On Friday, Prince George County, a suburb of Maryland, became the first major school district to announce an expanded system-wide transition to distance learning amid the fifth largest wave of coronavirus in the country.
With the skyrocketing Delta numbers and the impending threat of the highly infectious Omicron variant, the district will close school buildings for the remaining four days of school before Christmas break and another two weeks into the new year.
“Educators, administrators and support staff must be able to conduct personal instruction and other activities in an environment that prioritizes their own health and the well-being of the school community,” said Monica Goldson, district executive director. in a written statement. “Increased levels of positive sentiment have seriously undermined this ability, causing anxiety among many school communities and disrupting the school day.”
Last week, the district of approximately 131,000 students reported 100 cases of the virus in two days, but this week it registered 155 cases in one day and closed three of 208 schools, according to Dr. Goldson’s announcement on Wednesday. … A spokesperson for the district said on Friday that it could not immediately provide more details.
Prince George County had some of the longest school closings in the country last academic year. Two-thirds of its students are from low-income backgrounds, and over 90 percent are black or Hispanic.
Other large school districts are reluctant to return to distance learning despite the current surge. Education officials said they have no plans to completely close school buildings, even if the rise in the number of cases could mean an increase in targeted closings of classes or the quarantine of students after vacations.
Indeed, even in parts of the northeast and midwest where the virus is raging, transmission in schools, as throughout the pandemic, has been limited.
Chicago public schools reported 1,071 confirmed positive cases of Covid-19 in a district of about 330,000 students between December 12 and 16; As of December 14, 6,818 students and 380 adults have been quarantined.
The nation’s largest county, New York, with 938,000 students, had 592 confirmed cases as of December 16; 50 classrooms and three schools have been closed due to the virus.
New York officials said Thursday that, despite widespread rumors, shutting down the entire system would not be possible. Mayor Bill de Blasio, in his final weeks in office, sees his efforts to keep schools running during the pandemic as a key part of his legacy.
In Boston, a return to district-wide distance learning can only happen at state direction, said Sharra Gaston, a spokeswoman for Boston Public Schools.
Some of the same teacher unions that fought for extended school closures and strict virus safety measures last year said a system-wide return to distance learning is unlikely at this time, although they still want districts to strengthen testing and contact tracing protocols. …
“We didn’t really talk about it,” said Eric Berg, vice president of the Boston Teachers Union. “Our members want to work with children personally and we think this is the best way to learn.”
In Chicago, where the conflict between Mayor Laurie Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers’ Union continues, union vice president Stacey Davis Gates took a slightly more cautious tone, noting that a post-holiday spike was almost inevitable given family gatherings and the lack of widespread vaccination in many neighborhoods. low incomes.
When asked if the union can insist on a period of distance learning after the holidays, she replied: “The question on the table now is that we must keep the health and safety of people.”
Eliza Shapiro made reporting.