The COVID-19 Omicron surge once again gives public schools a major hurdle to address when it comes to in-person or virtual learning.
Omicron’s impact in Chicago now presents a new educational impasse. Block Club Chicago reported that on December 1 there was an average of 454 confirmed cases each day. Then, this last Tuesday, there’s an average of 4,591 confirmed cases each day. The positivity rate has risen closer to 23%.
“The news is not good. The COVID case rate in Chicago is the highest it has been since the beginning of the pandemic,” Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a Tuesday news conference.
The best-case scenario seems to be a peak in cases in mid-January. So, what do we do as cases continue to surge?
Chicago Teachers Reject ‘Back to School’ Order
Chicago public schools decided to cancel classes on Wednesday. The decision came after the teachers union voted very overwhelmingly, about 90%, to resume doing remote learning instead of in-person classes. According to The Washington Post, this is defying city orders that told teachers they could return to classrooms.
The decision is meant to try to keep school employees, as well as students and parents, as safe as possible.
“Educators of this city want to be in buildings with their students. We believe that classrooms are where our children should be. But as the results tonight show, Mayor Lightfoot and her CPS team have yet to provide safety for the overwhelming majority of schools,” the union said regarding its decision, according to NPR.
The decision will affect more than 300,000 Chicago Public Schools students. This is the first time the Chicago Teachers Union clashed with the school district. As of now, the union will continue to reject going back to in-person classes. That is until the cases decrease substantially or certain conditions are created for the return of in-person classes.
On the other side of this decision is the argument that remote learning can hinder students’ ability to learn effectively. It also places a burden on parents that are unable to take time off work to stay at home with their kids.
It’s a common debate across the country, especially as the Omicron variant is at a high this winter. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has supported going back to school, which isn’t an uncommon decision. Many schools returned from holiday break for in-person classes.
This is despite many families likely traveling all around the country during break and possibly spreading Omicron even more.
School Closings Surge
Chicago isn’t the only one trying to cancel in-person classes due to Omicron.
According to Bloomberg, there were 646 COVID-related school closings for the week of December 20 and 356 from the week before. States like Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio shifted to virtual learning or even closed for break. Others are also planning to make the switch to remote classes in January.
As of January 4, there are 2,595,704 new cases worldwide.