control?

EW: I’m not confident because of the pressures for reopening not gradually and without precaution measures. So it really depends on how it will be done this time. If we repeat the same thing that we did last time we are going to face serious problems. I hope that we will not do it again.

(The interview was edited for style and space.)

Before schools reopened in Israel, coronavirus appeared to be under control. Once schools reopened that was no longer the case. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images.)

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These schools have the largest endowments in the country — yet they’re still raising tuition during the COVID pandemic

Christian Baran has been thinking about the value his college tuition is supposed to be buying since the spring. 

Baran, 21, was a sophomore at Cornell University when the school, like most others, rushed students home and into online classrooms in March as the reality of the pandemic began to set in. Baran thought his family might get some sort of tuition refund, given that the experience was so different from what he thought his tuition was buying. 

“But we didn’t get anything,” Baran said. Like almost every college in the country, Cornell didn’t give back any tuition money, but the school did provide rebates for housing and dining contracts. 

Now, as the start of the fall semester at the school approaches, the school is moving forward with a planned tuition increase of 3.6% that was approved in January before the pandemic. Cornell, which is planning to bring students back to Ithaca and offer some in-person classes, is expecting to increase the amount of financial aid it awards, and will be drawing more than typical from its endowment in fiscal year 2021 to generate an additional $15 million. 

Christian Baran decided to take a semester off from Cornell University in part because he didn’t feel it was worth the money.

Still, it’s not enough for Baran. “It seems ridiculous to keep paying the same amount for what seems to be an inferior hybridized education,” he said. And that’s a best-case scenario, assuming the school doesn’t end up shifting completely to remote instruction, as some have already done. 

So instead of paying Cornell tuition, Baran decided to enroll in community college for the fall semester and hopefully return to Cornell in the spring. “I don’t think that it’s worth it,” he said. 

Cornell is one of at least 39 U.S. institutions whose endowments are in the top 100, that is going ahead with a planned tuition increase for undergraduates this upcoming academic year, according to a MarketWatch analysis. We found that 35 others are planning to keep tuition the same as last year and five are discounting tuition from previously announced levels. (Of the other institutions in the top 100 endowments, four are based in Canada, four are institutions serving only graduate students and several did not provide the requested information by press time. We will update when we hear back).

Colleges, MarketWatch reporting

Tuition cuts are rare, but it’s also an extraordinary year

That some schools are discounting tuition represents an extraordinary break from colleges’ typical policies — college costs have skyrocketed 161% over the past 30 years and between the 2009 and 2010 academic year and the 2019 and 2020 academic year colleges increased tuition nearly 2% on average per year, according to the College Board. 

But this is also an extraordinary year. A global pandemic and accompanying economic downturn has made it more difficult for many families to afford college. At the same time, the pandemic has changed what families are paying for. Under the best of circumstances, students will return to campuses devoid of many of the usual college activities — spontaneous meetings in the student union, robust club events, and yes, parties. 

And if the experiences of schools that have already brought students back is any indication, those plans are likely to go awry, forcing students into even more restricted environments or sending them home. 

These dynamics stretched colleges’ business models, which had been showing signs of weakness for years. “Generally speaking, the pandemic is not going to create a significant shift in the price of tuition,” said Dominique Baker, an assistant professor of education policy at Southern Methodist University. 

That’s because colleges lost housing, dining and other revenue when they sent students home this spring and, in addition, they’ve had to spend more on technology, plexiglass and other adjustments to make a fall semester work, Baker said. Schools will also lose funds if enough students decide to take a gap year and enrollment dips significantly. 

“The only ways to try to make this up are to hold on to revenue streams you already have because if you don’t do that this leads to massive furloughs and layoffs, among other cost cutting measures,” she said.

Colleges begin thinking about tuition policy months in advance

Colleges usually begin thinking about their tuition strategy in the fall of the previous academic year, said Jim Hundrieser, the vice president for consulting and business development, at the National Association of College and University Business Officers. 

They typically start by thinking about what increased costs they will have and whether those will be one-time costs or fixed costs, he said. Colleges have looked for ways to cut some of their typical costs this year, including furloughing employees, freezing pay and limiting retirement contributions, but many of their largest fixed costs, like faculty salaries and health care remain large and possibly growing. 

