Clare Lombardo

The U.S. Education Department announced Thursday that it is discharging the outstanding student loans of more than 323,000 borrowers who have significant, permanent disabilities, and will remove barriers for borrowers who qualify for this relief in the future.

Updated August 18, 2021 at 5:14 PM ET

Across the country, as students and teachers head back into school buildings in the midst of a COVID-19 surge, school superintendents in Florida, Texas and Arizona are standing firm against state leaders who say masks shouldn't be mandated in classrooms.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration reinforced its support for those school leaders.

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On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education announced that federal student loan payments will remain on pause through the end of January.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has a message for schools across the country ahead of the new school year: Students need to be in classrooms.

"That's where students learn best," Cardona told NPR's A Martínez. "Schools are more than just places where students learn how to read and write — they're communities. They're like second families to our students."

Elia Garrison was already considering holding her son Dominic back from starting kindergarten before the pandemic hit in 2020.

Coronavirus, she says, cemented that choice.

Dominic is the fifth of six children, and Garrison, a blogger in Perkasie, Pa., watched how tumultuous classes were for her older ones when the pandemic started. "I didn't want Dominic to have that experience with kindergarten, because kindergarten is such an important year for them," she says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released updated guidance for schools Monday, recommending that all students over 2 years old, along with staff, wear masks, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

A federal judge has blocked a challenge to Indiana University's requirement that students get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus this fall. Indiana University is one of hundreds of colleges mandating COVID-19 vaccinations this year.

The U.S. Department of Education says it will erase the federal student loan debts of tens of thousands of borrowers who can no longer work because they have significant disabilities. It's a small but important step toward improving a shambolic, bureaucratic process for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable borrowers who are legally entitled to debt relief, but haven't received it.

If you've ever voted in-person, you've been helped by a poll worker: they've checked you in and pointed you in the right direction to cast your ballot. Maybe it was your retired neighbor, even a family member or former teacher, greeting you at the polls year after year.

This year, many of those folks are avoiding public spaces.

In any ordinary school year, school nurses are busy. This year, that's an understatement.

"Our role has expanded tenfold," says Eileen Gavin, who co-leads a team of nurses for Middletown Township Public Schools in New Jersey.

Updated Friday at 11:04 a.m. ET.

Lawmakers have called for an investigation into a troubled student loan discharge program one day after an NPR report revealed that the program — meant to erase the student debts of borrowers with significant, permanent disabilities — wasn't helping the vast majority of those who are eligible.

Earlier this year, an NPR investigation with WAMU and Oregon Public Broadcasting found deep problems in how school districts report restraint and seclusion. Following that investigation, NPR reached out to educators about their experiences with these practices.

Brent McGinn spent a year early in his career working with students who could sometimes hurt themselves.

Denise had no idea her student loans could be erased. In 2007, a truck rear-ended her car. The accident ravaged her legs and back, and the pain made it impossible for her to work.

"I have basically been in pain — chronic pain — every day," says Denise, who asked that NPR not use her full name to protect her privacy. "I live a life of going to doctors constantly."

Updated at 6:45 p.m. ET

A judge has ruled in favor of Harvard University in a high-profile court case centered on whether the school's admissions process forces Asian Americans to clear a higher bar to get in.

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