Ohio governor orders all children wear masks at public schools that reopen

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered on Tuesday that all children in grades K-12 wear masks at public schools that reopen.

Local school districts can still decide when to reopen and if learning will be done in person, online or a mix of the two, but everyone, including children and staff, must wear masks. Previously, masks were ordered only for adults.

“School districts are making decisions about how to come back,” DeWine, a Republican, said. “Each school district faces a different reality.”

There are exceptions to the order, including children with autism or other conditions that make it difficult to wear masks, he said.

The state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will distribute 2 million face masks to Ohio schools for use by staff and students.

“This move gives us the best shot to keep Ohio’s kids and educators safe and physically in school,” DeWine said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)

Teachers protest across U.S. over re-opening schools in pandemic

By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Teachers and support staff at more than 35 school districts across the United States on Monday are protesting the re-opening of schools while COVID-19 is surging in many parts of the country.

They are demanding in-person classes not be held until scientific data supports it, safety protocols such as lower class sizes and virus testing are established, and schools are staffed with adequate numbers of counselors and nurses, according to a website set up for the demonstrations.

On Twitter, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association showed protesters making fake gravestones that said “Here lies a third grade student from Green Bay who caught COVID at school” and “RIP Grandma caught COVID helping grand kids with homework.”

Teachers are also demanding financial help for parents in need, including rent and mortgage assistance, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and cash assistance.

Many of these issues are at the center of a political tussle in Washington, where Congressional Democrats and Trump administration officials will resume talks on Monday aimed at hammering out a coronavirus economic relief bill after missing a deadline to extend benefits to tens of millions of jobless Americans.

The coronavirus, which first appeared in China late last year, has infected 4.6 million people in the United States and killed more than 155,000 Americans since February, according to a Reuters tally. Deaths rose by over 25,000 in July and cases doubled in 19 states during the month.

President Donald Trump has made school re-openings for classroom instruction, as they normally would in August and September, part of his re-election campaign. The Republican president is trailing in opinion polls against Democratic candidate Joe Biden ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

“Cases up because of BIG Testing! Much of our Country is doing very well. Open the Schools!” Trump tweeted on Monday.

While reported case numbers may be linked to more testing, recent increases in hospitalizations and deaths have no connection to more people being tested for the virus.

The United States is in a new phase of the outbreak with infections in rural areas as well as cities, Deborah Birx, the coordinator of Trump’s coronavirus task force, said on Sunday.

“What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread,” Birx said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

On Monday, Trump lashed out at Birx for her comments. Trump accused Birx of capitulating to criticism from Democrats that the federal government’s response to the pandemic has been ineffective.

“So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combating the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!” Trump wrote.

House of Representatives Speaker Pelosi said on CNN on Monday that Birx has “enabled” Trump, who played down the seriousness of the virus in the early stages and pushed for a quick reopening of the economy and schools following weeks of lockdowns.

“I don’t have confidence in anyone who stands there while the President says swallow Lysol and it’s going to cure your virus,” Pelosi said in a reference to Trump at a coronavirus briefing in April with Birx present.

Trump had asked whether injecting disinfectant into the body could be a treatment for the virus, leading makers of those products to issue warnings against doing so.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Gabriella Borter in New York; writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

California shuts down businesses, schools as coronavirus outbreak grows

By Sharon Bernstein and Dan Whitcomb

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) – California’s governor on Monday clamped new restrictions on businesses as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations soared, and the state’s two largest school districts, in Los Angeles and San Diego, said children would be made to stay home in August.

Governor Gavin Newsom ordered bars closed and restaurants, movie theaters, zoos and museums across the nation’s most populous state to cease indoor operations. Gyms, churches and hair salons must close in the 30 hardest-hit counties.

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to recognize soberly that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon, until there is a vaccine and/or an effective therapy,” Newsom said at a news briefing.

The governor called the move critical to stemming a surge in COVID-19 cases that have strained hospitals in several of California’s rural counties.

The public school districts for Los Angeles and San Diego, which instruct a combined 706,000 students and employ 88,000 people, said in a joint statement they would teach only online when school resumes in August, citing “vague and contradictory” science and government guidelines.