Schools will also look to see whether they expect sources of revenue other than tuition to be able to cover some of these costs, Hundrieser said. Philanthropy, one of the typical sources of revenue for schools, is likely to be down this year if previous downturns are any indication. 

Colleges will also turn to their endowment to cover expenses, typically drawing around 4% per year from the fund, Hundrieser said. But it can be difficult to tap the endowment for more than officials initially planned because the funds are often restricted and because the idea behind the endowment is to make sure the university runs in perpetuity, Hundrieser said. 

“Endowments aren’t just one pot of money, they’re a bunch of small pots of money,” said Robert Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. “Colleges don’t like spending large amounts of money out of an endowment in any given year,” Kelchen said. “On the other hand, the endowment is also there for a rainy day and it’s pouring right now.”

Perhaps one of the biggest factors driving a college’s tuition policy is how much money they’re going to give away, Hundrieser said. At private schools in particular, most families don’t pay a college’s advertised or “sticker” price. 

Instead, they get a discount. The average discount rate — or the amount of grant aid colleges offer as a percentage of their tuition and fee revenue — for the 2019-2020 academic year was 47.6% according to NACUBO

Families don’t learn what kind of discount they’ll receive until a student applies, gets accepted and receives a financial-aid package from their school.  Often, colleges award these scholarships based on financial need, but in some cases, colleges use what’s called merit aid — or scholarships for good grades or other characteristics — to lure families who can afford to pay the full, or near full sticker price and will be persuaded to sign the check if they believe they’re getting a deal. 

‘This is the question many, many chief finance officers are asking and really beginning to evaluate — if we’re just going to raise [tuition] and give it all away what’s the point?’

— Jim Hundrieser, vice president for consulting and business development at the National Association of College and University Business Officers

This high-tuition, high-aid strategy started to ramp up in the wake of the Great Recession and some institutions are growing more skeptical of it, Hundrieser said. “This is the question many, many chief finance officers are asking and really beginning to evaluate — if we’re just going to raise [tuition] and give it all away what’s the point?” he said. 

The strategy also puts strain on families, particularly low-income families who see a college’s high five-figure sticker price and immediately dismiss it as a possibility, said Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research at Demos, a progressive think tank. 

In addition, many of the schools with the most generous financial-aid packages for low-income students, don’t educate a large share of the low-income student population, he said. Even as most colleges have increased their financial-aid budgets during the pandemic, the messaging of the sticker price is still important, he said. 

‘Imagine any financial transaction you make and someone says the price of this thing is $100,000, but you are very likely to pay nothing, but first you have to fill out all these forms.’

— Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research at Demos

“Imagine any financial transaction you make and someone says the price of this thing is $100,000, but you are very likely to pay nothing, but first you have to fill out all these forms,” Huelsman said. 

The focus on discounting can also make it difficult for colleges to reverse course once they’ve made a tuition decision, Hundrieser said, because they’ve already awarded the aid they’re going to give out and tweaking tuition will affect the amount of revenue they bring in. Still, some schools have been able to make changes in light of the pandemic. 

Some schools have been able to offer tuition cuts

At Hampton University, a Historically Black College in Hampton, Va., the school’s president, William Harvey, announced in early July that the school would offer only remote instruction in the fall and a 15% discount on tuition and fees.

“This is going to be a financial burden for us, but it’s also a financial burden for parents and others,” Harvey said he remembers thinking as he weighed and investigated the idea of a tuition cut with other university officials.

Ultimately, he decided to go through with it and one of the reasons Hampton was able to do so is because the school is “pretty financially sound,” Harvey said. Though not in the top 100, the school’s endowment has grown over the past several decades and is now worth more than $250 million. Resources like an enrollment stabilization fund and a real-estate foundation, help too, he said. 

In addition, after the school made the decision to cut tuition, they received a “god-given gift,” from MacKenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, of $30 million, Harvey said. Those funds can be used at the discretion of the president, he said, and the school plans to use part of the money to help mitigate the financial impact of the tuition cut. 

