Cory Turner

New rules kick in today that will help aspiring teachers pay for college and complete a years-long overhaul of the federal TEACH Grant program — from a bureaucratic bear trap that hobbled thousands of teachers with unfair student loan debts to a program that may actually make good on its foundational promise: to help K-12 educators pay for their own education in exchange for teaching a high-need subject, like math, for four years in a low-income community.

Roughly 7 million children in the U.S. receive special education services under a decades-old federal law — or did, until the pandemic began. Many of those services slowed or stopped when schools physically shut down in spring 2020. Modified instruction, behavioral counseling, and speech and physical therapy disappeared or were feebly reproduced online, for three, six, nine months. In some places, they have yet to fully resume. For many children with disabilities, families say this disruption wasn't just difficult.

New research released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reinforces an old message: COVID-19 spreads less in schools where teachers and staff wear masks. Yet the study arrives as states and school districts across the country have begun scaling back or simply dropping their masking requirements for staff and students alike.

With the majority of school-age children still too young to qualify for vaccination, Friday's research is the latest salvo in a simmering fight between public health officials and politicians — with parents lining up on both sides.

"How many people do you think take care of our campus?"

A chorus of young voices shout guesses from the Sayre School's playground in Lexington, Ky.

"15? 50? 20?"

Updated May 13, 2021 at 10:49 PM ET

This week has brought a few dizzying updates to the year-long school-reopening story.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new effort Monday to feed millions of children this summer, when free school meals traditionally reach just a small minority of the kids who rely on them the rest of the year. The move expands what's known as the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or P-EBT, program into the summer months, and USDA estimates it will reach more than 30 million children.

Kai Humphrey, 9, has been learning from home for more than a year. He badly misses his Washington, D.C., elementary school, along with his friends and the bustle of the classroom.

"I will be the first person ever to have every single person in the world as my friend," he said on a recent Zoom call, his sandy brown hair hanging down to his shoulder blades. From Kai, this kind of proclamation doesn't feel like bragging, more like exuberant kindness.

The U.S. Department of Education says it will erase the federal student loan debts of tens of thousands of borrowers who can no longer work because they have significant disabilities. It's a small but important step toward improving a shambolic, bureaucratic process for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable borrowers who are legally entitled to debt relief, but haven't received it.

During his first news conference, President Biden said Thursday that his administration is on track to keep a promise he made to the nation's parents and caregivers: to reopen the majority of elementary and middle schools for full-time, in-person learning within his first 100 days in office.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent school leaders scrambling yesterday with a fairly sudden and dramatic decision that reduced the distance students should be spaced in schools from six feet to three. For more on that, we're joined by NPR's Cory Turner. Cory, thanks so much for being with us.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: What more can you tell us about this policy reversal?

Updated March 19, 2021 at 12:46 PM ET

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance for schools. On Friday, the agency announced it "now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings."

The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday it is scrapping a controversial formula, championed by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, that granted only partial student loan relief to borrowers who were defrauded by private, for-profit colleges. It will instead adopt what it's calling a "streamlined approach" for granting borrowers full relief.

Almost exactly one year ago, the pandemic caused a cascade of school and university closures, sending 9 out of 10 students home as the coronavirus raced through the United States and the rest of the world.

By Labor Day, 62% of U.S. students were still learning virtually, according to the organization Burbio. That number dropped significantly during the fall and rose in the winter as COVID-19 surged. And today, just under 1 in 4 public school students attends a district that still hasn't held a single day of in-person learning.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden has said repeatedly that opening America's schools for in-person learning is one of his top priorities. On Tuesday, he told states to prioritize educators for vaccines to accelerate school reopening.

The COVID-19 relief bill working its way through Congress is full of big ideas to help people. But there's one idea that's so big, it was politically unthinkable not that long ago.

President Biden and Democratic lawmakers want to fight child poverty by giving U.S. families a few hundred dollars every month for every child in their household — no strings attached. A kind of child allowance.

If this proposal survives the wrangling in Congress and makes it to Biden's desk, experts say it could cut child poverty nearly in half.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Friday its much-anticipated, updated guidance to help school leaders decide how to safely bring students back into classrooms, or keep them there.

"We're here today, in the midst of one of the most challenging school years in American history," Miguel Cardona said in opening remarks to the Senate education committee on Wednesday. "For far too many of our students, this year has piled on crisis after crisis. As a parent, and as an educator, I have lived those challenges alongside millions of families."

Updated at 10:58 a.m. ET Wednesday

Data from K-12 schools that reopened for in-person instruction in the fall show little evidence that schools contributed meaningfully to the spread of COVID-19, according to a new article published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

With many U.S. schools still shuttered or operating on a limited basis, and millions of children learning remotely (or trying to), the stakes are high for Miguel Cardona. He is President Biden's pick to run the U.S.

A bag of Doritos, that's all Princess wanted.

Her mom calls her Princess, but her real name is Lindsey. She's 17 and lives with her mom, Sandra, a nurse, outside of Atlanta. On May 17, 2020, a Sunday, Lindsey decided she didn't want breakfast; she wanted Doritos. So she left home and walked to Family Dollar, taking her pants off on the way, while her mom followed on the phone with police.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, experts and educators have feared that open schools would spread the coronavirus further, which is why so many classrooms remain closed. But a new, nationwide study suggests reopening schools may be safer than previously thought, at least in communities where the virus is not already spreading out of control.

Updated at 7:43 p.m. ET

President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Miguel Cardona, the head of Connecticut's public schools, to be his secretary of education.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Biden called Cardona a "lifelong champion of public education."

Cardona makes true on an early Biden promise to pick an education secretary who was a teacher: "A teacher. Promise," Biden told the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, back in July 2019.

U.S. lawmakers have announced an agreement on a handful of higher education measures that would provide meaningful help to marginalized students, students of color and many of the schools that serve them. The aid is part of a broad new set of legislation, meant to fund the federal government through fiscal year 2021. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the proposed changes this week.

A sweeping new review of national test data suggests the pandemic-driven jump to online learning has had little impact on children's reading growth and has only somewhat slowed gains in math. That positive news comes from the testing nonprofit NWEA and covers nearly 4.4 million U.S. students in grades three through eight. But the report also includes a worrying caveat: Many of the nation's most vulnerable students are missing from the data.

What to make of the tenure of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos depends, like beauty itself, on the eye of the beholder.

Kids, this comic is for you.

You've been living through this pandemic for months, and you might be feeling sad, frustrated or upset. But there are lots of different ways to deal with your worries – and make yourself feel better. Here are some tips and advice to help you through.

Print and fold a zine version of this comic here. Here are directions on how to fold it.

This comic was originally published on Feb. 28, 2020, and has been updated.

Kids, this comic is just for you.

The coronavirus pandemic started in March and in many countries, thousands and thousands of people are getting sick. You may have questions about what exactly this virus is — and how to stay safe. Here are some answers.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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