Class warfare: School status for the fall unclear

K-12 school board battles and faculty infighting in higher ed can often be as fierce as any street brawl. It’s only fitting, then, that education seems to be the issue that has shattered the illusion that everyone in Washington is getting along as the country lurches its way forward through a deadly pandemic.

There is no tension or “confrontational relationship” between him and President Trump, Dr. Anthony Fauci told a Senate hearing on Tuesday. For his part, Trump likes Fauci a lot, the president has said repeatedly, brushing off any suggestion to the contrary — an idea that he just might have helped plant by retweeting a message with the hash-tag #FireFauci.

That high-level charade was finally unmasked yesterday as Trump took direct aim at concern Fauci shared to senators about reopening US schools in the fall. Fauci said there is a lot we don’t know about the virus’s effect on young people. “We really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children,” said Fauci.

Trump said Fauci “wants to play all sides of the equation” and said he “totally” disagrees with his caution on schools, which the president said absolutely should open in the fall. “To me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools,” said Trump.

The DC disagreement is filled with all sorts of political intrigue, as Trump sees his reelection prospects tied to getting the country — and its economy — out of quarantine. His jabs at leading scientists and promotion of untested drugs have also become part of the partisan culture war animating his right-wing base. But the tension in Washington also reflects the uncertainty across the country, where education leaders are struggling to figure out the right path forward.

Massachusetts K-12 schools are closed for the remainder of the current school year, but Education Secretary Jim Peyser told a State House hearing yesterday that they should be ready for more remote learning in the fall. “Even if we start school in a quasi-normal fashion, we have to be prepared for the possibility in-person education will be interrupted again,” he said, raising the prospect that a virus resurgence could abruptly end any return to Massachusetts classrooms.

In higher education, the uncertainties and conflicting conclusions extend to the place where officials might be expected to have an edge in reckoning with the virus — medical schools. Harvard Medical School in Boston announced that it will begin the fall semester all online, while the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester said it expects to welcome students to campus, but with smaller class sizes and other accommodations.

California State University, the country’s biggest higher ed system, announced that all classes this fall will be online for the 480,000 students enrolled at its 23 campuses.

Massachusetts colleges and universities, mainstays of the state’s economy, have been weighing in, but with some wiggle room. At Northeastern University, president Joseph Aoun released a letter last week saying, “It is our intention to reopen our campuses this fall and offer on-site instruction and a residential experience for our students.” Many other schools have similarly said they hope to welcome students to campus, but it’s hard at this point to make definitive declarations.

Looming large over higher ed’s efforts to contend with the virus are the enormous financial stakes for colleges and universities. Nearly every college and university in the country expects a drop in foreign student enrollment this fall, according to a survey released today, with nearly a third of campuses saying the falloff could be substantial. Meanwhile, lots of US students are considering gap years because of the uncertainty — though many of the usual activities they might pursue, such as travel or volunteer positions, probably won’t be options.

“No school in the country or the world can be certain what the fall will bring,” Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education told the Washington Post.

Higher ed expert Michael Horn told CommonWealth last month that convulsions from coronavirus will only accelerate a shakeout already underway, one that he and his late colleague Clay Christensen predicted could lead to the closure of 25 to 50 percent of US colleagues and universities.

The first shoe in that storyline to drop in Massachusetts came yesterday, with the announcement that Pine Manor College in Newton, which has been struggling financially for years, will be absorbed by Boston College.

Trying to swim against the tide is Hampshire College in Amherst, which unwound an announced plan to seek a merger partner and instead brought on a new president to lead efforts to remain independent and restore its enrollment numbers. Hampshire’s president, Ed Wingenbach, said last week the college hopes to welcome students on campus in the fall. In a classic case of looking to make lemonade from lemons, the school hopes a comparative advantage will be its large rural campus — and the ample dorm space for social distancing with enrollment currently about half its one-time student body size of 1,200.

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Some lawmakers are proposing a $5 million fund to help low-income families of essential workers who die pay for their loved one’s burial. (The Salem News)

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr testifies at a legislative hearing about why his bill is necessary to prevent price gouging during the pandemic. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Gov. Charlie Baker called the death toll at nursing homes a “tremendous tragedy,” but deflected a question asking whether he would return campaign donations from the industry. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Wednesday that Boston reported its first day without new coronavirus deaths since early March when no new deaths were reported on Monday. (WGBH)

Proposed beach rules likely to get a green light from the governor before Memorial Day have Yarmouth officials worried about the challenges the coming season will pose. (Cape Cod Times)

The Enterprise profiles Dr. Richard Herman, a paid consultant appointed to assist with Brockton’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Quincy tennis and basketball courts will reopen under strict social distancing regulations (Patriot Ledger)

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell announced that events there with more than 10 people in attendance, and which require a city permit, have been canceled through Labor Day. (Standard-Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Telehealth is available, but primary care docs say not enough people are calling. (CommonWealth)

The coronavirus death toll has risen to 48 at Mary Immaculate nursing home in Lawrence. (Eagle-Tribune)

Public health leaders say we can’t accept the status quo in public health oversight any longer, with each municipality on its own. (CommonWealth)

Doctors in Boston are beginning to see a rare inflammatory syndrome in children that they believe may be tied to coronavirus infection. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal is calling for an infrastructure construction plan to get the country moving again after the pandemic. Neal also voiced cybersecurity concerns about the US Congress voting remotely, and talked up Democrats’ new stimulus bill. (MassLive)

ELECTIONS

US Senate candidates Joe Kennedy and Ed Markey will hold a televised debate – virtually, each from a different location – on June 1. The debate will be hosted by a statewide consortium of media partners, and coordinated by Western Mass News. (MassLive)

Former Gov. Deval Patrick launches a PAC to support Joe Biden and Democratic congressional candidates. (MassLive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The standoff between Crane Stationery and North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard continues, with the mayor imposing $1,000 daily fines and the company insisting the Baker administration cleared it to operate. (WRGB Albany)

The future of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is unclear amid a drop in tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic. (State House News Service)

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce says there are too many details missing in the reopening plans so far unveiled by the Baker administration. (Boston Globe)

MassMutual, one of the state’s largest employers, will keep its physical offices closed through August. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

State Education Secretary Jim Peyser says remote learning could  continue in the fall. (CommonWealth)

Every family with children in the Boston Public Schools or a charter school in the city is now eligible, regardless of income, for food stamp benefits under a federal aid package addressing the pandemic. (Boston Herald)

Pine Manor College is entering into an “educational partnership” with Boston College. (WBUR)

Suffolk University wants city approval to convert the former Ames Hotel, which it purchased last year for $63.5 million, into a dorm. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

The Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River will begin live streaming concerts from its venue to its YouTube channel, free with the option of donation. (Herald News)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The state’s carbon emission reduction strategies — hydroelectricity, offshore wind, and the transportation climate initiative — are all up in the air. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Berkshire Eagle editorial comes out against a proposal to start releasing more inmates from state and county prison facilities. It doesn’t make sense to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on every facility if the problem doesn’t exist there, the editorial says.

PASSINGS

Joyce Lin, a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton who worked as a missionary pilot, dies in a plane crash while delivering COVID-19 testing supplies in Indonesia. (The Salem News)

Dudley Bowker, a pilot and former president and CEO of Millbury Savings Bank, dies at 92 of COVID-19. (Telegram & Gazette)