Daniel Kim, a senior at Duke University, started an online petition last month asking his school to decrease tuition after he saw that at some other schools where petitions circulated, officials cut the sticker price. In early August, Duke announced that, instead of increasing tuition 3.9% as originally planned, it would freeze tuition at $55,880 and adjust certain fees based on where students plan to live this fall. 

‘It’s the same tuition that we’re paying as last year, except last year we had in person classes, extracurriculars, the whole social experience.’

— Daniel Kim, Duke senior

“It’s the same tuition that we’re paying as last year, except last year we had in -person classes, extracurriculars, the whole social experience,” Kim said, though he appreciates that they didn’t go forward with the increase.

Duke invited freshmen and sophomores back to on campus housing this fall and is hoping to bring juniors and seniors back in the spring, according to Erin Kramer, a Duke spokesperson. The school is offering a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid classes. Right now, Kim is planning on taking his classes from his childhood home in Northern Virginia.

Daniel Kim started a Change.org petition asking for his school, Duke University, to reduce tuition.

Kim, who is majoring in theater and minoring in biology and cinematic arts, wasn’t pleased with his remote courses in the spring. “I kept pounding my head against the floor, group chats were popping during it.” he said. But at least so far, his classes this semester have been satisfactory. “I’m hoping just to grind it out.”

Annisa Salsabila, a sophomore at the University of Texas, is skeptical she’ll get the value she’s paying for from her courses. The 19-year-old is a neuroscience major and won’t have access to the labs and research experiences she would under typical circumstances. 

UT is offering some courses in person, but is also giving students the option to take all of their courses online, which Salsabila is electing to do because she believes it’s the safest option.

At UT, tuition will be 2.6% higher this fall than last year, an increase approved in November 2019 by the University of Texas System Board of Regents. The uptick is based on the rate of inflation per the higher education price index, according to a spokeswoman, an inflation index that tracks the cost drivers of higher education. 

“The cost of education is a major concern for students and families, more so now than ever,” J.B. Bird, a UT spokesperson, wrote in an email. “We have focused our fall planning efforts to deliver an exceptional educational experience while also maintaining the health and safety of the UT community.”

Annisa Salsabila worries about how a tuition increase at her college will impact her long-term.

Still, to Salsabila the increase feels “ridiculous.” She expects to borrow more in student loans to cover the uptick. “It just places more financial burden on me and my family in the long run,” she said.  

Public colleges don’t have complete control over their tuition policies

Like many public colleges, UT is governed by a board of regents, whose members are appointed by the governor. At some public colleges, the governing board is actually elected by the state’s voters. Either way, state leadership does play a role in how public colleges set their tuition, though there’s often a back and forth between the school and legislatures. 

If the last recession is any indication, public colleges will likely face cuts in the funding they receive from the state lawmakers, a factor which could push them to look for money from other sources — like students’ and families’ pockets. At the same time, these schools may face pressure from state legislatures to keep tuition low. 

That dynamic could exacerbate inequities already present in our higher-education system. Public colleges, particularly regional state schools and community colleges, that are likely to face funding challenges over the next few years, are also those that serve the bulk of the country’s low-income and Black and Hispanic students, Huelsman said. 

“At the same time you have institutions that not only can weather the storm because of their own resources — whether that’s an endowment, or a brand name or a demand for their services — that they feel like they don’t have to respond to the economic pain facing a lot of Americans,” he said, “the families and the students who are most impacted by the economic crisis were more likely to go to colleges that were also more impacted by this economic crisis.” 

Though we’re unlikely to see broad cuts in tuition in the years following the pandemic, it’s possible that some, individual students could get a break, Kelchen said. Colleges were already bracing for demographic trends that mean there will be fewer 18-year-olds heading to college in the coming years and the pandemic will only exacerbate colleges’ hunger for students. 

“If you can get students to pay that full price, there’s less of a reason for you to cut that listed price because you’re giving up revenue,” he said.  “It’s easier for colleges to give discounts to those who ask.” 

— Katie Marriner contributed reporting.

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New York schools get green light for in-person learning—raising myriad questions

New York state schools have the green light to reopen for in-person learning in September with social distancing and health screenings, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday—a decision that immediately raised more questions than it answered.

