Faced with Omicron, the United States decided to keep schools open

LETTER FROM WASHINGTON

Please, it’s not going to start again! Here is a summary of the state of mind of parents of students in the United States at the start of 2022. Here, as in Europe, the Omicron wave is overwhelming the country. In two weeks, the daily average of new cases stood on January 11 at nearly 740,000. There are more than 4,400 children out of 146,000 hospitalizations. While the media are multiplying the worrying information on contaminations affecting children under 5, the question of school continuity and the use of distance learning arises again for the oldest. A psychological, economic and educational disaster, experienced for almost an entire school year in the country, in 2020-2021.

The White House wants to avoid a repeat. Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told a press conference on January 5 that the country has “all tools” to face this Omicron wave. “The president can’t be clearer: schools in this country must stay open”, he recalled. However, as often in the United States, this federal objective suffers from exceptions in practice. In Milwaukee, Cleveland, or in districts around Detroit, Chicago and the capital Washington, establishments have been forced to temporarily close their doors, for lack of able-bodied teachers, or because of too many sick students.

Tense situation in Chicago

According to the Burbio data platform, during the first week of the year, nearly 5,400 schools were affected by class closures across the country, out of a total of about 100,000 public establishments. This figure, which represents the most serious disruptions since the start of the school year in September, has since fallen. The situation was particularly tense in Chicago, until January 10. That day, the teachers’ unions and the Democratic municipality reached an agreement for a resumption of classes, after a spectacular confrontation by the media. Health security measures will be reinforced, in particular the practice of testing and tracing sick people, as the main trade union organization wanted.

In a flash, the latter had voted in favor of distance learning. This position, which distinguished Chicago from other major American cities, had led to the suspension of school activities for 340,000 students. Like Eric Adams, his counterpart in New York, the mayor, Lori Lightfoot, was totally opposed to distance learning because of the long and dramatic experience of prolonged confinements, for parents and children. Especially since the facilities originally offered for the development of telework by the federal administration no longer exist. Lori Lightfoot, who spoke about “unilateral and illegal strike”, was at the same time opposed to the systematization of the tests, affirming that she did not want to deprive the parents of this prerogative. This plot would be “morally repugnant”, she even dared.

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Faced with Omicron, the United States decided to keep schools open

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