09 December 2020
New York City reopened classrooms to many of its youngest students on Monday. Like many other school districts across the country, New York City still seems unsure about whether in-person learning is safe from the coronavirus pandemic.
New York is the nation's largest school district, with 1 million students. It shut down in-person learning just two weeks ago, but decided to bring back children about age ten and younger. Parents had pushed for reopening schools, and the mayor decided the move was safe with increased testing.
School districts in Detroit, Boston, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and others, however, stopped in-person classes or dropped plans to bring students back because of increasing infections.
Shutdowns in some places and the return to school buildings in others are happening as virus cases continue to rise across much of the U.S. Nationwide, deaths are averaging about 2,200 each day. That is the same level as the deadliest period of the pandemic – last spring in the New York City area.
New virus cases are averaging close to 200,000 a day, the highest level on record. The number of Americans now in the hospital has reached all-time highs, at over 100,000.
The virus is now blamed for more than 280,000 deaths in the U.S. And there are over 14.8 million confirmed infections. The crisis is expected to worsen in the coming weeks because many Americans chose to ignore warnings to stay home and keep away from others over the recent Thanksgiving holiday.
Health officials say the virus does not appear to be spreading quickly in classrooms. That's because children may be less likely to spread or get the virus. Most cases among children and educators have been linked to activities outside school.
Still, the infections are worrisome for parents and teachers. Infections and quarantines among teachers and other school employees have left some schools without enough adults.
At the same time, parents have said their children are not getting a good education at home using their computers. Parents are also being forced to watch their children while trying to do their own jobs.
In South Carolina, COVID-19 cases have increased to levels even higher than those seen when the state was one of the nation's hot spots over the summer. School district officials there are considering reducing how much time students spend in the classroom. More than 2,450 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in South Carolina in each of the past three days.
One teacher group is asking school districts to go back to in-home teaching until the increase can be stopped. In addition to the health concerns, educators say in some cases there are not enough teachers to keep students safe.
The request is being taken more seriously after the death last month of 50-year-old Staci Blakely, a teacher in Lexington.
At least four school districts in South Carolina have returned to in-home learning. The largest district is in Orangeburg County. It sent around 12,000 students home to learn this week until at least January. Only about 25 percent of the state's districts are teaching in person every day.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last month that school buildings would close after the city reached the 3 percent level of positive coronavirus tests.
The city reports the rate is now 5 percent. But de Blasio said new testing protocols made it safe to reopen classrooms. He added that few infections have been linked to the spread of the virus inside schools.
"This is a good day for New York City," de Blasio said Monday.
Miriam Petrovitch is a school employee who welcomed children back at a school in Manhattan.
"We miss them dearly," she said. "There's no school without children."
I'm Susan Shand.
The Associated Press reported on this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.
Words in This Story
district – n. an area established by a government for official government business
pandemic – n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world
quarantine – n. the period of time during which a person or animal that has a disease or that might have a disease is kept away from others to prevent the disease from spreading
hot spot – n. a zone or area in which something is very active
positive – adj. showing the presence of a particular germ, condition, or substance
protocol – n. a system of rules that explain the correct conduct and procedures to be followed in formal situations
Is in-person learning taking place where you live? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.