Anya Kamenetz

Brittany Gonzalez has 10 students, and only five of them consistently wear masks. She teaches special education to second- and third-graders in Lee County, Fla.

"It is a foreign piece of cloth on their face," she says. "And not all of them have the level of understanding as to why we're doing it and what it means and how to wear it."

Gonzalez knows that showing up to work every day in person, as she has since fall 2020, means risking exposure to COVID-19.

Updated January 3, 2022 at 7:05 PM ET

As the coronavirus pandemic slides into a fifth school semester, there is less appetite than ever among U.S. leaders for schools to go remote, even though cases — and with them, pediatric hospitalizations — are rising. According to Burbio, an organization that tracks individual school and district websites, the vast majority of U.S. schools are staying open for in-person learning this week.

17 trillion dollars.

That's how much the pandemic could cost today's children in terms of lost earnings over a lifetime. The number comes from a new report by the United Nations and the World Bank.

Starting in March 2020 schools closed in nearly every country, for 1.6 billion children. Nearly 2 years later, interruptions continue here in the U.S. and part-time or remote learning is still going on in places from India to Brazil.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory this month saying the youth mental health crisis is getting worse.

It's 4:30 in the afternoon, and the fall colors in the trees are glowing as the sun drops low over the sprawling, historic campus of Grimsley High School in Greensboro, N.C. Dozens of students are waiting outside the cafeteria.

One of them is sophomore Dreshon Robinson. He wants to be a music engineer someday. He loves Adele and Bruno Mars. But right now, he's working evenings in a restaurant. And Monday through Thursday after school, he comes to Grimsley High school's "learning hub."

At a White House briefing on Friday, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said schools should limit quarantines by requiring testing for unvaccinated close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case.

It's a practice known as "test to stay."

The troubling enrollment losses that school districts reported last year have in many places continued this fall, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt public education across the country, an NPR investigation has found.

Two weeks' notice: Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in North Carolina voted on Oct. 28 to close schools on Nov. 12 for a "day of kindness, community and connection."

The vaccination of children ages 5 to 11 against COVID-19 is well under way: The White House announced this week that an estimated 10 percent of children in that age group have received their first shot.

California has become the first state to announce that it will add this vaccine to its list of the shots required for all school children. And a handful of districts in 14 states are making similar moves, starting with mandates for student-athletes to participate in sports.

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

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When can kids safely take off their masks in school? About three-fourths of the nation's largest districts required masks at the start of the school year. Recently, the calls by some parents to unmask children have grown louder, especially now that there is a COVID-19 vaccine available with emergency authorization for children as young as 5 years old.

The first time kids had to get a vaccine to go to school was more than 200 years ago. The disease? Smallpox.

It touches most every household in the United States, whether as taxpayers or as parents, but come Election Day, education rarely makes it to the top of voter priorities.

That wasn't the case this week.

The Poway Unified School District, in San Diego County, Calif., was planning a pretty typical school board meeting in September. They were hearing reports from their student representatives and honoring their teachers and other staff members of the year.

Because of the pandemic, the general public has been asked to join and comment via livestream.

That hasn't stopped protesters from showing up in person.

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