The rise in COVID-19 cases and the new variants of the virus threaten a safe return to in-person classes.
President Joe Biden has recently expressed that he is in favor of schools reopening, saying he would like most grade K–8 facilities to open by late April.
The return to in-person classes has been concerning parents and education advocates from the onset of schools reopening. Because of the increase in COVID-19 cases in some cities and the presence of more contagious coronavirus variants, the worry is even greater.
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In a call with teacher unions Thursday evening, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, said reopening K–8 classrooms nationally might not be possible on Biden’s time frame. He expressed concern over the new variants that allow the virus to spread more quickly and may be more resistant to vaccines.
Biden is asking for $130 billion to address the concerns of unions and school officials as part of a broader coronavirus relief package that faces an uncertain fate in Congress. Even if his reopening goal is realized, millions of students might still have to keep learning from home, possibly for the rest of the school year.
Johanna López, member of the Florida Orange County school board, said Biden highlighted the need for safety even when he was on the campaign trail. The education expert and teacher said although nothing can be compared to in-person education, she still puts health first.
Schools are open in Florida, but parents have the option of having their children attend classes virtually.
López, who is also the director of Alianza Center, a nonprofit organization within the Alianza for Progress initiative, said expert directives and the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must be respected.
“If the numbers are high the decision is questionable,” López told The Americano. “Everything regarding bringing students to school at this time is dangerous because of the situation we’re experiencing.”
Education advocates have expressed their concern on how the schooling situation can adversely affect Latino and Black communities.
“We’re going to see kids fall further and further behind, particularly low-income students of color,” said Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform. “Potentially, there’s a generational level of harm students may have suffered from being out of school for so long.”
López thinks sending children to in-person classes is an individual decision since every family has different needs.
In Florida, most teachers are not vaccinated, so going back to school in person might bring exposure to the virus for both the school community and families of students.
“In our Latino communities, there are many extended families in which grandmothers, who are at high risk, live with the family under the same roof,” López said. “That’s why some families have preferred to leave their children at home.”
The advocate is concerned going back to school in person will become mandatory, while people at home might not be vaccinated and be at high risk.
López recognizes the advantages of attending school in person and receiving direct attention. She understands that those who need it, such as special education students, will be able to receive their services.
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“We are not against returning to school; on the contrary, we believe in-person education is the best way,” López explained. But when a moment like this can put the lives of teachers, janitors, drivers, students, and their families at risk, we understand only the people who require the in-person option should be in schools.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story