Home Uncategorized American Schools Are Not Ready for the Next Covid Surge, Officials Say

American Schools Are Not Ready for the Next Covid Surge, Officials Say

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Source: Nature

Parents faced a return to the grind of education through a screen, child care difficulties, and restless young bodies cooped up indoors for the winter as word of the newest coronavirus outbreak spread, propelled in large part by the Omicron variety.

Olivia Strong of Manhattan got an email from her son’s public middle school on Monday alerting her that due to many confirmed viral cases, his cohort of eighth students will transfer to remote learning.

“I wasn’t startled in the least; I completely expected it,” she said, sighing heavily. She said that she hoped a little pause to reset would allow schools to resume more safely in the new year.

Despite targeted school closures to control the spread of the virus, most districts have reassured families that they plan to continue in-person learning until the Christmas break and reopen as scheduled in January. New York City, Boston, and Montgomery County, Md., in suburban Washington, were among the big school districts that declared they would not use remote learning districtwide, or would only do so if pushed by public health officials.

Nonetheless, the virus’s frightening spread might reveal the shaky infrastructure that has kept schools open for the most of this year. Many schools are still in desperate need of replacement teachers and bus drivers, and they can’t afford an epidemic that sends even more employees home. There are yet insufficient fast tests to screen whole classrooms or schools in a timely manner. As children are quarantined or worried parents choose to keep them at home, some districts may struggle to satisfy demand for online instruction.

School administrators must confront the pandemic’s catastrophic effects on kids, including academic deficiencies, mental health issues, and labor shortages, all at the same time.

“School shutdown cannot be the default this winter,” said Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a think tank that has examined district responses to Covid-19.

Despite intentional classroom closures to restrict the virus’ spread, school operations have gone pretty well. According to statistics from Burbio, a company that has tracked how schools have worked during the epidemic, there are around 600 shutdown schools or districts among the nation’s 13,000 districts and 98,000 public schools this week. There are fewer closures this month than there were in November.

And, as has been the case throughout the epidemic, school breakouts are still rare.

New York City, the country’s largest district and the one now most endangered by the Omicron strain, has 1,600 schools, four of which are currently shuttered due to viral infections and another 44 under investigation.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a Friday radio interview that the coronavirus test positive percentage in the city’s schools was 1%, while the citywide community positivity rate was above 5%.

Many schools have recently lifted viral restrictions because to the brightening of the image.

The use of masks is no longer required in some Florida school districts. New Jersey reduced the number of stay-at-home days for students who had close contact with an infected person by decoupling school quarantine laws from community transmission rates and lowering the number of stay-at-home days for students who had close contact with an infected person.

After a circuit court judge determined that mask mandates and quarantine restrictions violated the State Constitution, Missouri’s attorney general, a Republican, addressed a letter to districts instructing them to abandon them. Several districts are refusing, possibly indicating that political divisions may emerge after the holidays, when schools consider whether to resume classrooms following family gatherings, which will almost surely exacerbate the present spike.

Washington, D.C., has already extended its vacation by two days, instructing parents to pick up fast exams at schools and test their children before returning them to the classroom.

After three of the district’s 208 schools closed last week due to viral transmission, Prince George’s County, Maryland, announced a move to remote learning until mid-January.

However, Prince George’s is an oddity; considering that many of the states with the highest viral case counts are in the Northeast and Midwest, which have big teachers’ unions, the political determination to keep schools open is noteworthy. They fought for tight mitigation measures and prolonged periods of remote learning for most of the epidemic.

This time, union representatives in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia said they were focusing on getting administrators to implement virus prevention measures rather than asking for district-wide remote learning.

However, Stacy Davis Gates, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, would not rule out pressing for a time of remote learning after the holidays in an interview on Friday.

She said that the district’s contact tracing efforts were slow, and that the city should do more to immunize pupils and parents on school grounds, as well as offer families with free at-home quick testing.

She claimed that some schools have already dealt with huge numbers of missing staff members as a result of the illness. She inquired, “At what point do you think it’s hazardous for people to be in the building without X amount of adults?”

In a written statement, Chicago Public Schools said it will resume a free, weekly P.C.R. testing program at schools following the holiday break, which began on Friday, and that it would “push to persuade families to agree to testing.”

On Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended schools to use a test-to-stay procedure, in which close contacts are given numerous quick tests and only those who test positive must remain home.

However, many areas lack sufficient supplies of such tests, as well as the personnel to give them broadly. Test-to-stay has been tested at a single elementary school in Chicago. Last Monday, Boston Public Schools announced that it had recruited an outside hiring firm to assist in the filling of unfilled nurse posts.

Another issue is that many parents have refused to provide their children’s consent to be tested for the virus at school. Some teachers’ unions have pushed for districts to switch from a parental opt-in to a parental opt-out system.

Erik Berg, vice president of the Boston Teachers Union, said, “If there is a positive case in a class, everyone should just get tested.” “It says a lot about our dedication to K-12 education that we can’t even test students we know were in the same room with a positive case for six or seven hours if our universities and colleges can test everyone on campus twice a week.”

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