As the omicron variant of COVID has surged — and possibly now begins to recede — the impact on our local schools has been pervasive. A series of stories this week by the Journal’s Amanda Tugade reports the rapid, and sometimes confusing, responses to the surge from local school leaders.
The District 97 Oak Park elementary schools have begun the second half of the school year with the short-term shuttering of individual schools and then, late last week, with an “adaptive pause” that closed all 10 schools for two days. The combination of students, teachers, and staff testing positive for COVID; the need for quarantining; and a lack of resources to conduct contact tracing, combined to make it impossible to open the schools with adequate staff.
As of this week all of the elementary and both middle schools have reopened.
At Oak Park and River Forest High School, the doors have remained open since day one of the second semester. But it has been a struggle and a sacrifice and a logistical feat to make that happen.
Credit to teachers, to families, to administrators, and public health leaders for the good faith and the goodwill it has taken to bring us to this point. Inevitable comparisons to the bitter divide that has left the Chicago Public Schools’ response in such tatters leave us feeling good about the relationships that exist in our Oak Park and River Forest public schools.
None of this has been easy. No decision made has been perfect.
That all comes clear in Tugade’s front page story today in which she interviews three veteran local teachers about their experience coming back to school after winter break. This is the real-life story of the anxiety, the weariness our teachers are laboring through. One teacher talks about the challenge each morning of trying to make masks fit properly on the small faces of young students. Another talks about the difficulty of teaching both live and online simultaneously to an ever-changing blend of students. A third talks about needing to trust parents as rules on quarantine loosen and tests are not required to return to school and the reality that all parents are not playing fair.
We hope omicron relents. We hope for an early spring that allows open windows and outdoor classes. We hope against hope for more widespread vaccinations and boosters.
Mainly though we offer thanks to our educators for persevering, now for two years through this pandemic.