WASHINGTON — School closures eased significantly over the long weekend as the coronavirus outbreak fueled by Omicron appears to have abated in many parts of the country. Yet thousands of schools remain closed, prolonging a complex crisis that continues to pose educational, economic and – increasingly – political challenges, as the coronavirus thwarts attempts to return to pre-pandemic ways of learning.
The vast majority of schools are now open for in-person instruction, as the White House was quick to point out on Tuesday. “Forty-six percent of schools were open a year ago; now over 95%,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing.
While more than 6,000 schools were closed last week, 1,812 started this week without students in classrooms, according to data science firm Burbio, following school reopenings. The trend is encouraging for educators, elected officials and parents who have insisted that remote learning is an insufficient substitute for traditional school.
“But that number has increased since then,” Burbio chief executive Dennis Roche told Yahoo News in an email, describing how his staff worked over the weekend to keep up with a series of closures announced Thursday. and Friday. “There are still disruptions.”
As the Omicron wave moved away from metropolitan centers in the northeast and upper Midwest, so did school disruptions. North Texas schools closed for all or part of the rest of the weekciting, as one district did, an “inability to fill critical teaching and operational positions” due to staff infections.
Idaho has also closed some schools. “This is the highest rate of illness we have seen so far this year,” educators there have written.
the superintendent in Wichita, Kan., quoted an “incredible increase in numbers” as schools decided to close for the rest of the week.
Minneapolis switched to remote learning for the remainder of January, citing “a significant reduction in staff available to work in person due to COVID 19”, while schools in Salt Lake City decided to switch to remote for the rest of the week. Educators there had planned to implement a testing strategy to remain approved by the Biden administration but were unable to do so. “due to lack of resources from the health department”, a likely reference to rapid diagnostic tests which remain hard to find, especially in bulk.
The new year started with Chicago teachers refuse to return to class until a host of security issues are resolved. Although this crisis has been resolved, schools continue to close, most often not because of resistance from unions, but simply because teachers and staff test positive for the coronavirus.
Even the most vocal advocates of reopening schools have acknowledged that this new round of closures can only be temporary. “These schools are going to reopen,” educator and reopening activist Karen Vaites told Yahoo News in a phone interview. “If you can’t run your buses, you can’t open your schools.”
A White House official told Yahoo News that “the president has been unwavering in his priority to keep schools open safely from day one,” citing the effort to ensure teachers are vaccinated at the start. inoculation effort. He also cited the $130 billion schools received under last year’s coronavirus relief bill. “We’ve been in favor of having schools open safely for a year now, and we’re not straying from that primary goal,” the White House official said.
Yet there is growing concern among Biden administration allies that even if schools remain open, the reopening has been too hesitant and precarious to declare victory. Some believe that education will emerge as a major concern mid-term 2022, now only nine months.
“Schools have become a new front in the culture wars, and if Democrats aren’t strategic, they will find themselves in politically perilous territory,” Jonathan Cowan, founder of the centrist think tank Third Way, told Yahoo News in a statement. E-mail. “It’s not just about critical race theory and efforts to abolish merit programs, but school closures have become a major concern for parents. It is imperative that Democrats strongly support keeping schools open unless it is absolutely impossible to do so, and they will have to do like the mayor of Chicago and be ready to make sure that children and parents are the first priority.
Recently on the defensive for their insistence that schools remain closed until the end of the 2020-21 school year, teachers’ unions stressed there was nothing they could do about a highly transmissible variant of coronavirus – Omicron – especially in districts where masking is discouraged or, in some cases, explicitly prohibited.
“Teachers are supporting students in every way they can, while trying to keep everyone healthy. They are exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed and exhausted,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. recently wrote on Twitter.
Yet the reality is that 2022 has opened with a school that is unlike normal in any sense of the word in many parts of the country. This included suburban northern Virginia, where school districts are resisting new state governor Glenn Youngkin by deciding to keep children in masks in schools. Youngkin signed a presidential decree on Saturday – his first day in office – that has prevented school districts from making masking mandatory.
PSAKI, whose children go to school in northern Virginia, tweeted in support of their school district’s announcement that he would resist Youngkin’s order and keeping children masked, reigniting a culture war that seems endless — and could have huge political consequences. A previously unknown chief financial officer, Youngkin used Virginia’s particularly extended school closings to exploit parents’ frustrations on his way to an unlikely victory.
Vaites, the educator and reopening activist, says she has seen other Democrats leave the party over its handling of school closings. “School closures are the ultimate kitchen table problem,” she says. According to her, a loss of trust in schools has led to a more widespread “loss of trust in public servants”.
This development could benefit Republicans, even if schools are open in November. “I want the Democrats to get their act together,” Vaites told Yahoo News. “Reopen schools and normalize people’s lives.”