After spring lockdowns, several state and local decision-makers went against the advice of health experts and reopened bars, gyms, and other risky indoor gathering places too quickly and fully, before getting Covid-19 spread under control. Infections surged, obliterating the gains made in lockdown and rendering school reopenings risky.

Already some schools are repeating the mistakes, reopening fully before the Covid calculations warrant and being forced to close within days. Yet many others have already decided to start classes online only. The bungled pandemic response has health experts and K-12 educators boiling mad as they scramble to figure out whether and how to get kids back in classrooms, on tighter-than-ever budgets, and sans any national strategy other than an unenforceable reopen mandate from the president and the education secretary.

Whether in classrooms or online, kids will be returning to school this year less prepared than normal, given the lack of learning caused by online-only classes during the spring lockdowns.

It’s called the “Covid slide,” says Pamela Davis-Kean, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “We’re predicting, especially with math, a rather large hit,” she says. Existing achievement gaps for poorer and minority students will likely be magnified, she says, as kids with parents of greater means will continue to do well or even better than normal if they have tutors or other individualized instruction. Student assessments will be needed so teachers know the starting points.

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