Can Schools Handle Omicron?

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Education Briefing

The looming question is shaking the rickety infrastructure that has kept schools running.

Amelia Nierenberg

Dec. 22, 2021, 12:03 p.m. ET

This is the Education Briefing, a play update connected the astir important quality successful U.S. education. Sign up present to get this newsletter successful your inbox.

This is our last Education Briefing newsletter for 2021 — and it’s sobering to person to extremity the twelvemonth with a look astatine different question of Covid, and the toll connected the intelligence wellness of our students.


Mya Speller, a archetypal  grader, offering a socially distanced greeting astatine  Grant Avenue Elementary School successful  the Bronx, N.Y.
Credit...Desiree Rios for The New York Times

Many schoolhouse districts, and galore parents, accidental they don’t privation classrooms to adjacent again. Several large schoolhouse systems person said they would not displacement districtwide to distant learning, oregon would bash truthful lone if forced to by nationalist wellness officials.

But the looming Omicron question could situation the rickety infrastructure that has kept schools moving this year. Some classrooms are closing temporarily, arsenic much radical trial affirmative oregon spell into quarantine.

“I was not adjacent somewhat amazed — I afloat expected it,” said Olivia Strong, a genitor successful Manhattan. Her son’s cohort of eighth graders is shifting to distant learning due to the fact that of aggregate microorganism cases successful his class.

Things person gone comparatively smoothly for schools this year, contempt targeted schoolroom closures to incorporate dispersed of the virus. School outbreaks person been constricted passim the pandemic, and children are being vaccinated. (Crucially, arsenic my workfellow David Leonhardt has repeatedly noted successful The Morning newsletter, puerility Covid is astir ever mild.)

Across the nation’s 13,000 districts and 98,000 nationalist schools this week, determination are astir 600 shuttered schools oregon districts, according to data from Burbio, a institution that has tracked however schools person operated done the pandemic. There are less closures present than successful November.

But the Omicron variant appears contagious capable to upend the shaky equilibrium that has allowed schools to enactment open. Many are successful dire request of substitute teachers and autobus drivers, and tin sick spend an outbreak that would nonstop galore unit members home.

The C.D.C. has encouraged schools to usage a “test-to-stay” protocol, successful which radical who trial antagonistic aft vulnerability tin enactment successful classrooms, reducing quarantines and closures.

But determination are inactive not capable accelerated tests to rapidly surface full classrooms oregon schools. And galore parents person not fixed consent for their children to beryllium tested for the microorganism astatine school.

“If determination is simply a affirmative lawsuit successful a class, everyone should conscionable get tested,” Erik Berg, vice president of the Boston Teachers Union, said. “If our universities and colleges tin trial everyone connected field doubly per week, it says a batch astir the committedness to K-12 acquisition that we can’t adjacent trial radical we cognize were successful the aforesaid country with a affirmative lawsuit for six oregon 7 hours.”


Credit...Kholood Eid for The New York Times

It hasn’t been casual to beryllium a pupil during the pandemic. Here’s a look astatine immoderate of the challenges our kids person faced.


Even arsenic astir each schoolhouse opened past fall, teachers had to grip immoderate of the aftereffects of semipermanent distant schooling.


Credit...Ismail Ferdous for The New York Times

“In the much than 2 decades I’ve spent arsenic a scientist moving with adolescents, I person ne'er seen teenagers truthful worn down astatine the extremity of an world twelvemonth arsenic they are close now,” Lisa Damour wrote successful The Times this spring.

A survey this summertime recovered that 72 percent of 13- to 19-year-olds person struggled with their intelligence health. Eating disorders person skyrocketed, too. In a caller survey, astir fractional of mediate and precocious schoolhouse students successful Los Angeles said they disquieted astir their ain intelligence health and that of their families and friends.

Genesis Duran is 1 of millions of precocious schoolhouse seniors whose satellite has been shaken by the pandemic. She lives successful New York City, wherever she had to assistance her sister with distant learning portion dealing with her ain classes, too.

The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know

My workfellow Susan Dominus besides looked successful one people successful Columbia, Mo., wherever the students and their teacher struggled done the hard year, stuck successful beforehand of their screens.

And the audio squad astatine The Times traveled to Odessa, Texas, wherever 1 precocious schoolhouse — and its marching band — are warring to support students successful school, steadfast and learning.

College students

This semester, students person been backmost connected campuses. With vaccines, beingness began to consciousness a small much normal, astatine slightest for immoderate students.

But arsenic the Omicron variant spreads, universities fearfulness a worsening intelligence wellness crisis. Many students are isolated and depressed, and astatine a fewer institutions, determination has been a troubling spate of suicides.

As cases surge, a large question is what field beingness volition look similar successful January. Will classes beryllium remote? Will students beryllium capable to gather? Will determination adjacent beryllium field life?

During distant schooling past year, immoderate students recovered that amid the losses, determination were immoderate gains, successful their unwanted suspension of field life.

The agleam spots successful a hard year

More schools are readying to usage coronavirus alleviation wealth to strengthen intelligence wellness resources. And a batch of schools person allowed intelligence wellness days, aft teenagers pushed for them. Here are tips to marque yours worthwhile.

“My 13-year-old soccer-obsessed lad asked to miss schoolhouse for a intelligence wellness day,” wrote Holly Roberson, a genitor successful Berkeley, Calif. “He spent the time successful bed, sipping blistery cocoa and moving connected a publication for a musical. He said it was the champion time of his life.”

  • Los Angeles delayed its program to necessitate pupil vaccinations due to the fact that it did not cognize what to bash with the tens of thousands of students who were inactive unvaccinated.

  • The Florida Department of Education released the paychecks that it had withheld from schoolhouse committee members who voted for disguise mandates.

  • Public schools successful Prince George’s County successful Maryland became the archetypal large territory to displacement to distant learning done mid-January.

  • Anchorage, the largest schoolhouse territory successful Alaska, volition marque masks successful schools optional in January.

  • A national appeals tribunal upheld a disguise requirement for Knox County Schools, successful Tennessee.

  • A justice ruled against San Diego’s pupil vaccine mandate.



  • The University of Utah is investigating reports of men dressed similar the KKK successful dorms and excrement smeared connected a doorway of a Black student’s room.

  • A erstwhile pupil astatine Virginia Commonwealth University pleaded guilty to hazing and serving intoxicant to a insignificant successful transportation with a 19-year-old freshman’s death.

  • Harvard extended its optional standardized trial policy for the adjacent 4 years. The California State University System is poised to drop the SAT and ACT arsenic an admissions requirement.

  • A prof astatine the University of Tennessee astatine Chattanooga hid a hint to find $50 successful his syllabus. No 1 looked for the cash.

  • A prof is cracking down connected a fig of fraudulent students registering successful classes passim California’s assemblage colleges.

As we participate the caller year, we privation to perceive from you. What are you loving? What would you similar to spot much of? Less of? What are we missing? I’d beryllium truthful grateful if you answered a quick survey astir the briefing. Thank you truthful much!

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