The districts said countries that have safely reopened schools have done so only after establishing declining infection rates and on-demand coronavirus testing.

“California has neither,” the statement said, adding, “The sky-rocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control.”

The union representing Los Angeles teachers applauded the strategy in a separate statement released shortly after the school shutdowns were announced.

“In the face of the alarming spike in COVID cases, the lack of necessary funding from the government to open schools safely and the outsized threat of death faced by working-class communities of color, there really is no other choice that doesn’t put thousands of lives at risk,” United Teachers Los Angeles said.

Brenda Del Hierro, who has two children in Los Angeles schools, said resuming traditional instruction was important but the hazards had to be considered. “For their social and emotional well being they need to go back to school. But at the end of the day there is too much of a risk,” she said.

DISTRICTS CLASH WITH TRUMP

The decision to cancel in-person classes puts the districts at odds with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said he might withhold federal funding or remove tax-exempt status from school systems that refuse to reopen. Most education funding comes from state and local governments.

Administration officials have said data does not suggest attending school would be dangerous for children because their infection rates are far lower than the population at large.

In response to the California districts’ announcement, the White House reiterated that the ideal scenario is for students to go to school. “Hopefully Los Angeles and San Diego can get there soon as well, as that is what is best for children.” spokesman Judd Deer said.

Newsom, who has said during the pandemic that it was up to local school districts to determine how best to educate their students, cheered the announcements by Los Angeles and San Diego.

But Republicans criticized the governor for failing to issue statewide guidelines for schools during the health crisis.

“While he continues to blame Californians for his failure in leadership, his demands to close our small businesses and lack of direction on opening schools will further harm California’s school children and the small businesses that fuel our economy,” Jessica Millan Patterson, chairwoman of the California Republican Party, said in a written statement.

California, along with Florida, Arizona and Texas have emerged as the new U.S. epicenters of the pandemic. Infections have risen rapidly in about 40 of the 50 states over the last two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis.

Despite nearly 28,000 new COVID-19 cases in the last two days in Florida, Disney World in Orlando welcomed the public on Saturday for the first time since March with guests required to wear masks, undergo temperature checks and keep physically apart.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Steve Gorman in Eureka, California, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Lisa Lambert and Doina Chiacu in Washington, and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Howard Goller, Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)

New York City schools to reopen with in-class, remote learning, mayor says

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday unveiled a plan for reopening the country’s largest school system in September with a “blended learning” schedule that would have students alternating between classrooms and their homes.

Under the plan, which requires state approval, the city’s 1.1 million public school students would alternate locations from week to week, spending two days at school or home and three at the other location, and then reversing the following week.

“Blended learning simply means at some points in the week you’re learning in the classroom, at other points in the week you’re learning remotely,” de Blasio said at a briefing.

“We all know remote learning is not perfect, but we’ve also seen a lot of kids benefit greatly from it during these last months,” he said.

The plan also calls for school buildings to be regularly sanitized and for students to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing while in the buildings, de Blasio said.

Officials said children of parents who preferred not to have them attend classes in the fall would be allowed to continue remote learning, the city program that was developed in the spring when the coronavirus pandemic made school attendance unsafe.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Trump administration to encourage schools to safely reopen amid coronavirus surge

By Alexandra Alper and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is pushing for schools to reopen in the fall and is hosting White House events on the topic on Tuesday, despite a steady increase in coronavirus infections across the country led by younger Americans and rising hospitalizations in many states.

Trump on Monday tweeted “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!”, as local officials across the country began pausing or scaling back their re-openings due to the surge in infections.

On Tuesday, he will hold a discussion at the White House on re-opening schools, while Vice President Mike Pence speaks with governors on the topic, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters.

“It is really … critically important to get our schools open,” the official said, highlighting the role schools play in communities. “There are a variety of different strategies that schools can adopt that really minimize the risk and can open these schools quite safely.”

The call comes as state and local governments, which largely control schools for kindergarten through 12th grade, grapple with how to handle the upcoming school year, seeking to balance the need for education with the risk of spreading the highly contagious disease.

Educators say socialization and other benefits such as school food programs are critically important. Experts have also shown online learning exacerbates the divide between poorer and more wealthy Americans, who have greater access to technology.

