Seth Daub was riding high. It was the first days of March 2020 and he was looking forward to a blitz of travel: an education conference in Los Angeles, then another in Washington, DC, followed by a quick trip to New York to take in some Broadway shows. An elementary school principal in Orlando, Florida, Daub had recently collected data showing that his once nearly failing school was on a much better path. “High expectations yield high results!” he liked to say with gusto.
The coronavirus pandemic at that point felt vague, not quite real, and Daub took it lightly. Like many a Floridian, he thought of the virus in hurricane terms: It would swerve away from them. They wouldn't get hit.
But then the California conference was canceled. And the one in DC. New York shut down and the theaters reimbursed him for his tickets. In the late afternoon of Friday, March 13, he got a text from a colleague: The governor was closing all schools for two weeks.
Daub felt a swirl of unease. His school, Catalina Elementary, is in a high-poverty urban pocket near downtown Orlando. It often gets described as fragile. Sure, the school provides kids with education, but also with food, a sense of security, a spare stick of deodorant, a reliable place to get a hug. Two weeks without school could be especially tough on the children. He took a breath. They'd get through it.
多布感到一阵不安。他工作的卡特琳娜小学(Catalina Elementary)位于奥兰多市中心附近的一个高度贫困地区。它是积贫积弱的代名词。 当然，学校为孩子们提供了教育，但也提供了食物、安全感、备用的除臭剂、一个可以得到拥抱的可靠场所。两周不上学对孩子们来说尤其艰难。他吸了一口气。他们会挺过去的。
Except it wasn't two weeks. As the country shut down, Daub became part of an experiment no sane person would ever want to run. In tens of thousands of schools across the country, the experiment tested what happens when, in a flash, you eliminate school buildings and conduct class through a laptop—and also, after that first flush of panic, what Faustian bargains you have to make to reopen. What do you do when a place that had been a safe haven suddenly becomes frightening?
When schools eventually reopened in person, the country took an extraordinary risk. Far too little energy has gone to understanding what happened inside the buildings. Every school that reopened became a largely unmonitored test bed of the dynamics of viral transmission in indoor spaces. And every student learning through a screen got a diminished version of what school is supposed to be.
The incoming Biden administration has promised $130 billion to help schools reopen with social distancing, smaller class sizes, and more funds to assist with Covid-19 testing. The crisis moment, however, is now. The number of daily coronavirus deaths are at record highs, and troubling variants are on the rise. While schools wait for the checks to arrive, principals like Daub are winging it, as they have since March of last year.
To be an elementary school principal is to be an emperor in a snow globe. From your diminutive subjects' point of view, you're a giant with vast powers. You stride through their midst, issuing edicts and throwing down lightning bolts. But outside that bubble, you're middle management. You take orders from the school district, the state, and the feds. A whole host of greater gods can swoop in and shake up your empire.
Daub didn't choose to shut down schools in March, nor did he choose how and when to reopen them in August. But he did have a good deal of say over how everyone felt about it, and that's what he leaned into.
Daub has always been obsessed with both school and spectacle. As a child growing up in Fort Lauderdale, he loved to set up mock classrooms and try to teach his cat Spanish. (He also loved to sing and dance, but he wasn't any good at it.) Goaded by his mother to do something lucrative, he studied advertising in college and landed at a New York ad agency. But the work didn't feel right, so he moved back to Florida. He got a job as a teacher and started scooting up the food chain. Florida issues letter grades to its schools based largely on student assessments, and as the assistant principal of a downtown Orlando high school, Daub helped lift the school from a D to a B. Next he presided over an elementary school that rose from a C to an A. He got a reputation as a turnaround artist.
When he joined Catalina in February 2016, the school had had a string of mostly D's and C's stretching back more than a decade. More than anything, he wanted Catalina to get its first good grade. Daub is ambitious and competitive, but he wanted the grade for his roughly 700 mostly Black students and his staff, as well as for himself—because he knew they would all feel fantastic broadcasting their success to the world. And because he realized, from his background in marketing, that perceptions matter. If everyone believed the school was good, maybe they'd all invest a little more into it.
