America helped to pioneer the idea of public education. But a growing number of teachers and parents are wondering if the pandemic has finally broken America's system of public education, as a growing number of school districts close schools for days or weeks, sometimes without the option of going remote.
The NYT published a deep dive on the issues afflicting public schools across the US, issues that also impact the workforce since parents who can't bring kids to school are often stuck scrambling for child care.
One example of how schools are rolling back services as the struggle with budget shortfalls continues: Schools in Detroit, a city that has supposedly made a strong rebound after filing for bankruptcy protection back in 2013, will close its schools on Friday for the rest of the school year. There will be no online classes.
Parents were outraged by the news, but a few days later, Detroit schools announced that schools would be closed for the entire week of Thanksgiving. Typically, kids are in school Monday and Tuesday, with a half-day on Wednesday.
Of course, Detroit's schools aren't the only ones making these cutbacks. At least six other school districts in Michigan extended Thanksgiving break, and three districts in Washington State, including Seattle Public Schools, unexpectedly closed on Nov. 12, the day after Veterans Day. In Florida, Brevard Public Schools used leftover "hurricane days" to close schools for the entire week of Thanksgiving.
In Utah, the Canyons School District announced that all of its schools would go remote one Friday a month from November through March, equivalent to more than a week of school.
Parents aren't only worried about logistical problems like child care and supervising remote learning: they're starting to worry that the drastic cutbacks to educational services during the pandemic will leave their children permanently behind. Keep in mind, in China, students are spending more time in school, not less.
For many school districts, the switch back to remote learning for at least part of the school week is a last-ditch effort to stop teachers from resigning (or retiring) en masse.
And it's not just the mask requirements that are getting to teachers. The last year has seen a surge in school violence, sometime gang-related, as students lash out. Teachers are exhausted from COVID, and from other issues like the battle over teaching CRT in classrooms.
What's worse is that school closures this year have often come with little notice. When administrators at Reynolds Middle School in Fairview Ore. cancelled classses between Nov. 18 and Dec. 7 - giving students an unplanned two weeks off due to what the school described as a "school fights and other outbursts from students".
The announcement gave parents just two days notice. Many were infuriated. "Are you kidding me?" said Missy Kisselman, the mother of Sophia, an eighth grader there. "I mean, are you kidding me?"
Reactions like these will likely become even more commonplace as teachers unions push for even more days off. In Portland, Ore., the teachers’ union is proposing early-release days for some of its schools after students return from winter break. The president of the schools' teachers' union said they're doing so because of the "alarming" number of teachers asking for guidance about retiring or quitting.
Elizabeth Thiel, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, says her union is receiving an “alarming” number of inquiries from teachers asking for help resigning. If the union can figure out a plan now, she says, that may help avoid mass resignations, which would force schools to go entirely remote.
"It is far better for our students and families to be able to plan on an inconvenience like that, than it would be for the whole system to stop functioning," Ms. Thiel said.
Remote learning is simply too much for most parents, especially single parents. If it becomes permanent, then pretty soon it won't just be teachers abandoning public schools - parents might move students to private schools or charter schools.