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Monday, August 15, 2022

‘It’s a complete mess’ as schools deal with Omicron

The Omicron upsurge has the potential to destabilise any feeling of stability in the nation’s educational system.

Following a Christmas break during which Covid-19 instances continued to rise unabated, a small but rising number of districts, including Newark, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Cleveland, made the decision to temporarily switch to remote learning for more than 450,000 students.

Schools closing throughout the district, even if for a week or two, is a step backward following months in which classes stayed mainly open, even amid an autumn spike of the Delta variety.

Though elected officials from across the country, including Mayor Eric Adams of New York and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, have pledged to keep schools open, parents and educators are growing increasingly concerned that more districts will turn to remote learning in the near future — despite the fact that in-school transmission of Covid-19 has been limited.

This decision-making process may have a ripple effect throughout the nation, altering child-care options, job opportunities, and any hope that the pandemic’s viselike hold was relaxing.

Because some families received notification of school closures in as little as a few days or even hours, they found themselves in the all-too-familiar pandemic race to make changes to child-care arrangements and work schedules. For example, Atlanta Public Schools stated on Saturday that lessons will be taught online for the first week of January, only days after announcing that sessions would be done in person.

Despite the fact that their schools in Somerville, Massachusetts, had announced a two-hour delayed start on Saturday in order to test staff and distribute KN95 masks, Ms. Rodrigues’ own boys were at home on Monday morning.

The continuous burden placed on parents throughout the country is unacceptable, according to Ms. Rodrigues, especially given the fact that a winter outbreak of the virus was predicted and that policymakers had months to procure and distribute testing and masks.

Academic, social, and emotional consequences of school closures have been thoroughly documented and have been vast in magnitude. It was one of the most polarising topics of discussion in American society during the first year of the pandemic, prior to vaccine availability, about whether or not children should be allowed in schools. Politicians, labour groups, and teachers are unanimous in their desire for schools to stay open in the near future.

The great majority of school districts throughout the country — including the vast majority of the nation’s biggest — seem to be functioning quite smoothly. In spite of that, the cancellations this week seemed to be focused in areas such as the Northeast and upper Midwest, where Democratic Party leaders and teachers’ unions have adopted a more cautious approach to keeping schools open during the epidemic.

For the first time during the epidemic, the United States is seeing an average of more than 400,000 new cases each day, albeit hospitalizations are increasing at a considerably slower pace. The majority of principals have reported a considerable number of staff members calling in sick, either because they have been infected with Covid-19 or other diseases, or because they are caring for sick family members, or because they are afraid of the environment in school facilities.

The fact that some of the shutdown districts serve mostly Black, Hispanic, and low-income pupils raises worries about the widening of educational inequities that have occurred in past rounds of the plague, per the New York Times.

When the Detroit Public Schools announced a three-day shutdown without remote learning for its 8,000 workers, Lorenzo Spencer, whose son is a freshman at Cass Technical High School, said he was not shocked. “It’s nothing new,” Spencer said.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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