Right away he launched into overhauling the facilities, starting with the blandness of Catalina's halls. An earnest, has-a-costume-for-everything kind of guy, Daub is allergic to the greige and the dinge. He doused the place in a fresh coat of paint and hung flags and banners inside and out. All of Catalina's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and he wanted the place to offer everyone who enters a glimpse of a better world. He turned the school into a brightly colored, school-spirited thumb in the eye of drabness.
When new teachers joined the school, he bundled them into a bus for a ride around the neighborhood. A 15-minute drive from both downtown and Disney World, the area's dominant feature is a massive freeway, a slash of concrete that carves a path between two of Orlando's ubiquitous lakes. On one side of the highway is the school, and on the other side are the boxy apartment complexes where many students live. The bus would drive past condemned houses and corner stores and under highway overpasses, so the teachers could see what the children saw on their way to school. “Maybe they'll have more empathy the next time a kid forgets a pencil,” he muses.
In the fall of 2016, his first full year as principal, the school district sent Catalina three academic coaches to help teachers understand more deeply what the state's tests were looking for, so they could get to the bottom of why kids kept failing. The efforts seemed to pay off. In 2018 the school's score on the state tests rose 63 points on a scale of 700, elevating Catalina from a low D to a high C. Soon after, Daub was named a National Distinguished Principal for his state. The award sent him to Washington for a big party. “It was two days of just total amazement,” he says. He got to see the White House. There was even a black-tie party. Afterward, he composed a slideshow of his photos set to Journey's “Don't Stop Believin.'”
2016年秋，也就是他担任校长的第一个全年，学区给卡特琳娜派了三名学术教练，帮助教师们更深入地理解州考试的目的，从而弄清为什么孩子们一直不及格。这些努力似乎得到了回报。2018年，这所学校在州测试中的成绩提高了63分(满分700分)，让卡特琳娜从低分D升到了高分C。不久后，杜布被任命为该州的全国杰出校长。他获奖后去华盛顿参加一个盛大的聚会。他说:“整整两天我都感到非常惊讶。” 他去了白宫。甚至还有一个正装派对。之后，他为自己的照片制作了一个幻灯片，并将其设置为朱妮的《信念永在》(Don’t Stop believe)。
The next year, Catalina earned another C. He consoled himself that at least the school hadn't slipped, proving they could do it without the district's coaches or other outside help. “SO PROUD!” he tweeted at the time.
In January 2020, he was scrutinizing the students' results from their midyear internal assessments. He could see it right there in the data: They were on track to get a B. He ordered a bounce house and threw a pizza party to celebrate. Things seemed to be moving in the right direction. Teacher turnover is a perennial challenge at under-resourced schools, but at Catalina teachers began to stick around. Parents were more involved, too. In February, the school's standing-room-only Black History Month bash brought some 500 people to campus.
2020年1月，他在审查学生的期中内部评估结果。他可以从数据中看到:他们很快就能拿到B了。他点预定了蹦床屋，还办了个披萨派对来庆祝。事情似乎正朝着正确的方向发展。在资源不足的学校，教师流动是一个长期的挑战，但在卡特琳娜，教师开始留下来。学生家长也参与得更多。今年2月，该校只允许站着的黑人历史月盛会(Black History Month bash)吸引了大约500人来到校园。
So when, in March, Florida's education commissioner canceled all state testing, Daub was stricken. The full threat of Covid-19 hadn't sunk in yet. What had was that he was watching years of work—and specifically his coveted B—slip away.
Daub had never run a virtual team. In March, he scrambled to get up to speed on Zoom, Canvas, Google Docs, Big Blue Button. One of the teachers quickly set up a GroupMe chat for the staff to stay in touch. Daub started sending out updates almost daily. A teacher who happened to be at PetSmart texted that it was selling bottles of Lysol with no limits; Daub immediately sent a staffer with the school credit card to stock up.
