Various school systems across the country have delayed reopening after winter break
Public school districts, mostly across the Northeast and Midwest, closed this week as the omicron variant of coronavirus surges following the winter break and the country’s students face a mental health crisis.
Various school systems in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland and other states have delayed reopenings after winter break, citing COVID-19 concerns and related staffing shortages. More than 3,200 schools are closed this week, according to a public school opening tracker from community event website Burbio.
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union are holding a vote Tuesday – a day after reopening – to return to remote learning for two weeks if their demands for a large increase in COVID-19 testing for all students to go back to school are not met.
“What I’m hearing from parents is that it’s a flashback to the beginning of 2021, and they’re ready to challenge this,” Laura Zorc, director of Education Reform at Building Education for Students Together (BEST), told Fox News. “…Based on the science, we know that the mental health of children and the learning loss is greater than the risk of COVID.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers – the largest teachers union in the U.S. – said in a Tuesday tweet that schools are making “very real logistical decisions.”
“We know kids do better in person, but the spike is real. We need adequate staff & the safety measures in place including testing, masking ventilation. There is a lot of stress,” she wrote.
President Biden’s American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief package allocated $122 billion toward helping K-12 public schools deal with the coronavirus pandemic, but despite the massive increase in funding, teachers union members remain concerned about a lack of COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment, as well as outdated ventilation systems.
“It all goes back to the politics of negotiating union contracts, so they’re using our children as a pawn in their negotiations,” Zorc said, adding that other essential workers such as police officers, grocery store workers and truck drivers can’t negotiate their contracts by involving children.
In a speech Tuesday, Biden said it is safe for children to attend in-person school, citing the American Rescue Plan’s funding.
“We know that our kids can be safe when in school, by the way. That’s why I believe schools should remain open. You know, they have what they need because of the American Rescue Plan or the first month we were in office or second month that I signed in March. We provided the states with $130 billion, with a billion dollars to specifically keep our students safe and schools open.”
While cases have spiked, deaths from the disease have fallen by more than half. Jan. 13, 2021, saw the greatest number of COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began with nearly 4,050 deaths reported that day. The seven-day average hovered around 3,400 deaths per day. But as of Dec. 29, the last time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its trending data, the nationwide average was reported at just under 1,100 deaths per day.