Back to School… with COVID!

Photo Credit: Randy Vazquez, Bay Area News Group

From an Oakland teacher:

It is back to school in person as the coronavirus’ delta variant surges across the globe. For some, the summer was a respite from the trials of the pandemic – in many areas, indoor activities resumed, and outside, many were going without a mask. Perhaps it was this temporary lull in the virus that led school districts to reopen schools without a comprehensive plan. In August, as the vaccine breakthrough coronavirus cases became more common, districts and state governments pushed for business as usual, and a return to in-person school. Only with the reopening of schools to provide childcare could workers be forced back to on-site work.

The return to campuses has been bittersweet for students and staff. The two-dimensional world of Zoom is incomparable to the excitement of social interaction and the engagement of in-person learning. However, the safety plans differ vastly from school to school within a district, as well as district to district and state to state. Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest school district in the nation and is requiring weekly testing for all students. Meanwhile, in Florida, school districts can be fined for having mask requirements, and 23% of children tested positive with the virus.

A positive case in a classroom means that students and staff have been exposed. In Oakland, California, three cases in a classroom requires the class to quarantine and resume a new form of distance learning under SB 130. This new California state law, passed in July of 2021, expands the pre-pandemic notion of independent study. However, independent study means something different depending on the teacher and the school site. Before the pandemic, independent study in Oakland was a work packet, but a work packet does not cut it when COVID exposure means a two-week quarantine. Students under SB 130, out of school for COVID symptoms, are receiving little education. More than two weeks out of the classroom counts as an absence on a student’s permanent record, which in California can lead to punitive consequences.

And if an entire classroom is closed? It is assumed that distance-learning on Zoom will continue. However, under SB 130, a weekly minimum of 30 minutes of live instruction is required. Students who have opted into distance learning are receiving little live instruction. In addition, many students no longer have devices to participate in online learning.

September is now here and school districts will continue to open across the country. The federal government and media are not sharing the truth about what is happening in school districts that are already back to school. The CDC is now reporting 91% of children in the low immunity areas (elementary schools or low vaccination rates) are predicted to be infected with coronavirus, 86% in medium immunity (middle schools), and 76% in high immunity (high schools). Coronavirus is spreading through our nation’s schools and there is little understanding of the long-term health consequences for our children.

In addition, individual classrooms, schools and districts are returning to remote learning across the country. School districts have closed in nearly 20 different states. In some areas, such as Texas, districts have shut down completely because schools are not required to make up days missed due to COVID.

We need to get support for our students and families. California had a budget surplus in 2020 and has pumped millions into school districts, but that money is stuck in the hands of school boards and districts tied up in special interests. The money must be used for students and families. We need weekly, mandatory testing at every school across the nation. We need public health workers tracking the cases at each site and communicating with families and staff about exposures. Our public schools have been at capacity for decades, and we have always needed smaller class sizes and more support. Now we need this more than ever to keep our most important people safe: the children.