多布从未管理过线上团队。在3月，他匆忙开始熟悉Zoom, Canvas, Google Docs 和 Big Blue Button.其中一名老师很快建立了一个群聊，让员工们保持联系。多布开始几乎每天发送更新。碰巧在PetSmart的一位老师发短信说，这家公司正在销售无限制的来苏水(Lysol);多布立刻派了一名职员拿着学校的信用卡去备货。
He and the assistant principal, Michelle Durni-Austin, went back to the school and packed up students' laptops and iPads for parents to pick up. About a third of the families didn't have decent internet, so Daub and Durni-Austin camped out at the school printer for hours, churning out packets of materials. They tucked them into manila envelopes, stuffed them into boxes, and dropped them off at the nearby apartment complexes. On a Monday afternoon, the staff organized a food distribution line so the kids could still get their free meals. To jazz it up, they made a video of themselves doing dance moves they'd learned on TikTok.
The students, however, were mired in tech annoyance and ennui. Some students with poor Wi-Fi decamped to a local Wawa, the convenience store and gas station chain, and attended class from the parking lot. Others didn't log in at all or attended for only a fraction of the three-hour school day, either due to bad Wi-Fi or just plain boredom.
A third-grader named Jordan moped around because she missed her friends and teachers. Even in a good year, Jordan had a hard time remembering things and struggled with anxiety, her mother, Nancy Mitchell, says. At first the two shared a computer—Jordan took classes during the day, and Mitchell, a recruiter, caught up on her own work at night. Two other neighborhood children came over to get help. Their parents didn't speak English, and Mitchell flitted between the three kids, helping them to log into their classes and stay on task. But then the Wi-Fi would cut out, and they'd all come to a stop. Meanwhile, Mitchell still had a job to do.
Mitchell decided she needed to focus on her own daughter. “It was too hectic,” she says. She went to the other kids' homes and wrote out instructions on a piece of paper for how to use their computers. Then she hoped for the best.
As the weeks passed, Daub worried about how much ground the students were losing. His high-energy, celebratory spirit didn't translate well to a lockdown. He drove all over Orange County delivering gift bags to teachers. He held weekly Zoom calls with parents. He cleaned out forgotten corners of the school building. It was all a bit dispiriting. People would be writing dissertations about this for a long time, he'd think gloomily.
In May the school staff held a moving-up ceremony for the fifth-graders. Daub and his team gave out yellow gift bags containing cake mix, pans, and sprinkles; later in the week, the kids baked their own cakes and ate them together over Zoom.
The school year was over. For all the stress, the spring had been a time of togetherness. Around the country, teachers were hailed as heroes for rising to the challenge of virtual learning and sticking it out through months of teaching to empty Zoom squares. In Florida the pandemic had not spiraled out of control. Fewer than 1,000 people were testing positive per day at the end of May.
In the following weeks, that number spiked to 10,000.
The new school year loomed, and over the summer a nationwide fight erupted over how to handle it. No one knew whether classrooms would become incubators of superspreading events. By then, scientists understood that indoor gatherings were very risky and that good ventilation and social distancing were essential to keeping infection risk low. School buildings by their nature seemed like an especially dangerous place to be.
Then there was the question of how children would tolerate the virus. While most cases in children have not been severe, little is known about the disease's long-term effects.
Many teachers, meanwhile, chafed at the idea that they were suddenly being treated as frontline workers; some felt they were being asked to risk their lives so that working parents didn't have to watch their kids all day. Across the country, teachers poured out their frustrations. They protested with mock gravestones and posted their own obituaries on Facebook. A Florida law firm pledged free living wills and advanced directives for any teachers being forced back into a classroom.
Florida had just become a coronavirus hot spot. The state recorded more than 320,000 new cases in July, more than double the preceding four months combined. While other states with much lower case rates opted to keep schools virtual, Florida governor Ron DeSantis pushed for the state's students to return in person. If Home Depot and Walmart could reopen, he said, so could schools.
