School is back in person, but the five-day school week is often not

Last month, at the height of the Omicron wave, a quarter of American school children missed more than a week of in-person learning, acco...


Last month, at the height of the Omicron wave, a quarter of American school children missed more than a week of in-person learning, according to a national survey of 148,400 parents by The New York Times and the society of survey and data. Dynata.

The majority of students were home at least three days, and almost one in 10 were away for half a month or more. The disturbances spread across the country, no region was spared.

The survey found more widespread interruptions than other recent measurements suggested. It shows how unexpected classroom closures have upended children’s education and parenting routines, even two years into the pandemic.

Five days of in-person school each week was virtually guaranteed. Some parents are now wondering if they will get that level of certainty again.

“I’d say I’m 75% sure school will be open” every week, said Noelle Rodriguez, a mom and hairstylist in Fresno, Calif., who moved her living room to her home, installed a sink and bought a dryer -hair. chair, when it became apparent that the school would not be opening last year. “I can’t say 100%, which is one of the reasons I stayed working from home.”

The reasons for sending home go beyond Covid infections and exposures. Schools continued to deal with fallout from remote schooling last year, including burnout and teacher shortages and staff, and students who struggle with academics, social skills, and classroom behavior. In some cases, teachers have organized work stoppages or asked”The well-being” Where “school climate“days.

It is much less common than last year for entire neighborhoods to close. Instead, schools are closing individual buildings or classrooms or quarantining small groups of children or teachers. This allowed more children to stay in school, but left little data on the question of how many school days are missing. The survey, conducted online Feb. 4-16 by Dynata at the request of The Times, asked parents how many weekdays their youngest child was home in January. (The Times asked how many days were missed in total; some parents may have counted Martin Luther King’s birthday or snow days, and some did not.)

In New York, about a third of college students stayed home most days in January. Some districts, including Atlanta and Detroit, did not reopen after the holidays as planned, to control the spread of Omicron. In Sandy, Utah, students study alone at home some Fridays to help teachers with “burnout and burnout.” In Fairview, Oregon, a middle school closed for three weeks for student misconduct.



The practice in many school districts reflects a new level of comfort in keeping children home, even on short notice, in a way that was previously uncommon. distance education in the era of the pandemic.

Ms. Rodriguez’s decision in Fresno proved prescient. Several classrooms at her children’s school closed following positive cases, then in January Covid swept through her family. Her third grade daughter stayed home for two weeks. Her husband is a sheet metal foreman and cannot work from home.

“I can’t collect unemployment, I don’t get any sick pay, I’m self-employed so I had no income during that time,” she said. “It’s a lot, but we make it work.”

As cases have plunged, many states and districts are dropping mask mandates and restrictions on large school gatherings for the first time. But only one in five American children between the ages of 5 and 11 are fully vaccinated. Some districts have started planning virtual days during periods of seasonal Covid spread, said Dennis Roche, president of Burbio, a data company that has tracked closures in more than 5,000 school districts.

“It’s almost like building a house in an earthquake zone,” he says. “You want it to be a bit flexible. You want to build dampers into the system.

School-wide closures eased in February, according to Burbio, and it’s likely students have been kept home more often in January than any other month so far this school year. As the year progressed, schools also became less likely to close for public health reasons or the mental health of teachers.

For schools trying to keep students in the classroom, some other pressures have eased. Many states and school districts have recruited additional substitute teachers by lowering requirements or increasing salaries. Changes in public health guidelines around isolation and quarantine have allowed more students to stay in school.

Chuck Alberts, president of the Lansing Schools Education Association in Michigan, the teachers’ union there, said the district has done a lot to keep schools open. Schools have doubled the size of some classrooms and asked teachers to take extra lessons during free time and lunch breaks. The district has required masks and provided free testing to any children or staff with Covid symptoms.

“Being an urban district, we understand that a school is much more than a place of education,” he said. “We’re the hot meal provider for breakfast and lunch, at least, and we’re the perfect place to warm up.”

But even with those measures, the district still asked students to spend the first week of January at home for remote learning, when infection rates were so high that some schools couldn’t staff all of their rooms. of class. Mr Alberts said some teachers had become so exhausted from their extended hours that they called in sick the week after taking on a heavy load.

“There is no longer the normal from before March 13, 2020,” he said. “I think we’re really at a point where we have to redefine what education will look like in the future.”

Other districts say things are stabilizing. In Cleveland City, Tennessee, schools closed for two days in January when Omicron infected 95 adults on staff, said Russell Dyer, the principal of the schools there. But he noted they also closed for a day or two at a time during bad flu seasons before Covid arrived.

A growing body of research shows that the closures have had a widespread effect on families with young children.

Students started the year, on average, half a school year late in math and reading, and many also socially and emotionally struggled, the data show. Some educators said they needed more free time or more time without students to handle the increased workload. At the same time, others say students need more time in school to address their skills lagging behind.

Closures, or just risk them, have also prevented some parents from working. In early February, five million people – 12% of adults who are neither working nor retired – said they were out of work because they were caring for a child who would usually be in school or daycare , according to a Census Bureau survey. There are no paid federal leave for persons occupying this position; it expired in December 2020.

At the start of the pandemic, parents were more likely to say that viral spread, more than children’s academic and emotional well-being, should be a major factor in keeping schools open. Now more parents are saying otherwise, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. But there were splits in those beliefs: White, Republican, or wealthy parents were most likely to prioritize in-person school.

Erin Bray, who works at an educational nonprofit in Portland, Oregon, is the mother of two young children whose district closed for two weeks of distance learning in January to control the spread of Omicron.

Ms Bray said it felt like a reprieve for the children and staff – her husband is a third grade teacher – and not too stressful for her family as the shutdown was short and she works from home.

“The past two years have taken such a toll on our educators, and this compounded stress added to an already stressful job seems to be wearing everyone down,” she said.

Mr. Cecilia Bocanegra, a Chicago-area psychotherapist and mother of three, has lost patience with school closings. His district had no school for five days in January due to a dispute with a teachers’ union over Covid precautions. The shutdown began on the first day of a new job for her husband, a lawyer, so she had to cancel appointments for her patients or see them virtually while her children were home.

“If it’s about staffing, I understand that,” she said. “But if we wait for everyone to feel safe? We were afraid to go back to last year when the return was kicked out and kicked out. It means a lot of anxiety, and it’s just not sustainable in the long run.

Unscheduled closures can be especially stressful for children, according to researchers who have been regularly surveying service workers in Philadelphia since the fall of 2020. They found that after unexpected school disruptions, children behaved more and felt sadder, and their parents were less cheerful and had shorter tempers.

“Routine is really important for young children’s sense of stability around the world and is known to be important for healthy child development, so when routine is disrupted it creates additional stressors,” said Anna Gassman -Pines, author of the study who teaches public policy, psychology and neuroscience at Duke. “Any effort to increase predictability would be helpful.”


Josh Katz contributed report.



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Newsrust - US Top News: School is back in person, but the five-day school week is often not
School is back in person, but the five-day school week is often not
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