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DC charters lead the way on in-school teaching experiment

WASHINGTON (AP) — While most of the kids in Washington’s public schools are dealing with computer screens and Zoom rooms, a dozen students work diligently at their desks at Meridian Charter School, many separated by tall, three-sided partitions that were originally set up as protection against COVID-19.

Head of School Matt McCrea said administrators later realized the enclosures wouldn’t do much to prevent the spread of the virus. Now the cardboard is optional, but more than half of the students still use them as personalized organizers — taping up calendars, decorations and schedules.

“It’s all a learning experience and it’s all playing out in real time,” McCrea said.


While the mainstream public school system in the nation’s capital was forced to start the year with total distance learning for all its approximately 52,000 students, about a dozen charter schools have essentially chosen to become medical-educational experiments, offering in-person instruction for select groups of students.

Smaller and more nimble than the monolithic D.C. Public Schools system, the charters have been able to adapt and modify on the fly, trading information and pushing the limits of pandemic-era education.

“This is our attempt to redesign school,” said Myron Long, executive director of the Social Justice School, which is offering in-person instruction to about 15 of its 50 total students. ”Our size is our best asset.”

It’s a process that D.C. Public Schools has watched closely as it plans its own return to the classroom.

Mayor Muriel Bowser had fully planned to start the 2020 school year offering a hybrid model combining distance learning with two days a week of in-school instruction. But the city was forced to abandon that plan at the last minute amid strong safety objections from the teachers union.

The city was surveying the charter experiments “to see what’s working, what are best practices, what we can learn from and what they can share with us,” Bowser said. “We think we can learn from some of their experiences, but DCPS will have to make decisions that affect … 60 buildings, 50,000 kids and over 4,000 employees.”

The new DCPS reopening plan, announced Monday, seems to draw heavily from the charter schools’ experiences. One option would offer direct in-class instruction to a select group of students with special-education needs, those learning English, and students experiencing homelessness or otherwise deemed to be at-risk.

That’s essentially the same criteria that most D.C. charters used in selecting their own student groups for in-building instruction.

“There were definitely groups of students who were not succeeding in a virtual environment,” McCrea said. “We have a good amount of data on which students had a hard time with the distance learning.”

In some cases, spots were made available to the children of essential workers. Meridian was forced to turn away some parents who wanted to send their children, but Social Justice was able to accommodate every student whose parent expressed an interest.

“Some parents contacted us and just said, ’We have nowhere for them to go during

Spin Classes Lead To Twenty One People With Coronavirus From One Gym

A spin class gym in the Canadian city of Hamilton has been linked with an outbreak of 21 cases of Covid-19, with a further 100 people potentially exposed. The news was originally reported in the local press and cases have so far been found in one staff member and 20 patrons.

The outbreak comes amid months of speculation as to whether gyms and other indoor facilities hosting fitness classes are high-risk during the pandemic.

Concerns seem to focus on two main aspects of gyms which may make them high risk environments for viral transmission:

1) The number of high-touch surfaces, which may be used by multiple gym goers without effective sanitizing between uses, including weights, mats and machines. However, scientists generally now think that the risk of surface transmission of the coronavirus is smaller than originally anticipated, albeit studious handwashing is still recommended.

2) Person to person transmission via droplets and/or aerosols containing the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus. Droplet transmission has always been known to be a route of infection and more recently growing evidence has suggested aerosol transmission too. The difference between them being the size of exhaled particles. Heavy breathing during intense exercise is known to increase the production of these airborne particles, especially if patrons are unmasked.

In the case of the spin fitness gym in Canada, the business had reportedly implemented many extra safety measures. These included reducing capacity by half and giving a six foot radius between each bike and cyclist, as well as enhanced screening and sanitation measures. These measures complied with local public health guidelines.

However, these restrictions did not prevent the outbreak in this case and although difficult to definitively prove, airborne transmission would seem likely to be a large factor. Assuming bikes were effectively sanitized between uses and patrons physically distanced when entering and leaving the facility, it’s hard to conclude that transmission happened another way.

The outbreak is just one of several sourced to gym facilities in Canada recently. Ontario, where Hamilton is located along with the bigger cities of Toronto and Ottawa, is recording record Covid-19 case numbers with a 7 day average of over 700 cases per day. Recent data from Canada’s largest city, Toronto shows that in excess of one third of all Covid-19 community outbreaks can be traced back to bars, clubs and restaurants. Just as of yesterday, the provincial government shut down gyms, casinos and inside dining in restaurants and bars in the worst-hit areas, but Hamilton, where the spin class outbreak happened, is not yet under these restrictions.

