Reopening During Omicron: Schools Across America Debate Teachers’ Safety

“We’ve spent two years rebutting myths pertaining to COVID and children, that it’s ‘harmless’ for children,” Dr. Mark Kline, physician in chief at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, told NBC News earlier this week. “It’s not.” 

Meanwhile, in President Joe Biden’s remarks to the press on Tuesday, he claimed, “We have no reason to think at this point that Omicron is worse for children than previous variants. We know that our kids can be safe when in school.”

Some media stories emphasize the inconvenience to parents in making schools remote, understandably, as the shift can throw a massive wrench into family logistics if a parent or caretaker is unavailable to stay home. But many teachers have said they feel like their well-being is an afterthought. Teachers’ unions in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut are pushing for remote learning for safety reasons.

“They feel like they can’t keep their heads above water,” Michael Reinholdt, a teacher coach, told NPR in December, citing behavioral and social problems, learning lags, and COVID-specific logistics. “They’re responsible for not only the standards they have in the classroom for this year, but they’re also responsible for all of the lost learning for the last 18 months. They feel like they simply can’t keep up.”

New York City schools were open on Monday, per Mayor Adams’s guidance, but about a third of the student body was absent. Third-grade teacher Andrea Castellano told Education Week, “All that teachers could say to each other today is, ‘Why are we here?’ There are limited numbers of students, limited numbers of staff. Teaching is not happening because you don’t want to provide new instruction to half your class. It’s not equitable…. If we had the option to do remote, then real learning could happen.”

Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: What to Know About the COVID Omicron Variant

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