佛罗里达刚刚成为冠状病毒感染的热点。该州7月新增病例超过32万例，是前四个月总和的两倍多。当其他低得多的州选择让学校保持虚拟状态时，佛罗里达州州长罗恩·德桑提斯(Ron DeSantis)敦促该州的学生亲自返回校园。他说，如果家得宝(Home Depot)和沃尔玛(Walmart)能重新开门营业，学校也能。
Counties, cities, and school districts all imposed a hodgepodge of rules; in Orlando, a mask mandate was in force, and schools were told to aim for 6 feet of social distancing, among other measures. Daub set to work implementing the guidelines. He pulled out some classroom furniture to create room for 3 feet of distancing, upped the custodial services, ordered extra HVAC filters, and art-directed the placement of every new sign. He ran every detail past the teachers multiple times. No one was surprised by his fastidiousness. This was a guy who'd held a “Fun With Clorox Wipes” event in January 2020, before the pandemic hit the US.
The county's plan was for people to return in waves. Teachers would come back first to conduct two weeks of distance learning while they got used to the new rhythm of the day. Parents had to decide whether to send their children back in person in late August or mid-October, or whether to keep them remote all semester. The arrangement meant that some teachers taught physical and virtual students at the same time, while others focused on just one of those groups.
Ellice Richards, a kindergarten teacher in her sixties, was scared to return to the school. She and her husband are grandparents with a sprawling family they see every weekend; she wanted everyone to stay safe. But she also worried about her students. Seeing Daub's pandemic protocols, Richards says, put her mind at ease. “I'm not sacrificing myself to be a hero, but my concerns, they've been alleviated,” she says. Another teacher even delayed her scheduled retirement to teach in person.
Daub spent his days trying to orchestrate how cohorts of children could troop through the building without encountering others. Where would they all eat breakfast and lunch? How would they enter and leave the building without crossing paths? Even with the bountiful planning, Covid had turned him into a bundle of nerves. “It was really in my head, and I really had to talk myself off the ledge,” he says. After months of isolation, being surrounded by people gave him jitters.
Even so, a first day of school held the promise of a return to normalcy. The teachers set up their laptops in their empty classrooms, pointed cameras at their faces, and settled in to teach their first full day of class since March. Daub drove out to an apartment complex and helped families figure out their children's laptops.
Then, on August 21, the doors swung open and 179 masked children filed into the building. A phalanx of shiny balloons bobbed above the main staircase, and pop songs filled the air. A second-grader ran up to Daub and threw her arms around him in a hug. He froze. He didn't know what to do. After an awkward moment, he hugged her back, and then dashed off to scrub his hands.
The kids got their temperatures checked, and staffers directed them to their classrooms. Children sat spaced out, separated by two empty desks. Nancy Mitchell's daughter Jordan was among those who returned. “She was really falling behind,” Mitchell says. The so-called summer slide, when students forget some of what they've learned, had deepened into a Covid slide. “Our scores, our data was really low when we tested in August,” Ashley Blackmon, a third-grade teacher, says. “It was discouraging. It is discouraging.” Blackmon says that this year about half of her third-grade class is reading at a kindergarten or first-grade level.
孩子们接受了体温检查，工作人员带他们去了教室。孩子们被两张空桌子隔开，彼此分开坐着。南希·米切尔的女儿乔丹是返校的人之一。“她真的落后了，”米切尔说。所谓的夏季滑坡，也就是学生们忘记一些所学知识的时候，已经加深为Covid - 19滑坡。““当我们在8月份测试时，我们的分数和数据真的很低，”三年级教师阿什莉·布莱克蒙（Ashley Blackmon）说。“这令人沮丧。这真的令人沮丧。”布莱克蒙说，今年她三年级的学生中有一半是幼儿园或一年级的学生。
Daub eyeballed the scores and made a snap decision. The usual plan is for teachers to start reteaching lessons from the previous grade a few months in, just to firm things up before the state assessments. But in August he told the teachers to start revisiting old material immediately. Every day, they devoted an hour and a half to rehashing old concepts.
Blackmon struggled at first to communicate in a masked-up, socially distant classroom. “Covid really had me questioning, how do you build relationships?” she says. She wished they could see her full smile—or her fierce looks when she needed them to fall in line. With half her face obscured, she's had to rely on other tricks. She leans more heavily on incentives, reverse psychology, and clip charts, which reflect a child's good or bad behavior.
One girl in Blackmon's class started out the year getting zeroes on her quizzes. But week by week, her scores crept up. One Saturday night in mid-October, Blackmon was at home grading quizzes when she saw that the girl had gotten her first perfect score. “I shot her mom a picture. I had tears in my eyes,” Blackmon says.
Blackmon knew she wasn't supposed to hug the children. But hugging is a cornerstone of her teaching, and she discovered she couldn't give it up. “It's a risk I take. I don't know any other way to show them that I love them,” she says. “I know what the doctors say. I know what they tell us. I just think some things outweigh the science. Love and affection, that is science. They learn from you when they trust you.”
Eli, a first grader, became a different kid when he returned to Catalina in person, his mother, Rose Simon, says. Last spring, overwhelmed by shyness, he attended Zoom kindergarten only if she sat next to him. He insisted on keeping the camera off and often tried to sneak off to play. Now he was back in the building and loved his teacher, who he believed was a mermaid with an invisible tail. He led the class in a reading competition until one day, when a competitor surged ahead. That night he read seven books to regain his lead.
The staff worries about the children who are still learning from home. All the students take regular quizzes, and every week Daub scrutinizes the results. The trend was unequivocal. The students who were learning in person did much, much better than the ones who were at home. “Each week, I increasingly think the kids need to be here,” Daub says.
In mid-October, another 209 children were due to return to the building. This time they were practiced, and the classes absorbed the new kids seamlessly. As the days passed, the masks stayed on. Daub still chirps, “Air hugs! Air high fives!” to remind kids to keep their distance.
The school hasn't been Covid-free. By the end of December, Orange County had logged 2,096 cases across its 199 schools. At Catalina, one teacher tested positive right before the school year began. Then, in two separate incidents in late September, parents called Daub to alert him that a household member had tested positive; the children then stayed home. (The two kids later also tested positive.) In December and early January, three more unaffiliated cases popped up: another student, a teacher, and an outside vendor. In each instance, Daub notified the district and ordered the sanitation team to immediately do an extra cleaning of the affected areas. Then it was back to work.
One of the surprises of the Covid-19 pandemic is that elementary schools and day cares have, in general, not kicked off major outbreaks. Of course Covid-19 can spread in schools. Of course children and staff can get infected. But strict mitigation measures, it turns out, can drive down the risk significantly. Rebekah Jones, a Florida-based data scientist who has been tracking cases in schools, found that between September 6 and January 2, roughly 1.5 percent of Florida elementary students attending school in person tested positive, as compared to 3.3 percent of all Floridians. Children are less likely than adults to get tested, so the statistics are likely missing many cases. Still, reopening elementary schools could have gone a whole lot worse than it did.
In Catalina's case, returning to the building was clearly a good thing. The children who attended in person did much better than those who did not, and there wasn't a single known transmission of the new coronavirus at the school. With kids in school, parents were able to work or look for jobs.
Yet here's where things get tricky. Catalina's experience is not an argument for a wholesale reopening. Evidence from numerous environments, including schools, has shown in abundance that social distancing, among other measures, helps keep the virus at bay. Chances are decent that Catalina succeeded in large part because more than half its student body opted not to return. Its roughly 400 virtual learners might end up having unwittingly sacrificed their own education for the betterment of their in-person peers.
Elementary schools' not-so-bad outcome also doesn't say much about how to approach the winter. January 2021 is summer all over again: Just as in July, case positivity rates are above 10 percent in Florida and many other states. Once again there are big, frightening unknowns, now in the form of more infectious variants of the virus that are whipping around the world. Hospitals across the country are overburdened, and the United Kingdom has shut down its schools. One of the more depressing things about the Covid-19 pandemic is how little progress the US has made on managing schools.
Imagine another world—one where, with national coordination, states spent the fall compiling extensive data on how these essential institutions fared. The messy, unintentional experiment involving every school employee and child could at least have produced something vaguely scientific. Educators might now have a good idea, among other things, what the threshold of an unsafe class size is across different age groups and environments. But the federal government wasn't interested in asking those questions. “It's absolute garbage, unacceptable, that the Department of Education shirked responsibility of tracking a deadly virus roaming through schools at a time when everyone needed that information,” says Benjamin Linas, an epidemiologist at Boston University. Instead, what's emerged are rough approximations, dashboards with incomplete data, and anecdotes. Here, a school that reopened without trouble. There, a school with an outbreak or a teacher who perished from Covid-19. People on both sides of the reopening debate have ample ammunition for their arguments but little data to come to a conclusion.
