Many teachers in the US are reluctant to immediately reopen schools and call for improved safety measures this month as registry number of Covid-19 cases have been recorded as a result of the spread of the Omicron variant.
Some school districts have opted to remotely restart school after winter break for the first week or two, while most others are grappling with tightening or re-establishing Covid-19 safety protocols.
Several teachers who spoke to The Guardian expressed concern about the serious shortage of staff, a lack of adequate and promised personal protective equipment, difficulties in accessing Covid tests and worsening of general working conditions.
Rori Abernethy, a teacher in San Francisco, California, said teachers are facing severe staff shortages that force them to serve as substitutes during prep time and are increasing the size of their classrooms as teachers and other staff retire. , quit or call sick.
“This is the hardest teaching year I’ve had in 20 years,” said Abernethy. “Morale is low among the teachers and it seems like the whole city is fighting over politics and nobody cares what the teachers are going through in the classroom. If we complain, people are cruel and tell us to stop smoking or that we don’t care about children. “
He also noted that staff and students have not received enough personal protective equipment, such as proper masks, that Covid testing is difficult for teachers due to strict delivery schedules and is not mandatory or readily available to students, and that the Covid sick leave for teachers has expired. by the end of 2021. According to Abernethy, four teachers from his school quit before winter break and 25 staff members were absent on the first day of school after break, January 3, although student attendance was normal. .
There was 575,000 less state and local education employees in October 2021 than in February 2020. Before the pandemic, the teacher shortage spread and growing across the United States, while many public school buildings were crumbling, in dire need of repair, proper 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 while the students were away, as part of the building had no heat. Less than an hour after the strike began, the district allowed teachers to work remotely.
“There is no good answer,” Roblero said, about choosing between in-person or remote learning in response to Covid surges. “I want to be teaching in person every day. But I also don’t want to carry something or have someone else carry something. “
Alison Ross, a teacher for about 20 years based in the Atlanta, Georgia area, resigned her position with the school district in the fall of 2020 for ignoring Covid protections as she is immunosuppressed. She has been tutoring and teaching part-time remotely, while relying on savings, and is appalled at the prospect of returning to a full-time position as the pandemic continues to spread in the US.
“I feel like my livelihood was stolen from me,” Ross said. “We could afford N95 masks for everyone, we could afford good ventilation, we can pay teachers more and have smaller classes. These are all choices that, as a society, our government has made. People just think this is how it has to be and this is not how it has to be. “
A Crested Butte, Colorado teacher, who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, described a lack of testing options for staff and students, with long waiting lines at testing sites and no home testing available. . The teacher says staff have been reporting to work after testing positive and there is a lack of transparency in contact tracing compared to previous periods during the pandemic.
“They’ve told us they just don’t have the staff or the time to deal with it, so contact tracing is out of the window,” the teacher said. “Morale is pretty low because the staff feel neglected. I know several teachers with the mindset that we will all make it eventually, so let’s get this over with. As teachers, we are the ones who take the brunt to protect children. “
The staffing shortage in his school district has also extended to a lack of school bus drivers, substitute teachers, cafeteria workers, and a decline in student attendance. They already used their Covid sick leave earlier this school year when they tested positive after their son contracted it, despite being fully vaccinated.
“For the general public and the administration, they just feel that the health of the staff and students doesn’t matter. We should have tried to go back. Nobody wants to wear masks or go to school virtually, however now we can be forced to do so without an established plan, “added the teacher. “I have been looking for jobs that are safer and value the health and safety of my family more. We feel so underrated. “
In New York, teachers held a protest during the first school week in January over the reopening of schools and the lack of Covid security measures for students and staff.
“We are concerned about not having a negative Covid result as a requirement to return, as other school districts and private schools did,” 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 concern about Covid’s new isolation guidelines, which reduced isolation days from 10 to five days.
Teachers in Chicago voted revert to remote learning due to lack of Covid security measures, although Chicago public schools canceled school and closed the entrance electronic account teachers in retaliation.
Sarah Caswell, a science teacher in Philadelphia, argued that the push to continue school in person during a pandemic has failed to take into account the problems faced by public education systems before the pandemic began, since overpopulation to excessive standardized tests and socioeconomic disparities, with Covid further exposing those issues.
“Morale is the lowest I’ve ever seen,” Caswell said. “This goes from top to bottom through the administration of the building. They hope that we treat families and students with grace and that we understand that everyone is living in these crazy times and that we support and encourage them, which is absolutely what we have to do and should be doing right now. But they don’t show the same grace to us. “
In philadelphia 81 schools changed to remote learning less than 24 hours in advance, and Caswell noted that numerous members of his school staff tested positive on the first day of school.
“It’s this 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 find a way out. Children are resilient when you give them the right support, and instead we say we’ll go back to what we’ve always done. That didn’t work before the pandemic, so why does it work now? “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism