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Pressure relies on school systems to rebuild classes by pitting politicians against teachers


Image: Elm Street High School, Nashua, New Hampshire. Source: nashua.edu

Michael Kunzelman and Holly Romer

CONCORD, NH (AP) – Increased pressure on school systems across the U.S. to resume classes for students who have been studying online for nearly a year, confronting politicians with teachers who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

In Chicago the disgust is so great that teachers are on the verge of a strike. In California, frustrated Gov. Gavin Newsom asked schools to find a way to resume the discovery. In Cincinnati, some students returned to class on Tuesday after a judge dismissed a lawsuit from a teachers’ union over security concerns.

While some communities argue that online classes remain the safest option for all, some parents, backed by politicians and administrators, complain that their children’s education suffers from sitting at home behind a computer and that isolation harms them emotionally.

In Nashua, New Hampshire, the school board voted to keep distance learning for most students until the city meets specific targets for coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and tests.

Alicia Houston, whose sons are in sixth and 10th grades, said her biggest disappointment is that “she can’t effectively help her children,” even though she quit her job to try just that.

“Watch them get a little darker,” she said last week. “Watch them fall apart. Part of emotional and mental health is one of the most important parts. Such an injury is not something from which they will recover immediately. “

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Some families and their supporters also argue that rebuilding schools will allow parents to return to work rather than stay at home to oversee their children’s education.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a recent study that there is little evidence of the virus spreading in schools when precautions such as masks, distancing, and proper ventilation are taken.

But many teachers refused to return without vaccinations from the plague that killed more than 440,000 Americans.

Catherine Pearson, a high school teacher in Chicago, wants to continue teaching remotely so as not to risk the health of her 91-year-old grandmother and aunt, who are battling lung cancer. Person said she believes the union will fight school officials if they try to punish teachers who do not return.

“If they try to get revenge, if it happens, we will go on strike,” she said.

In California, with 6 million public school students, teacher unions say they will not send their members into a dangerous situation.

Democrat Newsom said he would not force schools to rebuild, but instead wanted to encourage them, and proposed a $ 2 billion plan that met with criticism from leaders, unions and lawmakers. This will give schools additional funding for testing on COVID-19 and other security measures when they resume full-time classes. Schools that open earlier will get more money.

Newsom told educators he was ready to negotiate, but some demands, including a call from unions to vaccinate all teachers before school, are unrealistic given the lack of vaccinations.

“If everyone needs to be vaccinated, we could just tell people the truth: there will be no personal instructions in California,” he said.

The largest districts, including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, say the plan sets unrealistic rules and deadlines.

“The virus is now in control and does not have a calendar,” the California Teachers Association, which has 300,000 members, warned in a letter. “We can’t just pick an artificial calendar date and wait to switch to rebuilding each school for personal learning.”

President Joe Biden’s administration and Republican senators are pushing for incentive packages that distribute billions of dollars to help schools bring children back into the classroom.

About 10,000 Chicago teachers and staff, as well as 62,000 students from eighth-grade kindergartens were due to return to school on Monday for the first time since last March. But the Chicago school system extended distance learning for another two days and called for a cooling-off period in talks with the teachers’ union.

District efforts to vaccinate Chicago teachers will begin only in mid-February.

In several states, lawmakers are pushing legislation that requires more personal training.

The Iowa State Act, signed Friday by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, requires counties to offer full-time classroom instruction to parents who request it. Despite fears that teachers are still not vaccinated, they should return this month.

In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is facing pressure from Republican lawmakers to reopen more schools. In South Carolina, a bipartisan attempt is being made to return students to classes five days a week.

“Once this pandemic is over, I hope I never call Zoom again,” said House Democrat minority leader Todd Rutherford, a Democrat. “I hate it. I can’t stand them. I can’t imagine I’m in third or fourth grade and I need to look at the screen to learn.”

In Utah, the Salt Lake City school system has announced plans to resume personal education at least two days a week under pressure from lawmakers who have threatened to cut funding.

The head of a school in Washington State insists that teachers be vaccinated when it is their turn, but also insists that they return immediately to classes, whether shot or not.

“The bottom line is that the vaccine is a huge safety net, but it can never create the perfect scenario,” said Chris Rackdahl, head of public education.

Emily VanDerhoff, a first-grade teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia, and a union representative, was due to get vaccinated last Friday. But she and others saw their meetings canceled when vaccine supplies ran out.

The head of Fairfax County has announced a preliminary plan for students to start returning on February 16, but the union says less than 10% of teachers believe the return is safe.

“Even after we’re all vaccinated, it will still take less spread in the community to make people feel safe and make it safer to have students in schools,” VanDerhoff said.


Kuntzelman reported from College Park, Maryland. Associated Press reporters Brian Anderson, David Pete, Sophia Tarin, Don Babwin, Jeffrey Collins and Jocelyn Hecker contributed to this report.


Source: AP News

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