CHICAGO – Children who have been abandoned at home for months by the pandemic are slowly returning to classrooms, but many teachers say they will not return until they receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
Especially in Chicago, the country’s third-largest public school district, where teachers who were supposed to return to class on Wednesday have once again worked from home and are threatening to strike again.
“The community spread is still so high in Chicago, and so many people are sick and dying. I don’t know how to protect myself in an old building with so many people, “said Kirstin Roberts, a preschool teacher at Brentano Math and Science Academy in the northwest part of town.” I don’t understand why we are have to risk our lives when we are so close to a vaccine.
While researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that schools reopen as soon as possible with masks and other protective measures in place, the teachers most resistant to the idea were in districts like Chicago who have had little or no face-to-face contact. education since March, said Dennis Roche of Burbio, a data service that verifies information about the opening of schools.
“It would appear that vaccinating teachers would make things easier,” he said. “But that hasn’t moved the needle” in districts where education has been mostly virtual.
The percentage of Kindergarten to Grade 12 students attending “virtual-only” schools declined last week from nearly 50% to 42%, according to Burbio’s latest newsletter.
But as of Wednesday, about a third of all students in the United States had not received in-person education since March, and they were concentrated in “a small group of six states and several large cities,” Roche said. .
Those states are Oregon, California, Virginia, New Mexico, Maryland, and Washington, and major cities include Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Cleveland and Boston, he said.
In Chicago, there has been a week-long standoff between teachers and the school district over resuming in-person education, which so far has been limited to a few special education and preschool classes.
Citing security concerns, the teachers’ union voted Sunday against returning to classrooms despite being threatened with professional discipline and being banned from online education platforms.
This forced Chicago’s public schools to push back their scheduled return date from Monday to Wednesday to allow more time for negotiations, a deadline that has now passed.
President Joe Biden said Monday he sympathizes with Chicago teachers.
“It’s not so much the idea that teachers aren’t going to work,” Biden said during a briefing with reporters. “The teachers I know want to work.” They just want to work in a safe environment and … as safe as we can rationally do it. And we can do it. “
In a study published online Tuesday in the journal JAMA, CDC researchers offered a series of recommendations for reopening classrooms and said their data suggests schools are not responsible for the same type of outbreaks of Covid-19 that have been reported in nursing homes, correctional facilities and “high density job sites”, such as meat packing plants.
“There is little evidence that schools have contributed significantly to increased community transmission,” they wrote.
But in New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy has not prioritized the vaccine for educators, teachers in the affluent suburbs of Montclair and Maplewood want to be vaccinated before resuming their studies in person.
“We are approaching February and vaccines are already available for those at high risk, so a back to school is on the horizon,” said the South Orange and Maplewood Education Association, which is the local teachers’ union, in a recent letter to school. board. “But to do that, as the numbers increase, the variations spread, and under conditions that make actual training less effective, it’s not just stupid but reckless.
In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine said he was speeding up the distribution of vaccines to school employees in hopes of getting all teachers back into classrooms by March 1.
“Many of his districts will start next week, but we don’t have enough vaccines to open all schools on February 1,” he said.
Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said he agreed to teachers getting vaccinated faster, but many will not have had their second vaccine before March 1.
“While we agree that the vaccination of school employees is absolutely necessary to enable the return to teaching in person, it was obvious from the start that this date was unfair and unrealistic,” said he said in an email to Columbus Dispatch.
Ali reported from Chicago, Siemaszko from Montclair, New Jersey