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Schools Battle COVID in Efforts to Stay Open

by Courtney Blackann
(Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

If times were strange in 2020 due to COVID-19, it appears they’re heading there again. Just as we were nearing our way towards the peak of the mountain, the Omicron variant arrived, knocking us down like a powerful avalanche. And students across the country are the ones who remain stuck. Schools are doing everything they can to stay open as cases rise and classrooms lose teachers.

From March 2020 to late last year, virtual learning became a thing students and teachers were all too familiar with. While the idea is positive, putting it in play showed a massive decline in academic success. And as school districts struggle with a solution, overworked teachers are growing more and more frustrated. Not to mention students are struggling to cope with this new normal.

Additionally, teacher shortages are causing too-full classrooms and frustrated educators.

According to Axios, schools are struggling to combat COVID and remain open.

“If staff is out and you’re just farming fifth-graders into a first-grade classroom, is that learning or is that babysitting?” says John Coneglio, president of the Columbus Education Association teachers union.

The dilemma is ongoing as teachers’ unions say the method isn’t working and they need help. Recently in Chicago, schools were forced to close amid a teachers’ strike because of the issues and what educators say are unsafe working conditions.

“How long can we sustain this? We already have people leaving their jobs,” said Kelly Wilson, president of Minnesota’s Osseo Local #1212 teachers union.

And Chicago isn’t the only city that’s tired. Washington D.C., Philadelphia and the Twin Cities, teachers are missing their planning periods to teach in other classrooms. They’re also adding more students to classes to accommodate the shortage. Further, Axios reports that Columbus City schools are 124 substitute teachers short of their 740 goal.

School Enrollment Decreases Due to COVID Disruptions

And as students miss class, with absences growing daily, academia everywhere is suffering.

“It’s a problem that existed pre-pandemic, it has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and the teacher shortage will not disappear with the pandemic,” said Michael Rice, Michigan’s state superintendent of public instruction.

A Denver area high school student also expressed frustration that “it’s like 2020 all over again.” The student further says that virtual learning is ineffective because it feels like the teacher is just talking at you through a screen.

Further, NPR reported in December that schools across the country showed a significant decline in attendance. They found that enrollment decreased overall by 3 percent.

“When I talk to my colleagues … across the country, there’s a lot of concern right now,” says Chicago schools chief Pedro Martinez. “Pre-pandemic, we were already seeing enrollment decline. So it wasn’t that we had stability. What happened during COVID, we just saw an increase in the number that didn’t come.”