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Today, union leaders struggle with reopening conflicts, and our colleague Erica L. Green writes about what she chose to do with her daughter’s schooling this year.
Union leaders face reopenings
In cities and suburbs around the country, teachers’ unions have played a major role in blocking or delaying schools from reopening.
Now, with some districts approaching a full year without any in-person instruction, and President Biden, a union ally, having set a goal for the majority of K-8 schools to be open within his first 100 days, union leaders are facing pressure to show that they can accept reasonable compromises on safety measures.
Our colleague Dana Goldstein this week published a deep profile of Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, looking at how she is trying to persuade teachers to go back into schools — while also validating their concerns, particularly from some of her feistier locals, such as the Chicago Teachers Union.
“After having really told teachers they were right to be fearful and right to be anxious, now she’s in a position of trying to reassure them,” Dana said.
Perhaps in part because of Weingarten’s efforts — as well as the accumulation of evidence that schools can open safely with proper mitigation measures in place, and the increasing signs of the toll of school closures — there has been some movement.
In Chicago, after nearly two weeks of brinkmanship, the union has ratified a plan that will allow schools to bring back students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, plus some high school students with disabilities.
Our family’s difficult choice
Our colleague Erica L. Green, who covers education policy and equity for The Times, wrote about her decision to send her daughter back to first grade in person.
I still remember the nauseating feeling of putting my daughter on a bus two years ago and sending her off to prekindergarten. I thought I would have until I dropped her off at college before I would feel such anxiety again.
Instead, it returned last month, when we got a survey from our public school system asking whether we wanted to send our daughter, now a first grader, back to school two days a week.
As the Feb. 5 deadline for our decision approached, the debates between my husband and me grew as intense as the public discourse around school reopenings roiling the country.
He was influenced by recent public health guidance, including last month’s report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that schools could reopen safely with proper mitigation strategies.
I was more concerned about the flip side of the realities we see daily. Our ZIP code has ranked among the highest in our county for infection rates. Even going to the pediatrician’s office during flu season is discouraged.
Another dynamic was also playing in my house. I am a Black woman who lost her mother last month. All her life she had battled ailments — including strokes and societal stressors — that have contributed to the disproportionately deadly impact of the virus on my community. My mother tested positive for the coronavirus in her Baltimore nursing home in November, and seemed in the clear with a negative test just a few weeks before she passed away. We will never know whether the virus expedited her death.
My husband is white, and his parents in upstate New York — one who works in health care and one who is in a priority age group — are among the one in 10 Americans who have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
When it was clear we were deadlocked, I contacted her teacher and her principal.
Her teacher has been a rock star during the pandemic. So when she indicated that she was excited to return to teach students in person, I was persuaded.
When we told our daughter she was going back to school, she was cautiously optimistic, requesting beaded braids and “prettier” masks for the occasion.
When she returns to school on March 1, I will be terrified. And thrilled.
Around the country
The Virginia House passed a bill that would require five public colleges and universities to square with their histories of slavery, in part by offering scholarships and economic development programs.
A graduate student at Yale University, Kevin Jiang, was fatally shot this weekend.
The College Board will offer digital Advanced Placement exams this year, in addition to traditional in-person environments.
The police are investigating swastikas spray painted on a Jewish fraternity house at California Polytechnic State University.
A good read from The Stanford Daily: Queer students, out at college, have to reckon with their closeted identities at home. Kate Selig, a student reporter, spoke to 10 students in remote learning, some of whom had to return to life with their dead names and former pronouns.
A good read from The Times: This spring, many universities instituted new testing protocols, hoping to avoid last semester’s problems. But new variants and uncooperative students have already driven outbreaks.
In Washington, D.C., people who work at child care centers, independent schools and charter schools will be able to sign up to receive coronavirus vaccines.
About 18 percent of National Education Association members have received vaccines, the union reported in a survey.
A charter school in Utah reversed its decision to allow students to opt out of a Black History Month curriculum.
An opinion: “I’m 39 years old, with no conditions that make me high risk,” Anton DiSclafani, an associate professor at Auburn University, writes in The Times. “I was vaccinated before my parents, who are 65; before my in-laws, who are over 70, both high risk.”
A good read from The Times: Can summer school fix all this? President Biden seems to think so.
And a survey: The Department of Education wants to hear from teachers and schools to help guide reopening decisions. Researchers will begin collecting data this month. Until now, only private organizations, like Burbio, had done any sort of collection effort.
Moms on the brink
Our colleague Jessica Bennett interviewed three mothers, fighting to stay above water during the pandemic in a country that systemically disenfranchises their work. Here’s just one part of her expansive article, part of “The Primal Scream,” a project from The Times about how moms are getting through it.
Liz Halfhill, 30, let out a guttural scream from her bedroom in Spokane, Wash. It was 6:30 a.m., and her 11-year-old son — watching cartoons in the living room — screamed back.