Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.
An entire California school board resigned after making harsh remarks about parents during a Zoom call
The former members of the Oakley Union Elementary School District have issued an apology after getting caught making negative comments during a Zoom meeting they thought was closed to the public.
Video of the Zoom, which was posted on YouTube anonymously, show several members of the board weighing in before they thought the meeting was open to the public. In one moment, school board president Lisa Brizendine said that "it's very unfortunate" that parents "want to pick on us," saying that parents want in-person school to resume because "they want their babysitters back."
In another, school board member Kim Beede, talked about parents criticizing her online. Her response: "B****, if you're going to call me out, I'm going to f*** you up." Member Richie Masadas even suggested that some parents were using drugs. "My brother had a delivery service for medical marijuana, and his clientele were parents of kids at school," he said.
Finally, they realized their Zoom was live and being viewed by parents. "Uh-oh," one member said.
District families reacted quickly. A Change.org petition calling for the board members of the district to resign earned more than 8,500 signatures. "My kids deserve better than this violent and uncaring bunch of bullies," one person wrote in the comments. "These people should NOT represent our children," another said.
Two days after the meeting, superintendent Greg Hatrick announced in a letter to families that the entire school board had resigned. The letter also included a statement from the former members that said they "deeply regret" their comments. The group decided to resign immediately, they said, "to help facilitate the healing process."
"As trustees, we realize it is our responsibility to model the conduct that we expect of our students and staff, and it is our obligation to build confidence in District leadership; our comments failed you in both regards, and for this we offer our sincerest apology," the statement said.
CDC study: Teachers may be driving transmission in schools
A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week suggested that teachers — not students — may be responsible for COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.
The study analyzed COVID-19 cases in a Georgia school district from Dec. 1, 2020, through Jan. 22, 2021, and identified nine clusters, involving 13 teachers and 32 students at six elementary schools. Two of the clusters involved teachers spreading the virus to one another, followed by teachers infecting students, causing 15 of the 31 cases that were believed to start at school.
As a result, the researchers concluded, "educators might play a central role in in-school transmission networks."
Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life that the study "confirms what we've seen all along, which is that we don't see a huge transmission rate from children."
Fisher says that schools "don't seem like a superspreader place" but says that the findings reinforce that teachers need to follow strict COVID-19 protocols like wearing masks, practicing social distancing as much as possible and using good hand hygiene.
But the findings also raise big questions about what will happen in the future with in-person learning. "Teachers should get vaccinated as soon as they have the opportunity, as vaccination has been shown to reduce transmission," Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life. Things may become tricky for teachers who refuse to be vaccinated, Watkins says, adding that "unpaid leave or termination might be necessary."
Teachers and parents in the Los Angeles Unified School District are at odds over in-person learning
While Los Angeles County has given permission for local elementary schools to resume in-person learning, teachers and staff in the country's second largest school district are refusing to go back until they are vaccinated.
Some parents and families hosted a Zoom blackout Monday, where students didn't log on to their scheduled Zoom classes, choosing instead to protest outside a government building. Another protest is scheduled for Saturday.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner has stressed that in-person schooling won't start up again until adults in the school systems can be vaccinated. Beutner shared a graphic on Twitter Monday, detailing how vaccinations have been offered to surrounding school districts but not his.
In another tweet, he wrote, "Vaccinations for school staff are a critical piece to reopening schools in the safest way possible."
Beutner told the board of education this week that staff can be vaccinated in a week. "In one week we can vaccinate everybody we need to open elementary schools, and we can meet April 9,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “If we get 2,000 doses a week, we won’t meet April 9 because we will not have vaccinated sufficient staff to be able to properly staff schools. The whole team needs to be vaccinated."
In an update to the school community shared on Monday, Beutner also had this to say: "A critical piece remains — timely and sufficient access to vaccinations for school staff. We’ve set up the systems and are ready to vaccinate our staff at schools and at Hollywood Park."
But Beutner's stance is at odds with public health authorities. CDC director Rochelle Walensky told reporters in early February that teachers do not need to be vaccinated before schools can safely reopen. "There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely," she said during a press briefing. "Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools."
While Fisher agrees that vaccinating teachers would be helpful for preventing the spread of COVID-19, she also says that school staff in the Los Angeles Unified School District is "not accepting the scientific data," which has "shown that schools are safe" when proper protocols are followed. "They're digging in their heels on the issue," she says. "That's punishing our children, and it's not right." She adds, "if schools in Chicago, New York and Houston can do it, Los Angeles can too."
High school in Washington state uses pods for band and choir practice
Students at Washington's Wenatchee High School went back to in-person learning in late January thanks to a hybrid schedule—and school administration has come up with a creative way to allow the choir and band to keep practicing.
Students in the school band and choir now practice inside special pods that are spaced out during practice. The bright green pods, which look like tall, individual-sized tents, house one student, their instrument and a music stand at a time.
School principal Eric Andersen told the BBC that idea came from the school's music and theater teachers. Andersen said that "there's obviously a concern" around singing and playing instruments without a mask, and staff "wanted to make sure our students had both the ability to sing and play an instrument in groups so that they could practice together."The pods came together in collaboration with their local health department.
Singing in groups has been a major concern after a CDC study found that nearly 87 percent of members of a Washington choir were infected with COVID-19 after a 2.5 hour practice with one infected member. Three people were hospitalized after the practice and two died. Theoretically, band practice could lead to a similar superspreader event, Watkins says.
Watkins says that aerosols generated from instruments like horns could be an issue under ordinary band practice circumstances. But "if they're totally enclosed, it's probably low risk," he said.
Andersen says that the pods have been a great asset for his students. "They enjoy being back together; they enjoy playing as a group," he told the BBC. And, while he said that students would prefer to perform like they do normally, he added that "they are taking advantage of what they have in front of them right now."
The New Orleans school district rolled out vaccinations for teachers
The NOLA Public Schools district began vaccinating teachers and staff this week at the Children's Hospital of New Orleans. During the first week of eligibility for teachers in the state of Louisiana, about 750 teachers and support staff in the public school system planned to be vaccinated.
Kristen Bowens, a science teacher at Mary D. Coghill Elementary School, was one of them. Bowens tells Yahoo Life that she's been teaching students in person and remotely this year, noting that "being in the classroom with the kids daily was a great motivator" for her to get vaccinated.
Bowens says she feels "great" after getting her vaccination. While double masking and doing her best to practice social distancing in the classroom has helped to keep her and her students safe, Bowens says that "the extra layer of protection is amazing, and I'm hoping that it will help to try to bring back some normalcy."
Bowens urges other school districts to offer vaccines to teachers and staff. "If teachers are considered frontline workers and we're in person with other individuals that we're not in the same household with, then absolutely we should be a priority," she says. "Teaching the kids is a priority. They are best when they're in person. We can clearly see that."
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