Most working parents of school-age children also depend on in-person instruction to allow them to work.

But an alarming surge in cases in the United States, especially among younger people, has raised concerns about the increased risk of spread by children to vulnerable adults at home as well as to older teachers and school staff.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “encourages school districts to make reopening plans that anticipate COVID-19 cases, minimize risk of spread and then limit the need for the potential of school closures,” the official said.

Florida, a Republican-led state, on Monday issued a sweeping executive order for children to return to school this fall, despite sharply rising new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations there.

Asked about Florida, the senior administration official stressed that “these are state and local decisions at the end of the day and we are confident that state and local leaders across the country are taking these decisions very seriously.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said it was too soon to decide on schools given the nature of the resurgent outbreak.

If Trump wants schools to re-open, he should call for masks to be worn nationwide, she told CNN, calling mask wearing “a simple, cost effective” solution to mitigate virus spread.

Colleges and universities are also weighing plans to resume this autumn, including calendar changes on online classes.

The Trump administration on Monday said foreign students must leave the country if their schools move to fully online classes, which could choke off revenue for those schools.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

A day without women: strikes in Mexico and Argentina follow huge rallies

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Millions of women in Mexico and Argentina will stay away from offices, school and government offices on Monday, stepping up historic protests against gender violence that saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets over the weekend.

The one-day action dubbed “a day without us” is intended to show what life would be like if women vanished from society. In Mexico, the strike stems from a surge in disappearances of women and femicides, or gender-motivated killings of women.

FILE PHOTO: Women protest against gender violence and femicides at Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City, Mexico, February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

Femicides in Mexico jumped 137% in the past five years, government statistics show, as gang violence pushed the national murder tally to record heights. Most violent crimes go unsolved.

On Sunday, women took to the streets in unprecedented numbers across Latin America as part of International Women’s Day, demanding abortion rights and action from leaders to stem the violence.

The mostly peaceful protests saw anger boiling over into some outbreaks of violence, such as Molotov cocktails thrown at Mexico’s national palace, after the killing of a 7-year-old and the murder and skinning of a young woman shocked the nation.

The impact of Monday’s strike, in contrast, will stem from the absence of women in businesses, universities and government ministries. Not all women, however, will take part.

“We are tired of being victims, of being abused and mistreated. Enough is enough,” said Alma Delia Díaz, 45, a beautician in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec.

Diaz said she supported women making their voice heard, but personally could not miss a day’s work.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said government employees are free to join the walkout. But he has also accused political opponents of seeking to exploit Mexico’s security problems to undermine his administration.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Having fled bombing, Syrian children learn to read in tent schools

By Khalil Ashawi

AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – Syrian teacher Ahmad al Hilal listens to his young pupils sitting on a mat reciting the Arabic alphabet in a makeshift school in a tent on the outskirts of a sprawling refugee camp city along the Turkish border.

Many ran for their lives with their mothers under heavy aerial bombing by Syrian and Russian jets that paralyzed day-to-day life and damaged dozens of schools and hospitals.

Now, already enduring the difficult winter conditions in the camp, where many tents get flooded, the children huddle on the floor, learning how to read with scraps of paper and pencils.

“These kids suffer from illiteracy. They don’t read or write. They have no one to help them,” said Hilal, who teaches over 140 young Syrians in three tents scattered across several large overcrowded camps on the outskirts of the border town of Azaz.

Women and children form a majority of more than 350,000 people who have fled the renewed assault since December that has pushed deeper into the Syria’s opposition-run bastion in the northwest, according to the United Nations.

“We came here as refugees, there are no more schools because of the air strikes, so we haven’t been going to school but we’re studying in the camp here,” said 14-year-old pupil Khaled, who did not give a family name.

Hilal was himself uprooted from his town of Abu Dahur in Idlib province after the army, backed by pro-Iranian militias seized it.

“We bought some books and parts of the Koran and now teach them inside the camp,” said Hilal, 48, who was a teacher before the conflict that began almost nine years ago.

The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF has warned that the war will leave a generation who have never enrolled in school, having a devastating toll on education, with 7,000 schools destroyed and about 2 million children out of class.

