“Morale is low”: US teachers delay reopening of schools amid Omicron wave | Education in the United States

Many teachers across the United States are resisting the immediate reopening of schools and calling for better safety measures this month as a record number of Covid-19 cases have been recorded following the spread of the variant Omicron.

A few school districts have chosen to restart school after remote winter break for the first week or two, while most of the rest are grappling with tightening or reinstating Covid-19 safety protocols .

Several teachers who spoke to the Guardian expressed concerns over serious staff shortages, lack of adequate and promised personal protective equipment, difficulties in accessing Covid tests and deteriorating overall working conditions.

Rori Abernethy, a teacher in San Francisco, Calif., Said teachers face severe staffing shortages that are forcing teachers to replace them during prep time and increasing class sizes due to retirement. , resignation or appeal of teachers and other staff. sick.

“This is the most difficult teaching year I have had in 20 years,” said Abernethy. “Morale is low among teachers and it feels like the whole city is fighting for politics and no one cares what teachers are going through in the classroom. If we complain people are cruel and tell us to stop or that we don’t care about the children.

She also noted that staff and students were not provided with sufficient personal protective equipment such as appropriate masks, that Covid testing is difficult for teachers given the strict filing times and is not mandatory or readily available to students, and that the Covid sick leave for teachers expired at the end of 2021. According to Abernethy, four teachers at his school resigned before winter break and 25 staff were absent on the first day school after the holidays on January 3, although student attendance was normal.

There were 575,000 fewer local and public education employees in October 2021 than in February 2020. Prior to the pandemic, teacher shortages were widespread and growing in the United States, while many public school buildings s ‘were collapsing, in urgent need of repair, maintenance or replacement.

Retha Roblero, an elementary school teacher in Columbus, Ohio, participated in a security strike on January 3 with other teachers who were working in their school building when the students were away because part of the building had no heating. Less than an hour after the strike began, teachers were authorized by the district to work remotely.

“There is no right answer,” Roblero said, of the choice between in-person or distance learning in response to outbreaks of Covid. “I want to teach in person every day. But I also don’t want to wear something or someone else to wear something.

Alison Ross, a teacher for about 20 years based in the Atlanta, Ga. Area, resigned her post in the school district in the fall of 2020 for flouting Covid protections because she is immunosuppressed. She is tutoring and teaching remotely part-time, while relying on her savings, and is dismayed to return to a full-time position as the pandemic continues to spread across the United States.

“I feel like my livelihood has been stolen from me,” Ross said. “We could afford N95 masks for everyone, we could afford good ventilation, we could afford to pay teachers more and have smaller classes. These are all choices our government has made as a society. People just think that’s how it should be and it’s not how it should be.

A teacher from Crested Butte, Colo., Who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, described a lack of testing options for staff and students, with long lines at testing sites and no testing at home available. The teacher says staff showed up for work after testing positive and there is a lack of transparency in contact tracing compared to previous periods during the pandemic.

“We were told they just didn’t have the staff or the time to take care of it, so contact tracing is out the window,” the teacher said. “Morale is pretty low because the staff don’t feel taken care of. I know several teachers with the mindset that we’ll all get there eventually, so let’s get it over with. As teachers, it is we who pay the price to protect children.

Staff shortages in their school district also extended to a lack of school bus drivers, substitute teachers, cafeteria workers, and declining student attendance. They already used their Covid sick leave at the start of this school year when they tested positive after their son caught it, despite being fully vaccinated.

“To the general public and the administration, it seems that the health of staff and students does not matter. We should have tested to come back. No one wants to wear masks or go to school virtually, but now we might have to do it without a plan in place, ”the teacher added. “I looked for jobs that were more secure and that put more emphasis on the health and safety of my family. We feel so undervalued.

Teachers and union activists protest outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on January 5.
Teachers and union activists protest outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on January 5. Photograph: Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / REX / Shutterstock

In New York City, teachers staged a protest in the first school week in January against the reopening of schools and the lack of Covid safety measures for students and staff.

“We are concerned that we may not have a negative Covid result as a condition of return as other school districts and private schools had done,” said Ronnie Almonte, a teacher at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan, who noted that Bard College requires a negative test. to return to campus this spring. He also expressed concerns over the new Covid isolation guidelines, which reduced days of isolation from 10 to five days.

Chicago teachers voted to return distance learning due to lack of Covid security measures, although Chicago public schools have canceled the school and excluded teachers from e-accounts in retaliation.

Sarah Caswell, a science teacher in Philadelphia, argued that the pressure to continue school in person during a pandemic had failed to explain the problems facing public education systems prior to the start of the pandemic, from the overcrowding at excessive standardized testing and socio-economic disparities, with Covid further exposing these issues.

“Morale is the absolute lowest I’ve ever seen,” Caswell said. “It goes from the top to the building administration. They expect us to treat families and students with grace and understand that everyone is going through these crazy times and that we are supportive and supportive, which is absolutely what we need to do and should be doing right now. But they don’t show the same grace with us.

In Philadelphia, 81 schools switched to distance learning with less than 24 hours notice, and Caswell noted that many of his school staff were positive on the first day of school.

“It’s that constant anxiety and stress,” Caswell added. “It’s just a lot of pressure from a lot of different directions and not a lot of compassion and grace. My belief is that academics will get away with it. Kids are resilient when you provide them with the right support, and instead we say we’re going to get back to what we’ve always done. It didn’t work before the pandemic, so why is it working now? “

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