Despite many health and fitness businesses following restrictions and public health guidelines to mitigate risk, it may be that the very nature of what they do makes it impossible to entirely make these places safe. High intensity exercise in an enclosed space with others is likely always going to carry some risk, especially

Investors eye discounted U.S. healthcare sector as Biden’s lead in polls grows

By Lewis Krauskopf



FILE PHOTO: Pharmaceutical tablets and capsules are arranged on a table in this picture illustration taken in Ljubljana


© Reuters/Srdjan Zivulovic
FILE PHOTO: Pharmaceutical tablets and capsules are arranged on a table in this picture illustration taken in Ljubljana

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Investors are looking for bargains among healthcare stocks, even as prospect of a Democratic “Blue Sweep” in next month’s elections threatens more volatility for a sector already trading near a historical discount to the broader market.

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A victory by former Vice President Joe Biden over President Donald Trump on Nov. 3 and a potential Democratic takeover of the Senate could clear the way for prescription drug price and healthcare coverage reforms, generally seen as potential negatives for companies in the sector.

Some investors are betting these factors have already been priced into healthcare shares or may not be as detrimental as feared, while the companies stand to benefit from relatively stable earnings prospects and their medical innovations.

“For high-quality companies that are trading at reasonable valuations … there is a strong argument to be made for adding some healthcare exposure to portfolios,” said James Ragan, director of wealth management research at D.A. Davidson.

Biden’s improving election prospects have weighed on healthcare stocks for much of 2020, according to investors, with the S&P 500 healthcare sector <.spxhc> climbing just 7% since the end of April, against a 17% gain for the overall S&P 500 <.spx>.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Sunday showed Biden opened his widest lead in a month after Trump contracted COVID-19.

The healthcare sector now trades at a 26% discount to the S&P 500 on a price-to-earnings basis, according to Refinitiv Datastream. The sector’s 15.8 P/E ratio is well below the S&P 500’s 21.3 ratio, which last month rose to its highest valuation since 2000.

The gap between the sector’s P/E ratio and that of the S&P stood at its widest in at least 25 years last month, though it has narrowed in recent weeks.

“As Biden started to do better in the polls, you saw healthcare start to underperform a bit as the rest of the market recovered,” said Ashtyn Evans, a healthcare analyst with Edward Jones.

While Biden may shake up insurance coverage by offering a “public option” government plan, he is also expected to seek to strengthen the Affordable Care Act – the signature healthcare law enacted when he was vice president – under which companies are used to operating.

Any significant drug pricing legislation may need to wait until the pandemic is more contained, as the government relies on the pharmaceutical industry to develop COVID-19 therapies and vaccines. Trump has also vowed to lower drug prices, making the issue arguably less partisan.

“We think there remains a reasonably good probability that the next Congress will institute moderate health policy changes that will create long-term clarity for the sector and investors,” Eric Potoker, an analyst at UBS Global Wealth Management, said in a note last month.

Healthcare stocks have been prone to volatility around elections.

Ahead of the 2016 vote, which pitted Trump against former Secretary of

Muskegon teachers lead K-8 bike club to promote fitness during online learning

MUSKEGON, MI – Muskegon Public Schools is finding new ways to bring physical education to students while the district is online-only because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The district’s physical education teachers, with the help of local law enforcement, are leading a new bike riding club for K-8 students to ride safely through the Muskegon community. The daily program, which launched last week, begins and ends at one of the district’s four elementary schools Monday through Thursday.

“Our students love to be active,” said Jennifer Hammond, the district’s director of curriculum. “We often are confined by the four walls of the gymnasium for P.E., so this is just a lifelong skill of learning to love bike riding and knowing how to do it safely.”

Muskegon Public Schools started the school year online-only Aug. 26 in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. But the district has found unique ways to keep students engaged during virtual learning, including offering daily face-to-face tutoring sessions with teachers in small group settings.

RELATED: No in-person classes? No problem. This Michigan school has a personal solution

Another way the district has complemented virtual learning is through the bike club program, titled EMBARK. The program is offered four days a week from 2:15-3:15 p.m. and was created in conjunction with the Muskegon Rotary Club.

School leaders started planning for the program by creating and inspecting local bike routes over the summer.

“We would look at stop signs, we would look for potholes, we would look for pedestrian crosswalks,” she said. “And then someone from our team would talk to the city of Muskegon and they would go out and make the route even safer.”

The program was originally intended to be a way for students to bike to and from school every day safely, Hammond said. But when the district announced it would be online-only this fall, school leaders still wanted to offer some kind of bike riding program to students.

So for now, the club will take students on a recreational bike ride around the community every day. About a dozen kids have participated in the program since it started last week, all ranging from grades K-8, Hammond said.

“One of our kindergarten students asked her P.E. teacher if she could come along even through she was still on training wheels, and he said, ‘Of course,’” Hammond said. “So he just kept at a slower pace alongside her.”

Hammond said the program is open to all family members in the district and encourages parents to ride along as well. She said she hopes to eventually create a community bike route that any member of the community can use for safely riding their bikes around town.

The district is currently seeking volunteers to help by riding along to ensure student safety, which can be anyone in the Muskegon community. Volunteers can sign up here.

While the district is online-only right now, school leaders are looking to build up a volunteer base for if the district