At a nearby camp in al Bab, volunteers have converted a school bus into the Bus of Knowledge classroom.

Inside the decorated bus around 50 girls and boys as young as five take lessons in maths, life skills, Arabic and religion.

“Children are unable to go to the schools in the city. So we at the bus come to them with knowledge and provide them with the learning essentials such as reading and writing and basic mathematics,” said Mawiya Shular, 32, who fled a former rebel-held enclave in Homs three years ago.

“The feeling of being displaced gives me the motivation to work with these children. I want to get children out of their sense of alienation” said Shular, also a family counselor.

(Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Alison Williams)

Teen victim of Texas mass shooting straddled bi-national culture, other victims identified

Two Horizon High School students mourn at a vigil in honor of Javier Rodriguez, who was killed while shopping at Walmart, two days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

HORIZON, Texas (Reuters) – Several hundred students, teachers and relatives filled a high school athletic stadium in Texas on Monday to honor a teenager of U.S.-Mexican citizenship who was the youngest of 22 killed in a shooting rampage police suspect was driven by racism.

Javier Rodriguez, 15, was one week into his sophomore year at Horizon High School, where he played on the soccer team, when he was cut down by gunfire at a Walmart store on Saturday in the west Texas border city of El Paso.

“Javier was just a young man full of life, running in this same stadium we’re in now,” Juan Martinez, superintendent of the Clint Independent School District outside El Paso, told the crowd. “He didn’t deserve to die in a tragedy like this.”

The hour-long memorial service in the El Paso suburb of Horizon opened around twilight with the school principal welcoming Javier’s parents and sister onto a stage, where they released a white dove into the clear evening sky.

A group of teachers simultaneously released 21 more doves, one for each of the other victims, ranging in age from 23 to 90, most of them with Hispanic surnames.

A 21-year-old white man who police said drove more than 600 miles (956 km) from suburban Dallas to El Paso to carry out the shooting spree and surrendered to police at the scene has been charged with capital murder.

Authorities have said they are investigating the rampage as a hate crime, citing a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect, Patrick Crusius.

In it, the author called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

Martinez said, “Apparently, Javier was a target because of the color of his skin. Javier did not choose the color of his skin, nor did I, nor did you.”

As the superintendent spoke, a member of the high school band, overcome by emotion, was escorted away sobbing.

Not only was Javier the youngest killed on Saturday, he perhaps as much as anyone represented the mixed heritage and culture of El Paso, which together with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande and the neighboring New Mexico city of Las Cruces, forms the largest bi-national, bilingual metropolitan area in North America.

Friends said Javier held dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship. Police identified seven others killed in the attack as Mexican nationals, and one as German. The rest were U.S. citizens, police said.

Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso native seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, also spoke, mentioning that Javier’s uncle was among the wounded, describing the nephew’s life as “an expression of the hope we now have in one another.”

O’Rourke added, “Please understand that this violence, this hatred will not define this community, nor will it define the Rodriguez family.”

The 21 others killed on Saturday were identified by police as: Andre Pablo Anchondo, 23; Jordon Anchondo, 24; Arturo Benavidez, 60; Leonard Cipeda Campos, 41, Maria Flores, 77; Raul Flores, 77; Jorge Calvillo Garcia, 61; Adolfo Cerros Hernandez, 68; Alexander Gerhard Hoffman, 66; David Alvah Johnson, 63; Luis Alfonzo Juarez, 90; Maria Eugenia Legarrega Rothe, 58; Elsa Libera Marquez, 57; Marie Loyal, 56; Ivan Hilierto Manzano, 46; Gloria Irma Marquez, 61; Margie Reckard, 63; Sarah Esther Regaldo Moriel, 66; Teresa Sanchez, 82; Angelina Sliva-Elisbee, 86; and Juan Velazquez, 77.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Horizon; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

100 children, many others feared trapped in collapse of Nigeria building that housed school

Men carry a boy who was rescued at the site of a collapsed building containing a school in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos, Nigeria March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

By Nneka Chile and Temilade Adelaja

LAGOS (Reuters) – As many as 100 children and many others were feared trapped on Wednesday after a building containing a primary school collapsed in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos.

