Education

Briefly Stated: February 23, 2022

February 22, 2022 8 min read
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COVID Issues, Leave Gone? Work or Get Docked, Say Schools

The message for many teachers and other school staff members is clear. If you missed work because of COVID-related reasons, too bad. After you’ve drained your allotted sick days, come to school or forfeit your paycheck.

In fact, slightly more than half of district leaders and principals said they aren’t offering workers sick time beyond what they’re typically entitled to, finds an EdWeek Research Center survey. Another 12 percent said their school or district is offering one to five extra days. Most people affected by the virus experience health or child-care challenges for longer.

On the more-generous end, roughly 1 in 10 district leaders and principals said they’re offering employees more than 10 days of COVID-19 leave on top of their regular allotment.

The disease has killed 921,000 people in America, including more than 1,250 educators and 560 children, and sickened millions more.

In 2020, Congress approved the country’s first-ever paid-leave mandate, requiring many employers, including school districts, to offer workers time off to deal with COVID-19.

That mandate expired, though, as did a voluntary tax-incentive policy Congress implemented in its place for part of 2021 to entice employers to extend paid-leave offerings.

Now, it’s up to individual employers, including local school boards and district administrators, to decide whether employees should get paid if they have to stay home because of the virus.

Restrictive policies on extra days off particularly affect younger or newer workers who haven’t accrued enough leave; new parents who already used all of their allotted time off; and full- or part-time school workers who don’t typically get robust sick-leave benefits.

Advocates for expanding paid leave for COVID-19 related absences argue that it’s beneficial for public health when teachers don’t have to choose between earning an essential paycheck and spreading a deadly disease.

On the other hand, some district leaders say they’re worried about encouraging people to miss work or re-main unvaccinated by allowing them too many days to stay home and get paid. Others are concerned about exacerbating staffing shortages.

Thematic Online Schools on Tap Come the Fall for Thousands of Unvaccinated Students in L.A.

Details are still evolving, but district officials in Los Angeles believe they have figured out how they’re going to serve all the students unvaccinated against the coronavirus when they’re barred from campuses come fall.

Educators are preparing a significant expansion of online learning options, taking preliminary steps to establish up to six new virtual schools that could enroll up to 15,000 students.

The move, approved by the school board this month, acknowledges that the district must prepare to accommodate a potential crush of unvaccinated students who will be prohibited from entering campuses in the fall as well as families who intend to keep their children in independent study next year. To date, nearly 90 percent of students 12 and older have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have obtained a rare medical exemption. But even that high compliance rate translates to about 20,000 unvaccinated students.

District officials said they will later decide whether they will need all six online schools but aim to open enrollment in March.

David Baca, the chief of schools, said that the district surveyed families with students enrolled in the independent-study program, and that 77 percent of more than 6,200 surveyed indicated they want to continue online next school year, a higher rate than the district anticipated.

Under the early plan, each online school will have a distinct theme, and officials pledge to look to parents and teachers on how to shape the program. Few other details were discussed with board members, and the creation of the schools will be taken over by the new superintendent, Alberto Caravalho.

This school year, many parents chose independent study out of safety concerns—not wanting to expose their children and other family members to the coronavirus. It’s possible that some of those families will want to remain in remote learning next year, but most of the demand is expected from families not willing to abide by the board’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students.

District staff have been asked to prepare extra support for students’ social-emotional health.

Half of Americans Don’t Think Schools Should Teach About the Impact of Racism Today

Ignorance is bliss, or so it may seem, based on the results of a new national survey.

Only half of Americans polled think schools should teach about the ongoing effects of racism, though most say students should learn about slavery.

The survey, designed by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Pennsylvania State University and analyzed by the American Public Media Research Lab, also found that 10 percent of Americans don’t think schools even have a responsibility to ensure that all students learn about the history of slavery and racism in the United States.

“It’s hard to know exactly what’s in the minds of [those people], but it seems to be consistent with the idea that increasing numbers of Americans want to remove from our curriculum anything that somehow reflects poorly on the United States as a country or their state, and that it’s unpleasant to think about slavery and its legacy, and they’d rather it not be taught at all,” said Eric Plutzer, a professor of political science and sociology at Penn State who co-authored the report.

