From lawsuits in San Francisco to threats of a remote learning “lockout” in Chicago, US officials are ramping up the pressure on teachers and their unions to reopen schools that have been closed for almost a year due to Covid.
Education professionals are fighting back, insisting that the dangers of sending teachers — many elderly and at-risk — back to classrooms alongside hundreds of students is too great until vaccinations are completed.
The row has escalated amid mounting frustration from parents forced to stay home some 11 months to look after children, and multiplying examples of school dropouts and psychological issues especially in disadvantaged communities.
This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ southern California chapter joined a growing chorus calling for immediate reopenings.
“A large majority of the 1.5 million students in L.A. County has not been physically in a classroom in nearly a year,” it said in a statement.
“This sad consequence of the pandemic should be addressed immediately with the reopening of schools.”
Keeping children out of class does more harm than good, even in Covid times, the branch representing some 1,500 health workers said.
On Wednesday, new US federal health chief Rochelle Walensky reiterated the point at a White House press briefing.
“Vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools,” said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, pointing to “increasing data” showing it is safe to so do.
Children under the age of 12 do not appear to transmit the coronavirus as readily as adults, while their symptoms tend to be less severe, many experts now say.
“The consensus now is that reopening schools does make sense,” Eric Toner, a Johns Hopkins Center for Disease Control specialist, told the Los Angeles Times.
– No substitute –
But that “consensus” is disputed by many education workers on the ground, including the 300,000-member California Teachers Association.
“No one wants to be back in classrooms with students more than educators, who know there is no equal substitute for regular in-person learning,” spokeswoman Claudia Briggs told AFP