想象一下另一番景象——在国家协调下，各个国家花了整个秋天收集大量数据，了解这些重要机构如何运作。这个涉及到每个学校员工和孩子的杂乱无章的、无意的实验，至少可以产生一些模糊的科学的东西。教育工作者现在可能有了一个好主意，在其他事情中，一个不安全的班级规模的阈值是什么跨越不同的年龄群体和环境。但联邦政府对这些问题不感兴趣。波士顿大学(Boston University)的流行病学家本杰明·利纳斯(Benjamin Linas)说:“在每个人都需要这一信息的时候，教育部却推卸追踪一种在学校中传播的致命病毒的责任，这绝对是垃圾，不可接受。”相反，出现的是粗略的近似值、带有不完整数据的仪表盘和轶事。这里，一所顺利开学的学校。那里有一所爆发疫情的学校，或者一名老师死于新冠。重新开始辩论的双方都有充足的论据支持自己的论点，但却没有足够的数据来得出结论。
Return for another moment to that parallel world, with its admirable national strategy. In it, schools could be conducting routine testing, as some colleges have chosen to do. If a fraction of a school's population got tested every week, a picture would emerge, in near real time, of how much virus was circulating and how many asymptomatic individuals were marching through the halls. Teachers and parents could feel more secure knowing they weren't blindly walking into trouble. Administrators might get an early warning of when to step up their defenses. But that didn't happen, either.
Instead, the school information void has funneled everyone's Covid feelings into a single cauldron of anxiety. Children are vulnerable, and parents want to protect them. Parents also need to work. At-risk relatives need extra consideration. But the risk-benefit calculations for schools don't begin and end with Covid-19. Wealthier families that formed pods and hired tutors could blunt the pain of virtual education. At a school like Catalina, the cost of staying closed is significantly greater.
相反，学校信息的缺失让每个人都对Covid - 19感到焦虑。孩子是脆弱的，父母想要保护他们。但是父母也需要工作。有风险的亲属需要格外关注。但学校的风险效益计算并不会随着Covid-19而开始或结束。较富裕的家庭组建“豆荚”，聘请导师，可以减轻虚拟教育带来的痛苦。在卡特琳娜这样的学校，保持关闭的成本要高得多。
Back in August, Daub had expected more children to return to school. The conventional wisdom was that low-income families needed the school's support. But in his conversations with parents, Daub found they feared the devastating impact of the virus more than they did the disruption of having kids at home. “Our community is very aware,” Daub says. Some families kept their kids away out of caution alone. Others did so because they were out of a job and at home anyway—many Catalina parents had worked at jobs associated with Orlando's theme parks, and the wrecked local economy left many of them unemployed.
But to Daub's surprise, the number of returning children kept growing. On January 5, an additional 140 children put on their masks and backpacks and showed up at Catalina for the first time this school year, bringing the in-person student population up to 528. Some parents told Daub they were ready for their children to return to a routine; one dad said he needed to send his son back because he'd gotten a new job. As the newcomers settled in with their classmates for breakfast, Daub made the rounds to brief them on all the safety protocols. He's convinced they're working: Usually by this time, several teachers would have been out sick for a few days with some cold or flu. This year they're staying uncommonly healthy.
He has other reasons to feel hopeful about the winter, even against the odds. In November, the week after the election, Daub popped into several classes with a picture of all the past US vice presidents, a grid of white male faces, and vice president-elect Kamala Harris. He asked them what they saw, and the students shared their impressions of the image. Then one Black fifth-grade girl turned to him and said, “She looks like me.” Her words stuck with him. Inspired by that moment, he and the staff are instructing the kids to show up on Inauguration Day in their finest clothes. They'll make a big, memorable event of it.