Plutzer said he sees similarities between the survey findings and recent controversies over how schools teach the Holocaust.

There’s a desire among some Americans to gloss over the violence and horrors that happened in both slavery and the Holocaust, Plutzer said—to teach “slavery-lite, or Holocaust-lite.”

Americans are also split on whether parents or teachers should have “a great deal of ” influence over what’s taught, the survey shows. Republicans tend to defer to parents, while Democrats tend to think teachers should get to decide how to teach about certain issues.

When asked how much influence different stakeholders should have in deciding how to teach about slavery and race, 41 percent of respondents said parents should have “a great deal of influence,” and a third said the same about social studies teachers. Judging by the number of those wanting state lawmakers to be making the decisions, the upshot is: Butt out.

Yet, it’s at the state level where many of these decisions are being made. Fourteen states have imposed restrictions on how teachers can discuss racism and sexism.

Voters in San Francisco Recall 3 Board Members

San Francisco may be renowned for its liberalism, but in the age of COVID-19, voters appeared to be more eager to get back to the basics than embrace political ideals.

Residents last week recalled three members of the district’s school board for what critics called misplaced priorities and putting progressive politics over the needs of children during the pandemic.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the recall in a special election.“

The voters of this city have delivered a clear message that the school board must focus on the essentials of delivering a well-run school system above all else,” Mayor London Breed said.

Breed will now appoint board replacements to serve until another election in November.

Opponents called the recall a waste of time and money, as the district faces a number of challenges, including a $125 million budget deficit and the need to replace retiring Superintendent Vincent Matthews.

Parents in the politically liberal city launched the recall effort in January 2021 out of frustration over the slow reopening of schools, while the board pursued the renaming of 44 school sites and the elimination of competitive admissions at the elite Lowell High School.

The pressures of the pandemic and distance learning have merged with politics nationwide, making school board races a new front in a culture war as resentments over COVID-19 reach a boiling point. Republicans are increasingly looking to the education fight as a galvanizing issue that could help them sway voters.

In San Francisco, one of the nation’s most liberal cities, the recall effort split Democrats. Breed, a Democrat, had criticized the school board for being distracted by “political agendas.”

Board members had defended their records, saying they prioritized racial equity because that was what they were elected to do.

5th Graders Take Up Arms in Wyoming School Gym

Weapons are banned on many school campuses. Not so in Wyoming, where a district recently set up a shooting range in a gymnasium, training 5th and 6th graders in marksmanship during physical education.

Hot Springs County School District #1, in Thermopolis, shared photos of the sharpshooting session in a Feb. 2 Facebook post.

In the pictures, children are seen aiming air rifles across the gym at a set of targets propped up against the bleachers with what appears to be plywood.

Air rifles generally use gas stored in a small canister to propel a BB or pellet out of the barrel at relatively high speed. While far less lethal than true firearms, they nevertheless can still cause serious harm.

“All students passed their safety test and have been sharpening their skills,” the post said. As of Feb. 8, the post had garnered 13,000 reactions and 5,700 comments and had been shared over 60,000 times. For perspective, the population of Thermopolis is around 2,700.

“This is what America needs more of,” one commenter wrote. “Education and responsible firearm ownership.” Wrote another: “This is so awesome! Probably one of the safest schools in the country, too. I need to find a school like this for my son once he’s old enough!”

Of the nearly 6,000 comments, most are supportive of the district.

Still, many expressed concern and anger.

“America is a dystopian hellhole,” a commenter said.

“Do they go straight from their gun-marksmanship training to their active-shooter drills?” asked another.

The idea that guns of any kind would be welcomed in a school is jarring to some. But across the country, districts have trap-shooting clubs and teams or JROTC programs that train members to shoot and compete with air rifles.

Such programs have come under increased scrutiny since 2018, after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 classmates and staff members. Cruz was a member of the school’s JROTC rifle team.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Mark Lieberman, Reporter; Madeline Will, Staff Writer; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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