COVID and schools student in mask at desk

Friday Roundup: COVID and Schools This Week

COVID and schools continue to do battle as the Omicron variant persists in wreaking havoc for the education sector in the U.S. and abroad. Teachers, parents, administrators, and students are grappling with the pros and cons of in-person instruction. In this latest edition of our Friday round-up series, we look at how the conversation around COVID and schools has evolved in the past week both in the U.S. and abroad.

The Biden administration announced it would provide K-12 schools with 10 million Covid-19 tests, as the number of US patients hospitalized with Covid reached record highs.

A fact sheet released by the administration reads, “Students have sacrificed so much over the course of the pandemic, and the president has been clear in his words and actions that his administration will do all that it can to keep schools safely open for all students.” This effort to bring more tests to more students is meant to help keep classrooms open. The CDC recommends Covid testing for students at least once a week, and public health experts have stressed the need for expanded testing. 

Johns Hopkins experts have weighed in on best practices for students and teachers, including doing everything we can to “preserve the educational experience” and mentioning the nationwide teacher shortage.

Annette Anderson, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, says, “It’s important to own that parents and school staff feel gaslit and condescended to…if anything, this impasse makes it clearer than ever that we always need to seek to understand first.” Andrew Pekosz, professor of immunology at Johns Hopkins, adds, “There are safe ways to bring students back to in-person learning while also minimizing the chances of SARS-CoV-2 spread.” 

A high-stakes battle played out between the Mayor of Chicago and the city’s teachers’ union about keeping schools open and safe.

73 percent of the members in Chicago’s teacher’s union voted to move to remote learning. Then Mayor Lori Lightfoot accused the union of an illegal work stoppage. The city and the teacher’s union finally reached a COVID-19 safety deal that includes additional testing and metrics provisions. As millions of students head back to their desks, the testing that was supposed to help keep the classrooms open safely was being tested itself

Soaring student and teacher absences put pressure on already-strained schools amid the Covid-19 surge.

Thousands of teachers across Sonoma County in Northern California (73,000 students total) are dealing with a “sharp uptick” in student absences. These absences are “dramatically up even from earlier periods of the pandemic as a result of the rising wave of Omicron cases.” Petaluma schools have logged an average 15% absence rate during the outbreak, about 10% higher than usual. Nationwide, existing teacher and staff shortages are being exacerbated by Covid-related teacher absences.

Students across the U.S. have staged walkouts to bring attention to Covid concerns on their campus.

In Redondo Beach, CA, 410 student cases and 31 staff cases reported in the last 14 days prompted the protest. Students “voiced their concerns during a school board meeting on Tuesday, saying that [they] don’t feel safe coming to school.” The school board president made his position clear, saying, “Our schools are going to be the last to close, first to open…we are an essential, vital service.” Meanwhile, students in New York City walked out of class on Tuesday, 1/11. Their peers in many other cities like Boston, Milwaukee, and Seattle have staged similar protests.

Teachers across France staged a walkout on Thursday to protest Covid testing rules they say have disrupted classes and are too lax in protecting against Omicron.

Teachers in France took to the streets in tens of thousands this week–nearly 40% of elementary school teachers and a quarter of secondary school teachers joined the strike. “The epidemic must be curbed, but the policy that has been chosen is not consistent,” a high school teacher protesting in central Paris said. The government’s guidance has been variedly received, with complex testing rules changed twice in a matter of days. Parents and teachers were both left feeling confused and angry by changing protocols. 

Educators in Britain are scouring the Internet for affordable air purifiers to protect their students.

The British government recommends two specific air purifiers to help protect against transmission, but prices are too high for some educators. “I got what I think is the best air purifier for the budget I have available. I hope I’ve got something that’s doing the job, but I’m not an expert. There’s been no guidance put out by the Department of Education…I’ve had to do it all myself, and I shouldn’t have to do that when it’s a national crisis,” said Stuart Guest, a headteacher at an elementary school in Birmingham, England.

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