“If any state can do this, we can do this,” said Cuomo during a conference call with reporters. 

The decision comes as school districts across the U.S. grapple with competing pressures to bring students back in September without exacerbating the spread of the coronavirus. Cuomo’s decision paves the way for New York City—the nation’s biggest school district with more than 1.1 million students—to return to the classroom, even as school systems in Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas plan to remain remote this fall. It’s on track to be the only one of the nation’s top 10 biggest school districts to reopen in-person learning this fall. 

Despite Cuomo’s green light for the state, nearly all of the details will be left up to New York’s 750 school districts, which have only three weeks to hone plans on exactly how students will return, and how schools will monitor the health and safety of pupils and teachers.

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So far, districts are proposing everything from a mix of in-person and remote instruction, such as the hybrid model proposed in New York City, to sending children home before lunch to avoid a risky indoor-dining environment, Cuomo said on a conference call with reporters. 

“I can’t fashion a plan that would work in every school district; they are just too different,” he said. 

Theoretically, individual school districts could still opt to delay the start of in-person learning or go completely remote if they choose, particularly if they face enough pressure from parents and teachers. 

“It’s up to them,” Cuomo said. “In-person, hybrid, outdoor education, remote education, blended, half day, quarter day, third day — that is all up to their discretion.”

The state, through the health department, has set only a few hard rules, including a maximum positivity threshold of 5% — meaning the proportion of testing coming back positive — which would automatically trigger a region’s school buildings to close again. New York City has set a more conservative positivity threshold of 3% for the five boroughs. Schools must conduct health screenings, which at a minimum means daily temperature checks, said Jim Malatras, the president of Empire State College and an adviser to Mr. Cuomo, at the governor’s briefing. 

Districts must also devise a system for testing symptomatic students and staff, he added. 

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COVID testing is a major concern among parents, from whom the governor said he’s received a “deluge” of worried phone calls. To address that, he gave districts until the end of next week to finalize and post plans about how testing will be carried out, when a child must be tested and where it will be done.

Next week, districts must also publicly post specific plans for tracing outbreaks and explain their remote learning option, he added. 

“We’ve learned from the experiences we’ve had during COVID that remote learning can be quite unequal, given the demographics and given the circumstances,” Cuomo said, adding that he wants districts to draw attention to these three areas of concern so parents aren’t forced to go “wading” through lengthy reopening plans. 

The governor also gave districts until Aug. 21 to conduct three town halls with parents — five for big school districts like New York City — and one with teachers. The next few weeks promise parents, teachers and administrators a whirlwind of information, and certainly some disagreement, over reopening right on the cusp of the school year. 

Parents and teachers are feeling particularly unsure in New York City, once the national epicenter of the pandemic and where many lost colleagues or loved ones during the peak of the crisis. 

“It’s a cloud that hangs over our school,” said Paul Kehoe, who teaches humanities and science at M.S. 250 West Side Collaborative Middle School on Manhattan’s West End Avenue. Students at the school have lost family members, and a fellow teacher was suspected to have died from COVID-19. 

Kehoe, 39, disagrees with New York City’s hybrid-learning plan. He would prefer to see schools continue an improved version of all-remote learning as the safest and least disruptive option for students. The logistics of students coming to school on a rotating schedule, potentially spending the other days at one of the city’s proposed learning centers, all the while taking a bus or public transportation to and from school, creates numerous opportunities for exposure and spread. 

“No matter how much they pretend to have some barriers around, it’s just artifice. It’s just placating people’s concerns,” he said. 

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents most public school teachers in the five boroughs, on Friday applauded the state’s effort to ensure teachers and parents were confident in reopening plans. 

Though, he said, “in New York City, that is still an open question.”

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New York City asked parents to decide whether they would opt for all-remote learning by Friday, even though many of the schools have yet to communicate specific details about the school year to parents. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would offer more districtwide information on Monday and that school- and child-specific information would arrive “in the course of the next couple of weeks.”

Meanwhile, the state health department is still missing reopening plans from 127 school districts, and has already deemed at least 50 plans incomplete or insufficient. 

Without approved plans, however, Cuomo said: “School districts cannot open.”

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