People gather as rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a collapsed building containing a school in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos, Nigeria March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

People gather as rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a collapsed building containing a school in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos, Nigeria March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

A Reuters reporter at the scene saw a boy of 10 being pulled from the rubble covered in dust but with no visible injuries. A crowd erupted into cheers as another child was pulled from the wreckage. The two were among eight children residents said had been rescued so far.

Workers on top of the rubble shoveled debris away as thousands of people swarmed around the rescue site — dozens watching from rooftops and hundreds more packed into the surrounding streets.

“It is believed that many people including children are currently trapped in the building,” said Ibrahmi Farinloye, spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency’s southwest region, adding that casualty figures were not yet available.

Residents of the area said around 100 children attended the school, which was on the third floor of the building.

At the site, many people were shouting and screaming. A fight almost broke out as anger at the collapse boiled over.

In the crowd’s midst stood ambulances, fire trucks and a fork lift. Workers from the Red Cross and police were on hand.

The building was in the Ita-faji area of Lagos island, the original heart of the lagoon city before it expanded onto the mainland.

Nigeria is frequently hit by building collapses, with weak enforcement of regulations and poor construction materials often used. In 2016, more than 100 people were killed when a church came down in southeastern Nigeria.

In Lagos that same year, a five-story building still under construction collapsed, killing at least 30 people.

A floating school built to withstand storms and floods was also brought down in Lagos in 2016, though nobody was reported injured.

(Reporting by Nneka Chile, Temilade Adelaja and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Additional reporting by Paul Carsten and Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Ola Lanre in Maiduguri; Editing by Catherine Evans and Peter Graff)

Young survivors of Yemen school bus air strike return to class

Muhammad al-Shadheli, 9, who survived an August 2018 Saudi-led air strike on a school bus, sits on a wheelchair during the morning drill at his school in Saada province, Yemen October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Naif Rahma

SAADA, Yemen (Reuters) – In a small school in Yemen’s Saada province, the absence of dozens of their classmates killed in an air strike on a bus weighed heavily on the young survivors as they returned to classes.

Ahmad Ali Hanash, 14, struggled to hold back tears as he recalled the friends he lost in the attack by a Saudi-led military alliance on a market in Saada in northern Yemen in August.

“Their blood will not be in vain, we will avenge them by getting an education, we will avenge them by learning,” Hanash, who was on the bus, told Reuters. “I thank God for surviving the attack, the ugly crime.”

As the survivors resumed their lives, joining morning exercise drills in the sand yard of the two-storey Al Falah primary school, or attending classes in wheelchairs alongside peers seated at wooden desks, other students said they feared more attacks in the war-torn country.

“We are sad after we lost our dearest schoolmates, and we are worried that the enemy will strike the school,” said 15-year-old Sadiq Amin Jaafar. “But we will continue our education.”

Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition of Arab states fighting against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls north Yemen, said last month that the coalition accepted that the attack had killed dozens of people, including children on the bus, and that it was unjustified.

The kingdom and its ally the United Arab Emirates receive Western political support and buy billions of dollars a year in arms from the United States and European powers including Britain and France.

The alliance has launched thousands of air strikes in a campaign to restore the internationally recognized government, killing hundreds of civilians at hospitals, schools, markets and weddings.

International pressure has mounted on the kingdom to seek a political deal with the Houthi group in a 3-1/2 year war that has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed the already impoverished country to the brink of famine.

The alliance says it does not intentionally target civilians. The Houthis have also been criticized by rights groups.

Students attend the morning drills at their school which lost pupils in an August 2018 Saudi-led air strike on a school bus in Saada province, Yemen October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Naif Rahma

Students attend the morning drills at their school which lost pupils in an August 2018 Saudi-led air strike on a school bus in Saada province, Yemen October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Naif Rahma

Nearly half a million children in Yemen have dropped out of school since 2015, bringing the total number of out-of-school children to 2 million, according to a UNICEF report in March.

But teacher Abdul Wahab Salah said that fear of coalition attacks on Saada, a Houthi stronghold, would not deter the school or students.

“It pains us that we lost so many of our students. They were exceptional and they were committed,” he said.

“We also are worried (about attacks), but we will continue to build future generations.”

(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Hugh Lawson)