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Schools adapt for return from break as COVID-19 cases surge | Education

Mask requirements are returning in some school districts that have been dropped. Some plan to significantly speed up virus testing among students and staff. And a few school systems are switching to distance learning – only for a short time, the educators hope.

With coronavirus infections soaring, the return from school winter break will turn out differently than planned for some as administrators once again tweak logs and make real-time adjustments in response to the changing coronavirus pandemic. All of them signal the need to remain flexible.

“Change was the only constant in this struggle,” wrote Roger León, superintendent of the Newark Schools, in a note to parents before the break. He announced that on Thursday students will study remotely for at least the first two weeks of the New Year. The virus, according to León, continues to be “a brutal, relentless and ruthless virus that raises its ugly head at inopportune times”.

Long after the widespread closings in the early days of the pandemic, school principals and elected leaders say they are using the lessons and tools of the past two years to try to manage the recent surge without long-term closures that have dire effects on learning and education the students had. Wellbeing.

“They say that children are fine [if infected]but who says my kid won’t be, ”said Rebecca Caldwell, who is considering asking her Charleston, Illinois district for a remote option that would allow her to have her four sons aged 17, 10, 7 Years to keep and 5, house through the winter.

The first half of the school year brought three horrors to Caldwell’s family from exposure. One of a family member quarantined the entire family for 10 days. Her 17- and 10-year-olds saw classmates become infected, and each went through a nerve-wracking series of COVID-19 tests as part of a newer “test-to-stay” policy.

“It’s really scary because you worry about the ripple effect, too,” said Caldwell, whose own health problems led her to quit her restaurant job more than a year ago to reduce her risk.

The nation’s largest school system, New York City, is using 2 million state-provided home test kits to increase post-break testing, officials said this week. Students whose classmates tested positive can continue to come to school as long as their home tests are negative and they have no symptoms.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York educators, questioned whether the new testing initiatives will be available in every school by the time schools reopen on Monday.

“We’re getting closer to a safe reopening of the school next week. But we’re not there yet, ”he said.

In Chicago, the country’s third largest school district, officials announced in January it would buy 100,000 laptops in case they were needed for distance learning, despite district leaders hoping to avoid a system-wide shutdown. The Chicago Teachers Union has proposed pausing in-person learning unless new safety measures are put in place, including negative COVID-19 tests for returning students.

Los Angeles health officials last week announced tightened testing and masking rules for all staff and students when LA County’s public and private schools return on Monday. Concerned about an increase in the Omicron variant, teachers at the county health department are required to wear medical masks in class and students and staff are required to wear masks in crowded outdoor spaces. Schools have two weeks to adhere to it.

“The goal remains to keep all schools open for personal learning five days a week during the 2021-22 school year and beyond,” Cardona said in a message to the schools halfway through the school year. He said 99 percent of schools were open in person in December, compared with 46 percent last January.

Of more than 13,000 school districts across the country, relatively few have announced that they will start remotely after the winter break.

Like Newark, these districts generally plan to resume face-to-face teaching within a few weeks. These include Cleveland, Ohio; Prince George’s County, Md .; Mount Vernon, NY; Taos; Chester County, SC; and several New Jersey school systems.

Citing the city’s high infection rate, Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti on Friday extended the winter break for nearly 50,000 students through at least January 5, urging them to get tested in the district. Examinations are required for employees.

Ronald Taylor, superintendent of New Jersey’s South Orange-Maplewood School District, said a spike in cases and subsequent break-time quarantine disrupted operations by forcing the consolidation of classes that were under-staffed. He said the district would be isolated for the first week.

“As in many other school districts, we’ve seen a constant trend that after each of our school holidays, both Thanksgiving and our fall break in early November, there has been a surge in our student population [and]Employee population of COVID cases, “he said.

Masks will also return in some counties after hiatus, including Hopkinton High School, the first public school in Massachusetts that lifted its mandate in October. It was reinstated just before the break.

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, where 1 in 4 people tested positive for the virus, the school system announced Thursday that all staff, volunteers and visitors to schools and facilities must wear face covers and students are urged to wear them from you. A state law prevents school districts from imposing mask requirements on students.

Some school systems are moving towards requiring vaccinations for students, but not anytime soon. In the Los Angeles School District, which was one of the first to announce mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for high school students, a January 10 deadline for students 12 years and older has been postponed to fall 2022. Officials said the earlier date would have banned about 27,000 unvaccinated students from campus.

The District of Columbia said on December 22nd that all students, whether in public, private, or charter schools, must be fully vaccinated by March 1st.Much is unknown about the Omicron coronavirus variant, including whether it causes more or less serious illness. Scientists say Omicron is spreading even more easily than other coronavirus strains, including Delta, and is expected to become dominant in the US by early 2022.

In Ohio, where hospital admissions for COVID-19 hit a record high this week, the Ohio Hospital Association is urging schools across the state to consider wearing a mask as cases continue to rise.

The patchwork quilt of responses also includes Woodbury, NJ’s plans to invite students for half days for the first week and send them home with lunch so they don’t have to take off masks to eat while in the building.

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