COVID-19 Outbreaks and Staff Resignations Worsen Crisis in Southwestern US Schools

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With the reopening of schools across the United States, there has been an explosion of COVID-19 epidemics, and the Southwest is no exception. Rather than implementing closures and distance learning, school districts are moving forward with homicidal “herd immunity” policies or mitigation measures. Meanwhile, teachers and staff have resigned en masse amid a worrying trend to withhold needed information about COVID-19 from the public.

Elementary school students on the first day of class in Richardson, Texas, August 17, 2021 (AP Photo / LM Otero)

In Arizona, only 30% of the state’s 215 school districts provide COVID-19 dashboards, and just one in 15 county health departments in the state, Pima County, publicly monitors active COVID-19 cases by district. There is no complete and transparent picture of where the virus is contracted.

A ban on mask mandates inserted into the Arizona state budget by the Republican-majority state legislature with the approval of Republican state governor Doug Ducey has been challenged in court. A recent poll shows 57% opposition among Arizona residents. Ducey said there was no need to revisit the matter and that it is expected to take effect on September 29.

Ducey plans to bribe schools to obey the ban by giving them funding that will be denied to school districts that do not comply. Tucson Unified School District, which has a mask mandate and had an infection rate about half that of another non-mandated district in Pima County, plans to defy the ban, though most of the others districts are likely to yield.

Like the rest of the United States, Arizona has lost teachers and staff to infections, deaths and quits, causing a rush to fill vacancies. The Cartwright District in Phoenix has increased the daily rate of pay for subscribers to $ 200, nearly double the state average, and another district is now offering a bonus of $ 3,100 to those working a certain number. of hours. No experience or training other than a high school diploma is required. Districts have to revise or cancel bus routes due to driver shortage.

Nevada, with a Democratic governor and legislature, pursues a mitigation approach that is wholly incapable of preventing infections. After schools reopened in early August, some were forced to resume distance education due to COVID-19 outbreaks, to resume in-person education by the end of the month. As might be expected, cases increased and on September 21, the state agency Nevada Health Response released a statement calling for mask warrants in all counties from September 24 to 30. It won’t do much to stop or slow the spread of infections.

During this time, the bus service has been irregular or non-existent in various districts. The Clark County School District, which covers Las Vegas, lacks around 240 drivers, and students sometimes have to wait hours for their buses. The maximum wage is $ 19.98 an hour and drivers work shifts, sometimes as little as 30 hours a week. With the district facing a shortage of staff and teachers, substitute teachers are offered a stipend of $ 1,000 to work 15 days per term. Washoe County, which includes Reno, is offering a $ 10 per day bonus for teaching submarines amid the pandemic.

Utah instituted a law for the 2021-22 school year prohibiting schools from switching to virtual learning in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak without the approval of Governor Spencer Cox, the President of the State Senate, the Speaker of the State House, all Republicans, as well as the State Superintendent of Education. The legislature has also banned schools from imposing mask mandates, with the governor saying “masks are not as effective as most pro-masks claim.”

Another law, called “Test to Stay,” requires schools with 1,500 or more students to test all students for COVID-19 only when two percent of students have tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 years. last days. For those with less than 1,500 students, 30 students must test positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days to trigger the whole student body test. As of September 17, more than 650 students have tested positive, nearly half of whom were between five and 10 years old. After one month of school, the number of students, teachers and others with COVID-19 in schools was 6,200.

New Mexico has over 1,000 vacancies for public school teachers for 2021-2022. School districts try to attract teachers, substitutes, teaching assistants, bus drivers and other staff with various incentives. Santa Fe Public Schools recently hosted two career fairs, and New Mexico school districts are using federal pandemic dollars to attract teaching assistants, who currently earn around $ 25,000 per year. in education.

On September 15, Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham again extended, this time to October 15, the indoor mask mandate that her office put into effect on August 20 after 109 schools across the state reported of COVID-19 cases following reopenings statewide. The ordinance also requires all school workers in public, private or charter schools who are not fully vaccinated or who do not wish to provide proof of vaccination to their respective supervisors or provide proof of a COVID-19 test on on a weekly basis.

On the other side Texas, school districts have experienced teacher shortages as the danger of COVID-19 in schools receives minimal response due to “herd immunity” policies of the governor and state legislature. Houston’s independent school district, the state’s largest, reported 700 unfilled teacher positions at the start of the year, more than seven times its average of less than 100 vacancies in previous years.

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas schools continues to rise – 52,000 among students and more than 13,000 among staff since the start of the school year – teachers have experienced burnout , the stress, overwork and fear of the reckless policy of keeping schools operating at all costs. . And, like in other states, it is increasingly difficult to find accurate and up-to-date information.

These concerns are posted on Facebook and other social media platforms.

A Fort Worth teacher recently complained, “There are kids missing from my class every day. I don’t know if they are in quarantine or if they are sick. I could have children who are supposed to be in quarantine but are not. I have no idea. There is no testing, no reporting, no transparency, no support. I am retiring after this year. I have made sacrifices for the past eighteen months and I am done. [This] shit takes years of my life. There was nothing normal about it.

Another teacher from the Irving Independent School District said, “I didn’t think things could get any worse than last year. But they [the administration] clearly conceal how bad things are. They are not going to improve. We’re just supposed to take it. I don’t know how long I can do this.

Others quit, unwilling to endure the thankless drudgery, with a post: “I quit today and cited COVID and my anxiety about it as well as wanting to homeschool my son . I don’t know if SBEC [State Board for Educator Certification] will suspend my certification, but it would be nice to find a remote position. I loved my job so much and still love to teach. I’m sad, but everything is too overwhelming now. Life is too short to be miserable and consumed with stress.

Another replied, “I quit at the end of the summer to take care of my mother. Educators do so much, and beyond, that we come last. This past year has taught me that the state and the district didn’t care. We need to put ourselves and our families first. You do the right thing.

One teacher expressed her anger and frustration at the harassment and pressure she faces in her school, saying, “So someone with decades of education, my 5th year as SPED [special education], COVID closing schools, wreaking havoc… why am I getting such horrible (and numerous) evaluations? I’m not teacher of the year… but I know I don’t deserve what I get. I have been so happy… until now. There is a fucking shortage of teachers, they want to kick out those who risk their lives, support the BS reading academy, etc. “

The teacher asked, “Kick me while I’m down, right?” Why do they keep making it so difficult? Honestly, I have no idea how to handle this feeling.

District obstruction and lack of transparency regarding student cases prompted another teacher to ask, “What are some of the protocols your districts have in place?” No tests, no masks, no communication with teachers or students about possible exposure or even if a child has tested positive in your room. There were eight withdrawals, now only two positive withdrawals. I only found out because I asked the nurse.

A co-worker replied, “Yes, I was disgusted when I got a call from school from my niece asking me why she was not at school. I told them that in the past few days 5 of the family had tested positive… I was told she had to go to school. I repeated it all assuming she hadn’t heard me and [went] to say she can’t taste it, so she probably has it. She told me again to take her to school where she skips school. She is 6 years old, she cannot be vaccinated and hearing this woman tell me to welcome her disgusted me. I did not welcome her. She came back positive later that day.

The anger of teachers must find expression in the formation of grassroots committees in opposition to the dangerous policies of the two big parties. There is growing opposition to the reopening of homicidal schools internationally, which has found powerful expression in the school strike scheduled to take place in the UK and other countries on Friday 1 October. Anyone wishing to organize strikes and similar protests should register today. join and create a grassroots committee in your district or state.


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