Go back to classrooms? Controversy that divides the US two years after the pandemic started

Two years after COVID-19 appeared in the world and its first death will be reported on January 11, 2020 – a new variant – omicron, triggers cases in the United States, which already reach 95% of new infections .

With the arrival of omicron, the controversy that divides many in the United States also returns as to whether it is successful or not to return to face-to-face classes.

Despite the fact that, in the country, most of the large school districts have decided to remain open, the new peak of infections makes many members of the school campus demand to return to virtual or remote classes. Something that a good number of parents and authorities are not comfortable with.

Chicago, for example, the third-largest school district in the United States, began the first week of January with the suspension of face-to-face and virtual classes for about 330,000 students after the teachers union held a vote that reached 73 % of its members in favor of switching to remote teaching.

In that district alone, on Tuesday, January 4, it reported that 2,000 adults in the education sector and about 8,000 students were in quarantine.

According to union spokesmen consulted by the Voice of america They will not return to classrooms until “cases drop significantly” and they reach an agreement on safety protocols for safe return to school with Mayor Lori Elaine Lightfoot and the head of the school district, Pedro Martínez.

“We want to teach and we want what is right for students, and we are ready to do it remotely, starting today. If you want us to get back to schools faster, provide evidence (for COVID), do what DC (Washington DC) is already doing, what New York is doing, what Los Angeles does, and provide evidence, ”said Jesse Sharkey, professor in Chicago.

However, the mayor maintains that returning to remote education is “unacceptable and harmful” especially for parents who have to work and cannot stay home.

While the director of public schools in Chicago, Pedro Martínez, explained that despite the closure of classes, the campuses will remain open for administrators, staff and “essential services”, but not to teach.

Mandatory protocols

The issue of the use of masks, vaccines against COVID-19 and mandatory tests for students and educational facilities has also caused divisions in those school districts where they have been implemented; however, districts like Los Angeles and New York are not backing down in order to keep children in schools.

To return to classrooms, public schools in Los Angeles will begin to require negative COVID-19 tests, regardless of vaccination status, for school grounds and students, starting the next week. As well as the mandatory use of masks.

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s office disclosed that it has sent COVID-19 test kits to homes and county education offices throughout California to screen public school students before returning from vacation.

In addition, including the COVID vaccine for minors in the immunization card is an option that the state of California has in mind.

“The vaccine against COVID-19 will be added to the list of mandatory vaccinations to attend school. This includes vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella, among others ”, quotes an official communication obtained by VOA.

Also, the authorities do not rule out that those educational centers where positive cases are presented return to virtual classes temporarily to control infections.

Similar regulations have been implemented in New York where more than a million students returned to face-to-face classes.

The state, which has the largest public school system in the US, announced that it has increased stocks of COVID-19 diagnostic test kits to take home, and plans to double the number of random tests in schools. .

New York City Mayor Eric Adams argues that there are great benefits to having kids in face-to-face classes.

According to Adams, they have witnessed that outside of schools “children are exposed to dangerous environments.”

“Schools play a role, safety, stability for our children […] we take over 1.5 million test kits […] and we put them in every school in our education department, so that when the teachers, staff, and principals come back, they have the test kits in the field, “Adams said.

A student eats individually as they must be 6 feet apart from each other due to social distancing.

Exceptions

But not all school districts return to classes as is the case in Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Wisconsin, where authorities announced that their plans to delay return have been altered due to the increase in cases due to the omicron variant.

Others such as Miami-Dade and Broward have enabled face-to-face classes, despite the fact that cannot require the use of masks to students because of legislation Governor Ron DeSantis signed in November that prevents the district from imposing a mask-wearing mandate on students.

High infection rates in that state and industry workers’ fear of infection have led to a teacher shortage. On Monday, January 3 alone, the first day back to school after winter break, about 2,110 from the staff of educators, including counselors and 94 bus drivers, were absent, district officials reported.

Something that for the superintendent of Miami-Dade, Alberto Carvalho, is another crisis that they have to face.

Record hospitalizations in children

The country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to insist on vaccination and that preventive strategies that include “universal use of masks, physical distancing and increased ventilation ”in schools.

According to the centers, an average of 672 children in the United States was admitted daily for COVID during the past week. “The highest figure since the pandemic began.”

For its part, the American Academy of Pediatrics published in its report More recently than in the last week of December 2021, infections in young people also soared in the country with 325,000 positive diagnoses among children.

“This number is a 64% increase over the 199,000 additional cases reported in the week ending December 23 and nearly double the case count from the previous two weeks,” he quoted.

According to the center, nearly 7.9 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, representing more than 1 in 10 American children.

In the su last update CDC has insisted that the “most important and effective” strategy to help schools stay open is with “high levels of immunization among all eligible students, teachers, staff members, and family members.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its part added another tool to protect minors from the coronavirus within schools by authorize reinforcements on Monday of the COVID-19 vaccine for teens ages 12-15 amid a surge in the number of cases nationwide.

[ Con colaboración de Laura Sepulveda, VOA]

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