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In our first send of 2022, it feels a little like the beginning of 2021 — in other words, we have a full slate of coronavirus news. As Chicago cases surge, it’s time for brinkmanship. Then, chaos across the country from Omicron-fuelled chaos.
Chicago Omicron battle
There are no classes today in the country’s third largest school district.
The Chicago Teachers Union voted Tuesday to remain home during the coronavirus outbreak. The union stated that 73% of its members voted in favor of a pause in-person instruction to allow for online teaching.
Officials from the city, who want schools to remain open, cancelled Wednesday classes for students in public schools, but left buildings open for emergency care.
“Nobody signs up for being a home-schooler at the last minute,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “We can’t forget about how disruptive that remote process is to individual parents who have to work, who can’t afford the luxury of staying home.”
The relationship between the city and the union is tense. Teachers went on strike in 2019 for 11 days demanding concessions on pay, class sizes, and support staff. They also fought for the reopening of classrooms in January 2021.
Omicron has only made things worse. It has seen cases in the city rise to new records.
Chicago, like other school systems, has faced a shortage in Covid tests and a low level of vaccinations among students. Many staff members have been called in sick. Nearly everyone is anxious.
“That fear is kind of transformed from the medical worst-case scenario to, this is going to be another month, another semester where my daughter’s going to miss out on consistent education, getting to know her friends, getting to know her teachers,” said Ismael El-Amin, whose daughters are vaccinated and attend two Chicago schools.
Union members, and many parents, have criticized the district’s response and say conditions in classrooms are unsafe. During the holiday break the union asked for universal P.C.R. Testing of staff and students or a transition to remote learning for two weeks.
The C.D.C. The C.D.C. has advised schools to avoid closures and quarantines by using a protocol called “test-to-stay”. This protocol requires that close contacts of positive viruses take two rapid antigen testing within a week. Only positive cases must remain home.
Chicago was one of many districts that said they didn’t have the rapid tests they needed. Despite a shortage, the district failed to test students over winter break. It sent out approximately 150,000 P.C.R. tests. Many of the 40,000 tests were never returned. These wereA majority of the responses were mailed in and resulted in invalid results.
“We are between a rock and a hard place — the rock being the pandemic, the hard place being an intractable, incompetent mayor,” Stacy Davis Gates, the union’s vice president, said this week. The suggested two-week pause, she said, would be “so they could get themselves together.”
Omicron is more contagious that previous iterations, but early signs suggest it is less severe. Like the rest of the country in Chicago, Omicron has been found to be more contagious in Chicago than elsewhere in the country. However, the death and hospitalization rates for vaccinated Chicagoans are significantly lower than those in the rest. More than 90 percent are fully vaccinated in Chicago Public Schools.
Children of all ages have been spared severe consequences, regardless of their vaccination status. Chicago and other data shows that there has been very little transmission of the coronavirus in schools. Most cases of student and teacher cases have occurred outside of school buildings.
“We’ve got to do risk-benefit analysis here, and, at least among children, we have to think of this as similar to flu,” Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner, said, adding that Chicago was averaging seven child hospitalizations per day because of Covid-19.
Pedro Martinez, the district’s new chief executive, also pushed back against a districtwide shutdown, suggesting that misinformation was at the root of anxiety over reopening. He also spoke of investments in ventilation systems.
Martinez said he had continued “to plead, including with C.T.U. leadership, to keep the schools open, to keep the classes going.”
Other Omicron disruptions
The vast majority (over 90%) of U.S. schools seemed to be operating as planned this past week. Nevertheless, the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly and there are increasing labor and testing shortages.
Several large districts — including those in Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Newark — postponed reopening after winter break or switched to remote instruction because of outbreaks and staffing shortages. Some of the announcements came at the very last minute as school leaders struggled for ways to respond to a rapidly changing environment.
New York City, the nation’s largest, remains open, but about a third of the students did not show up on Monday, the first day back after winter break, suggesting significant parental hesitation.
Heather Malin’s 5-year-old son is attending in-person kindergarten in New York City this week. Malin will have breast cancer surgery within a few weeks. She is worried that a positive test might delay the procedure.
The Coronavirus Pandemic – Key Facts to Know
The global surge. The coronavirus is spreading faster than ever at the start of 2022, but the last days of 2021 brought the encouraging news that the Omicron variant produces less severe illness than earlier waves. Governments are now focusing more on spreading vaccinations than limiting its spread.
“It was an agonizing decision,” Malin told The New York Times. “Will he be safe? Will the school have the resources to test and adequately mask everyone?”
The closures appeared to be concentrated in the Northeast and upper Midwest, regions where Democratic Party policymakers and teachers’ unions have taken a more cautious approach. Many of the districts that were closed serve predominantly Black, Hispanic, and low-income students, raising concerns over the educational gaps that have widened since the pandemic.
Some Republicans are risking the political reputation of their party in open classrooms.
Officials in Texas are pushing to resume classes as scheduled. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis stated that the state officials would not allow public school closings despite a significant increase in cases.
“You have worse outcomes by closing schools,” said DeSantis, who has increased his national profile by rejecting coronavirus lockdowns and mandates for much of the pandemic. “Kids need to be in school.”
Principals across the country reported that they have received calls from sick staff members. Even though districts try to keep classrooms open, schools have had to close due to necessity.
Parents who seek stability in their lives are unnerved by the constant chaos. Some families were only given a few hours notice about school closings, which led to the all-too-familiar panic scramble for child-care arrangements to be adjusted and work schedules to be rearranged.
“When we started the pandemic, parenting and teaching while working remotely was hard,” Kate Hurley, who lives in Minneapolis, told The Times. She sent her 7-year-old daughter to school on Monday with a KN95 mask but kept her 4-year-old son home because he isn’t eligible for a vaccine.
“Now we are tired and drained and nearly two years in,” Hurley wrote. “Doing it all over again feels insurmountable.”
Other virus news
The F.D.A. authorized Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine boosters for 12- to 15-year-olds, but vaccination rates for children have been disappointing in many places.
President Biden’s monthly child tax credit expired last month after Congress failed to extend it. While many experts praised its potential to reduce poverty and hunger among children, the public appraisal of it was disappointing.
Millions of students in California are dependent on school reopening.
In some parts, students have returned back to masking in the South.
Michigan has hired more than 550 mental health professionals to work in schools to help students deal with pandemic stress.
This is a great read According to The Times, the number of teenagers and children killed in gunfire accidents has increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. Pandemic gun-buying has seen a surge, among other things. This has led to more children coming in contact with guns, as both victims and shooters.
Update for College
What else we’re reading
Policy and funding for education
Politics, race, and identity
A district in Rochester, N.Y., is dropping “Jingle Bells” from its curriculum, a secular holiday classic that some scholars believe may have been first performed at a minstrel show.
It’s a good read Classroom discussions on the Jan. 6 riot at U.S. Capitol will be held The Associated Press reports that prices can vary depending on where students live.
And the rest …
Schools in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and elsewhere delayed reopening due to snowstorms.
Clear backpacks will be required for older students after the shooting at Oxford School in suburban Detroit. Experts claim that the policy does little to address the root causes behind gun violence in schools.
A high school track coach in Maryland was arrested on charges that he had “sexual contact with at least one student.”
It’s a good read The Washington Post reports that skilled trade schools are gaining popularity as high school students doubt the worth of a four-year degree.
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Source: NY Times