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College Housing: Some Students Are Living Way Off-Campus

ImageA group of Grinnell students have formed their own off-campus housing group in Utah.
Credit…Lindsay D’Addato for The New York Times

Some college students will spend this semester in their childhood bedrooms. Others are taking their chances on campuses.

Then, there’s a third option: Rent a giant house with friends and take remote classes from a far-flung locale. It’s an adventure, it’s potentially cheaper than living in a college town and it’s more fun than Zooming from your parents’ basement.

Taylor Lorenz, a Times technology reporter, described it as “off-off-off campus housing,” inspired in part by social media influencers who have formed “collab houses” across Los Angeles.

Two groups of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will spend the semester in Hawaii. At least seven groups of friends rented large houses in the greater Salt Lake City area. And more than 30 Chinese students who attend American universities plan to live in adjoining properties in Beijing.

The houses range from lavish mansions to budget-friendly solutions. Morgan Margulies, a rising junior at Columbia University, will live in Santa Cruz, Calif. with nine friends from other colleges. “I am a first generation, low-income student and this is my cheapest option,” he said.

Admittedly, college students and communal housing seem like a dangerous mix. In the United States, more than 26,000 people have been infected at colleges and universities, with clusters popping up in dorms and Greek houses nationwide.

Students say they plan to adhere to a strict two-week quarantine, are choosing locations near major hospitals and have developed plans in case someone got sick. (“I think a lot of that was to placate their parents,” Taylor said.) But they will be traveling to rural areas from around the country and the world.

“This plan is crazy, but what isn’t crazy right now?” said Anika Beamer, 19, a rising junior at Grinnell who is relocating to Utah. “Our lives have been uprooted and we’re hoping to find a sliver of comfort and adventure.”

Other back-to-school innovations:

Credit…Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about: School buildings that have been closed for months may be harboring a deadly bacteria in their water supplies.

Legionella, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, can form in stagnant water and then disperse through the air. Students at a sink or drinking fountain could inhale the bacteria and develop the respiratory condition. Young children are less at risk than older students, adults and people with compromised immune systems. Still, it can be fatal for 1 in 10 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, officials in Ohio and Pennsylvania have had found Legionella in several schools. But it’s fixable. Flushing the water with chlorine and regularly testing for bacteria should do the trick.

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The trade-offs and stresses of remote or hybrid learning are very real. But it’s also important to keep things in perspective.

Around the world, 1.5 billion children have been told to stay home since the pandemic began — and about 500 million have been completely cut off from any kind of education.

According to Unicef, the United Nations agency for children, 90 percent of countries have remote learning policies. But without a laptop, a tablet or even electricity at home, students cannot access them.

As is often the case with education inequity, girls bear a disproportionate burden, according to a related report by Human Rights Watch. Boys “often end up getting more access to these resources,” the report found, and in some countries there is a “strong connection between girls leaving or being out of school and them being forced into marriage.”

It’s getting litigious out there. Teachers are suing to stay out of the classroom. Schools are suing to reopen. The disputes are often along partisan lines.

  • In states with Republican governors, educators are fighting mandates around in-person learning. In Florida, teachers’ unions are fighting a state rule that mandated in-person school. On Monday, a circuit court judge sided with them, but the state is appealing the decision. In Iowa, the Des Moines school district also asked a court to reverse an “unsafe” mandate for partial in-person learning.

  • Democratic-led states are fending off their own challenges. Two lawsuits in front of the California Supreme Court challenge online-only mandates. One was filed on behalf of private schools, the other by a charter school and the Orange County Board of Education. Earlier this month, in Oregon, a federal district judge rejected a petition from three Christian schools seeking an exemption to hold classes in person, despite state health restrictions.

  • Some disputes are settling out of court. In Seattle, the teachers’ union and public school administrators have reached a tentative agreement after months of negotiations. And although teachers across the country have threatened to strike, few — if any — have actually done so.

This month, we asked teachers to show us how the pandemic had changed their classrooms. Educators from across the country wrote back, showing us how they’d modified their classrooms. Here are three trying to find a new normal.

  • Ashley Allen, a sixth-grade teacher in Florida, bought shower curtains at a dollar store to hang across a table. She also sends students outside for a “mask break,” if they need one.

  • Jennifer Graves, a preschool special education teacher in Connecticut, recorded a video to show students and families her personal protective equipment. She wanted to reassure them that she was still there, despite the mask.

  • David G. Stone, who teaches choir and handbells in Indiana, spent $2,000 of his own money preparing his classroom. His students can still sing, but with masks on, six feet apart. And choir can last only 30 minutes before an HVAC unit circulates the air before the next class sings.

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