Families Despair of Return to Distance Learning After the Holidays | New Jersey News
By COREY WILLIAMS, Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) – Relative Latonya Peterson sums up her frustration that schools in Detroit are returning – at least temporarily – to virtual learning in three short words: âI hate this.
Faced with an increase in COVID-19 cases, the Detroit District this week joined a growing number of others in moving online classes after the winter break. The change involving 50,000 students once again leaves parents to juggle home and work schedules around their children’s educational needs.
A single parent who works more than 60 hours a week at two jobs, Peterson has occasionally had to take time off work to help his teenage son for more than a year of online learning.
“I’m going to have to take time off, but I’m looking at how long it’s going to go on. You only have a certain number of days off and that many days off with pay,” Peterson said Wednesday, a day after the district announced that students will resume home classes with laptops until at least Jan. 14.
The vast majority of US districts appear to be reverting to in-person learning, but other large school systems, including those in Newark, New Jersey, Milwaukee and Cleveland, have reverted to distance learning as infections are skyrocketing and staff are on the sidelines. Dozens of smaller districts followed, many around Detroit, Chicago, and Washington.
The disruptions also raise alarms about the risks to students. Long periods of distance learning over the past two years have taken their toll, leaving many children with academic and mental health setbacks that experts are still trying to figure out.
President Joe Biden, who campaigned on the promise to reopen classrooms, is pressuring schools to stay open. With regular vaccines and viral tests, his administration said there was no reason to keep schools closed.
âLook, we have no reason to believe at this point that the omicron is worse for children than the previous variants,â Biden told reporters on Tuesday. âWe know our children can be safe at school. “
But the reality for some districts is not so simple: testing supplies are scarce and many districts face low vaccine uptake in their communities. In Detroit, just 44% of residents aged 5 and older received a dose of the vaccine, compared to a rate of 63% statewide.
In a letter to parents, Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in light of low vaccination rates among students and families, returning to the classroom would lead to “extreme levels of positive cases.”
âThe only way to get to the other side of this pandemic is to move on to higher vaccination rates,â Vitti said.
Closures are often caused by waves of teachers calling in sick. More than a third of Philadelphia’s 216 public schools have switched to distance learning until at least Friday, sparking an outcry from families who have had little time to prepare.
Chicago students were out of school for the second day in a row on Thursday after principals failed to reach an agreement with the teachers’ union on virus safety protocols. The union wants to return to distance education because of the outbreak of infections.
In Detroit, Peterson and his son Joshua Jackson, 16, are vaccinated. Joshua would prefer to stay in person and has said it is more difficult for him to concentrate in a virtual classroom.
“I feel like I learned less,” said the high school student. âI’m afraid we won’t go back to class. They (the district) have done it before and said it would only be a short time. It turned out to be the entire school year.
District officials returning to online education insist the move is only temporary, with most planning to resume in-person classes in a week or two. As infections are reaching record highs in some areas, some parents say it is the right decision.
Nicole Berry’s three children returned to classrooms in Detroit last fall, but she’s been keeping them at home since she herself caught COVID-19 around Thanksgiving and got scared. Detroit offers families the option of full-time distance learning.
Berry, 48, juggles with them alone while working more than 40 hours a week.
âMy kids weren’t going back anyway. I had already made the decision, âshe said.
In Chicago, Jennifer Baez said she hopes the district will allow distance learning until the wave slows down. She and one of her sons recently fell ill with COVID-19. She is not sure that her children will keep their masks on or that other precautions are in place.
Baez works remotely as a legal secretary. Due to her youngest son’s developmental delays, she is forced to sit with him for much of the school day in his general education classes, where he usually has a class assistant.
âYou just learn to roll with the punches. I feel like as a mother we are adjusting, âBaez said. “If I was to be a lunch lady and a gym instructor and whatever else besides my law firm job, we just do it.” In the same way that we have been doing it since 2020. â
Associated Press writers Sara Burnett in Chicago and Collin Binkley in Boston contributed to this story.
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