Many schools haven’t had students cross their threshold for almost a year — but with the rollout of vaccines and the introduction of new safety measures, some officials say it is time to go back.
But they are running into concerns from teachers about in-person learning, resulting in lawsuits and threats of strike action.
On Wednesday, the city of San Francisco brought a lawsuit against the city’s school district and the school board for “failing to come up with a reopening plan that meets state requirements,” according a statement from City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
“The Board of Education and the school district have had more than 10 months to roll out a concrete plan to get these kids back in school. So far they have earned an F. Having a plan to make a plan doesn’t cut it,” Herrera said.
San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews rejected the criticism and said that the schools were being improved to reopen as the city’s lawsuit was announced.
“I was actually supposed to be part of a walk-through today but instead I am here addressing what I would call a frivolous lawsuit,” Matthews said in a virtual press conference.
Chicago schools also have hit a roadblock in their plans to reopen.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were on the second day of a 48-hour “cooling period” from negotiations Wednesday to avoid a strike as the two parties try to reach a resolution on outstanding safety concerns.
The district, the third largest in the country, has been fully remote since March 2020, and a joint statement from CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Tuesday night said it is critical that the sides reach a resolution soon.
In New Jersey, the school district in Montclair planned to reopen last week, but cancelled in-person learning when the teachers’ union cited safety concerns. Now, the school district is suing the union to force a return to some in-person school.
“If we maintain the status quo, no one prevails,” Montclair Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds wrote in a letter to parents and staff. “Our staff is discouraged and defeated. Our parents are frustrated. There is a rift in the relationship between our community and our educators. “When forced to make a decision between competing interests, I will always do what is best for our students.”
The Montclair Education Association said in a Facebook post that its teachers also wanted to go back to the classroom, but needed to consider safety for themselves, their students and their families first.
Schools can safely reopen, CDC director says
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated teachers in the 1b priority category for vaccinations; and while that means in many states they are not yet eligible to be inoculated, the agency’s director says that does not mean students can’t go back safely.
“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House news briefing on Wednesday. “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.”
And according to a new study by the Rockefeller Foundation, the implementation of physical distancing, universal masking and weekly rapid antigen screenings can greatly reduce infections among staff and students.
But some governors are encouraging quicker vaccination of teachers to get instruction back on school grounds.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced on Wednesday that the state has successfully vaccinated all teachers and staff over age 50 who said they wanted the Covid-19 vaccine. The process started on January 5.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan have both set March 1 as a goal to get students back in school. DeWine has offered to vaccinate all teachers and school staff members in February ahead of his deadline, provided those districts have committed to reopening for full in-person or hybrid models.
“Our children simply cannot afford anymore endless roadblocks, or anymore moving of the goalposts,” Hogan said in a January 21 statement. “The times has come to get all of our kids back in the classroom, and to open the schools.”
CNN’s Elizabeth Stuart, Jen Christensen, Stella Chan, Dan Simon and Augie Martin contributed to this report.
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