Omicron wave - ‘Morale is low’: US teachers push back on school reopenings amid Omicron wave
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‘Morale is low’: US teachers push back on school reopenings amid Omicron wave

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Omicron wave

‘Morale is low’: US teachers push back on school reopenings amid Omicron wave


Story by Michael Sainato

Story   Source

Published on January 8, 2022 9:02 AM
 
Many teachers across the US are resisting immediate school reopenings and asking for improved safety measures this month as a record number of Covid-19 cases have been recorded as a result of the spread of the Omicron variant.

A few school districts have opted to restart school after the winter break remotely for the first week or two, while most others are grappling with tightening or reinstituting Covid-19 safety protocols. Two children wear face masks as they are walked into a school in New York City on 3 January. Covid hospitalizations among US children soar as schools under pressure Read more Several teachers who spoke to the Guardian expressed concerns over severe staffing shortages, a lack of adequate and promised personal protective equipment, difficulties in accessing Covid testing and worsening overall working conditions.

Rori Abernethy, a teacher in San Francisco, California, said teachers are being faced with severe staffing shortages that are forcing teachers to serve as substitutes during preparation time and are increasing their classroom sizes due to teachers and other staff retiring, resigning, or calling out sick.

"This is the hardest teaching year I've had in 20 years," said Abernethy. "Morale is low amongst teachers and it feels like the whole city is fighting over politics and no one cares about what teachers are going through in the classroom. If we do complain, people are cruel and tell us to quit or that we don't care about kids."

She also noted staff and students haven't received enough personal protective equipment such as proper masks, that Covid testing is difficult for teachers given stringent drop-off times and is not mandated or easily available for students, and that Covid sick leave for teachers expired at the end of 2021. According to Abernethy, four teachers at her school quit before winter break, and 25 staff were absent on the first day of school after the break, on 3 January, though student attendance was normal.

There were 575,000 fewer local and state education employees in October 2021 than in February 2020. Before the pandemic, teacher shortages were widespread and growing throughout the US, while many public school buildings were crumbling, in dire need of repairs, proper upkeep or replacement.

Retha Roblero, an elementary school teacher in Columbus, Ohio, participated in a safety strike on 3 January with other teachers who were working in their school building while students were remote, as part of the building had no working heat. Less than an hour after the strike began, teachers were permitted by the district to work remotely.

"There's no good answer," said Roblero, about the choice between in-person or remote learning in response to Covid surges. "I want to be in person teaching every day. But I also don't want to carry something or somebody else to carry something."

Alison Ross, a teacher for about 20 years based in the Atlanta, Georgia, area, resigned from her school district position in fall 2020 over a disregard for Covid protections as she is immunocompromised. She has been tutoring and teaching remotely part-time, while relying on savings, and is dismayed at the prospect of returning to a full-time position as the pandemic continues to spread in the US.

"I feel like my livelihood was stolen from me," said Ross. "We could afford N95 masks for everybody, we could afford good ventilation, we can afford paying teachers more and having smaller classes. These are all choices that as a society, our government has made. People just think that's just how it has to be and that's not how it has to be."

If we do complain, people are cruel and tell us to quit or that we don't care about kids Rori Abernethy, a teacher in San Francisco A teacher in Crested Butte, Colorado, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation described a lack of testing options for staff and students, with long wait lines at testing sites and no at-home tests available. The teacher says staff have been reporting to work after testing positive and there's a lack of transparency in contact tracing compared with previous periods during the pandemic.

"We have been told that they simply do not have the staff or time to deal with it, so contact tracing is out the window," the teacher said. "The morale is quite low because staff feel uncared for. I know several teachers with the mindset that we will all get it eventually so let's just get it over with. As teachers, we're the ones that take on the brunt of it to protect the kids."

Staffing shortages in their school district have also extended to a lack of school bus drivers, substitute teachers, cafeteria workers and a decline in student attendance. They already used up their Covid sick leave earlier this school year when they tested positive after their son caught it, despite being fully vaccinated.

"To the general public and administration, it just feels that staff and student health doesn't matter. We should have tested to return. No one wants to...