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Monday, March 20, 2023

School Prepare to Adapt for Return from Break as COVID-19 Cases Spike

Some school districts that have previously waived the requirement are reintroducing it. Some plans call for a massive increase in viral testing among students and employees. Educators believe that a small number of school systems will move to remote learning for a limited time.

With coronavirus infections on the rise, some students will return to school later than expected as officials alter policies and make real-time modifications in reaction to the evolving epidemic. All of these indicators point to the necessity to remain adaptable.

Newark Schools Superintendent Roger León wrote to parents before the break, “Change has been the one constant in this struggle.” Students will learn remotely for at least the first two weeks of the new year, he stated on Thursday. The virus remains “a harsh, tenacious, and vicious infection that rears its ugly head at inconvenient moments,” according to León.

Long after the widespread closures in the early days of the pandemic, school and elected officials say they’re drawing on the lessons and tools learned in the previous two years to try to navigate the latest surge without long-term closures, which had disastrous consequences for learning and students’ well-being.

Nonetheless, as the omicron-fueled surge pushes up caseloads and puts youngsters in the hospital in near-record numbers, pressure from parents and teachers unions has added to the urgency around safety measures.

“They say kids do fine (if infected), but who’s to say my kid won’t be that one?” said Rebecca Caldwell, who is considering asking her Charleston, Illinois, school district for a remote option that would allow her to leave her four boys, ages 17, 10, 7, and 5, at home during the winter.

Caldwell’s family had three exposure scares in the first half of the school year. One, from a family member, quarantined the entire family for ten days. Her 17-year-old and 10-year-old witnessed peers afflicted, and as part of a more recent “test-to-stay” policy, both endured a nerve-wracking round of COVID-19 exams.

Caldwell, whose own health difficulties caused her to leave her restaurant work more than a year ago to reduce her risk, said, “It’s really terrifying because you worry about the domino effect, too.”

Officials said this week that 2 million at-home test kits funded by the state will be used to expand testing following the break in the nation’s largest school system, New York City. Students who have positive peers can continue to attend school as long as their at-home tests are negative and they have no symptoms.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City educators, expressed doubts that the new testing efforts would be accessible in every school by the time classes resumed on Monday.

“We’re getting closer to a safe school reopening next week.” “However, we are not yet there,” he remarked.

Officials in Chicago, the country’s third-largest school district, announced the purchase of 100,000 computers over the holidays in case they are needed for remote learning in January, but district executives aim to avoid a system-wide closure. The Chicago Teachers Union has advocated halting in-person learning until additional safety precautions, such as negative COVID exams for returning students, are implemented.

When Los Angeles County public and private schools reopen on Monday, health authorities announced tighter testing and masking regulations for all personnel and students. Concerned about an outbreak of the Omicron variety, the county health authorities ordered that instructors wear medical-grade masks in class and that pupils and employees wear masks outside in congested areas. There will be a two-week grace period for schools to comply.

In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona backed test-to-stay as an alternative to the previously suggested 10-day quarantines to assist keep as many pupils in school as feasible. For pupils who have had contact with an infected classmate, hundreds of schools have implemented test-to-stay rules.

“Throughout the 2021-22 school year and beyond, the objective remains to maintain all schools open for in-person learning five days a week,” Cardona stated in a letter to schools celebrating the halfway point of the academic year. In December, he noted, 99 percent of schools were open in person, compared to 46 percent in January last year.

Fewer than a third of the nation’s 13,000 school districts have declared intentions to begin teaching remotely following the winter break.

Those districts, like Newark, expect to begin in-person training in the coming weeks. Cleveland, Ohio, Prince George’s County, Maryland, Mount Vernon, New York, Taos, New Mexico, Chester County, South Carolina, and a number of New Jersey school districts are among them.

Due to the city’s high infection rate, Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti on Friday extended almost 50,000 students’ holiday vacation until at least January 5 and encouraged them to be tested through the system. Employees are obliged to take tests.

A rise in cases and consequent quarantining leading up to the break, according to Ronald Taylor, superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District in New Jersey, had disrupted operations by requiring the consolidation of classrooms where there wasn’t enough personnel. He predicted that the district will be isolated for the first week returning.

“Like many other school districts, we’ve noticed a consistent tendency in our student/staff population of COVID cases after each of our school breaks, both Thanksgiving and our autumn break in early November,” he added.

After the break, several districts will reinstate the requirement, including Hopkinton High School, which was the first Massachusetts public school to do so in October. Just before the break, it was reactivated.

In Miami-Dade County, Florida, where one in every four persons has tested positive for the virus, the school system stated Thursday that all workers, volunteers, and visitors to schools and facilities will be forced to wear facial coverings, and children will be strongly urged to do so. A state statute prohibits school districts from requiring pupils to wear masks.

Some school districts are considering making vaccines mandatory for pupils, but not anytime soon. A Jan. 10 deadline for children 12 and older in the Los Angeles school system, which was one of the first to propose obligatory COVID-19 immunizations for pupils, has been postponed until the autumn of 2022. Officials estimate that if the deadline had been set earlier, around 27,000 unvaccinated pupils would have been prevented from attending classes.

The District of Columbia announced on Dec. 22 that by March 1, all kids in public, private, and charter schools must be completely immunized.

Much is unknown about the omicron coronavirus variety, such as whether it produces more or less severe sickness. According to scientists, omicron spreads faster than other coronavirus strains, including delta, and is anticipated to take over in the United States by early 2022.

In Ohio, as COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a new high this week, the Ohio Hospital Association is urging schools across the state to consider making masks mandatory.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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