It’s impossible to avoid the news involving Covid confusion and fear surrounding schools and safety for children, teachers, and staff entering the New Year.
The looming question is whether K-12 in-person schooling is safe. It’s presumptuous to tell teachers not to be afraid. Teachers want to keep their students safe. They don’t want to get sick. They don’t want to transmit the virus to their families.
Doctors describe their concerns about Omicron transmissibility, their fears about the Delta variant’s effect on children, and pediatric upticks in hospitals. They paint a dire picture of Covid, and then they don’t.
Schools are critical, but messages like the following from CBS are confusing.
Hospitalizations are climbing, especially among children. In New York City, pediatric COVID hospitalizations have almost quadrupled in the last two weeks. The Department of Health says none of those patients ages 5 to 11 were fully vaccinated.
Then they imply schools are safe if everyone wears masks, is socially distanced, tested, and as many who can get vaccinated.
“We all need to work together to keep kids in school and learning, and we can do that by vaccinating, boosting and masking up,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control.
Then they say:
Parents, educators, and students rely on the doctors’ judgments to keep students safe, but teachers face the harsh reality of what’s missing in their schools when it comes to the mitigations.
Also, while Education Secretary Cardona has been working hard to ensure that schools stay open and safe, there’s a disconnect between his goals and what’s happening in individual schools. It’s presumptuous for him to imply that teachers should not be afraid.
He recently tweeted:
Schools should be approaching Omicron with caution – but NOT fear. Just like we teach in the classroom, we can learn from past experiences, trust the science, and use tools like test-to-stay & vaccination to keep schools safe & open.
— Secretary Miguel Cardona (@SecCardona) December 29, 2021
He often refers to the $130 billion the Biden administration gave to states and school districts, including safety and resources to fight the pandemic. But that money wasn’t always used for safety and mitigation.
Last April, Education Week described how school districts were spending the money. They used it to extend the school day, hire tutors and staff, pay extra for more work, train special education teachers and paraprofessionals, and create career-technical education spaces.
They could also use it to purchase social-emotional learning programs.
In addition, they add:
Schools have made significant progress in the last year on providing students with the technology tools they need to learn from home. Several states—Connecticut, Texas, and New Jersey among them—have declared that the digital divide has been closed, with regard to laptops and tablets.
Some districts used the first round of federal funds to pay for things they needed immediately, like masks and other personal protective equipment to guard against COVID-19 spread. The larger doses of money from the second and third rounds of pandemic aid look substantial enough for some districts to get started on construction projects they’d been putting off, or improving outdated ventilation systems.
It’s difficult to generalize when it comes to schools. Teachers and parents want schools opened safely, which should be the focus, but every school is different when it comes to the problems surrounding Covid.
Some school districts are returning to remote for a while.
Here’s a collection of concerns about in-person school noted on social media.
- Teachers feel ignored.
- Buildings still lack adequate ventilation.
- Classrooms are overcrowded, making it difficult to socially distance.
- Schools have lost teachers.
- There’s a shortage of bus drivers, custodians, and school support staff.
- Universities are going remote. Why not K12?
- Parents want school buildings open and blame the union for their closure.
- It’s hard to find substitutes.
- Working parents and parents of children with disabilities need additional support.
- Teachers cover additional classes for teachers who have left.
- Will there be enough Test to Stay kits?
- Some schools don’t have enough tests.
- Schools are staying open for the economy.
- There’s no contact tracing at some schools.
- Some teachers feel they must open the windows in cold weather.
- Should school buildings open if Covid cases are high in the community?
- Who has been accountable for the Covid relief funds?
- Teachers are uncomfortable about schools where children don’t have to wear masks.
- Are children wearing the proper masks when they wear masks?
- Should the CDC have shortened the quarantine period?
- Some teachers don’t have cleaning supplies.
- What happened to the American Rescue funding for schools?
- Teachers want to do a good job but are tired.
Teachers need to be included in the conversation and parents and teachers need to work together.
Let’s hope the start of the New Year will soon improve, and we will see an end to the pandemic or at least find it better managed.
Be patient and kind, take care of the children, and stay safe.
Lieberman, M. (2021, April 5). How School Districts Plan to Spend $130 Billion in Federal Stimulus Money. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/leadership/how-districts-plan-to-spend-130-billion-in-federal-stimulus-money/2021/04.