New York City and Oakland, California students demand end to in-person instruction as pandemic spreads
Students at several high schools throughout New York City are planning a walkout on Tuesday to protest unsafe schools during the Omicron surge. They have circulated a petition that states in part:
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has dramatically increased infection rates in this city over the past few weeks, rendering the administration’s decision to keep schools in-person unreasonable and, above all, irresponsible. Physically attending school places students and staff members at increased risk of contracting this highly transmissible strain, either in the building or on public transit, risking not only their lives but needlessly contributing to the spread of the disease.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, a petition from Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) high school students demanding an end to in-person instruction until schools can be safely reopen reached 625 signatures Monday morning. The petition follows a walkout by over 500 teachers last Friday.
On Thursday evening, the OUSD and the Oakland Educator Association (OEA) purportedly came to an agreement on “safety bargaining” in response to the student strike threat and the teacher sickout. The three measures agreed to—weekly pool testing for elementary students, a single day off of school and a slight extension of the number of days teachers can take off if they get COVID-19—do nothing to fundamentally address the rapid spread of the virus throughout the area.
Shula, an Oakland teacher, responded to the claim on Facebook by school board member Mike Hutchinson that the agreement is a “win, for everyone” by writing: “This agreement doesn’t come close to what students and staff need to be safe at school, and I know of 0 people who actually work or attend in person at a school who are satisfied with this.”
In the nearby Milpitas School District, a ten thousand student district in Silicon Valley, the school board reversed its decision to go remote Sunday night after pressure from Santa Clara County to not go remote. District statistics show that 274 teaching and staff positions were unable to be filled last week due to sick teachers and support staff.
The Santa Clara County Public health director and the district’s superintendent released a joint statement calling on schools to “find ways to co-exist and to live with COVID.”
As union moves to reopen schools, Chicago parents back educators fight for remote-only instruction
Classes in Chicago were canceled for the fourth consecutive school day on Monday, as teachers continue their fight for remote-only classes amidst the massive surge in COVID-19 infections. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has locked out more than 20,000 educators from their online school accounts to prevent them from teaching remotely and communicating with parents.
While teachers are determined to keep infected school buildings closed, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Jesse Sharkey said, “We’re trying to find a way to get people back in school” during a rally outside of Spry Elementary School Monday morning. According to WBEZ education reporter Sarah Karp, “This morning, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey says that the union has compromised on some of the biggest issues, including widespread testing and on remote learning.”
The CTU has asked the city to resume remote learning this Wednesday and offered to return teachers to classrooms on January 18 in exchange for a few cosmetic protocols. These include weekly random testing of at least 10 students and staff at every school and a 14-day “pause” in in-person learning if the test positivity rate increases for seven consecutive days, remains at 15 percent higher than the rate from one week prior for each of those days and reaches 10 percent or greater on the seventh day. Individual schools could be transitioned to remote learning only if 20-25 percent of the staff or 25-35 percent of students were out after being infected or exposed.
Like it did last year, the CTU is giving the Democratic administration a pretext to reopen schools even as infections and hospitalizations reach record levels, and as the Cook County Medical Examiner is sending trailers to local hospitals to relieve overcrowded morgues.
The abandonment of the demand for remote learning underscores the need for rank-and-file educators to take the fight out of the hands of the CTU. This means building the Chicago Educators’ Rank-and-File Safety Committee and fighting to mobilize workers throughout the city to close the schools and non-essential businesses, while allocating the resources for virtual learning and compensating workers for lost income.
Contrary to claims by Mayor Lightfoot and the national corporate media, teachers have widespread support from working-class parents and young people in the city.
“I 100% support” the Chicago teachers, Briana, a parent of a Chicago Public Schools student told the WSWS. “The fact of the matter is that the investments CPS made before the start of the school year still fall short of what many of the schools need in order to safely protect students and staff. Furthermore CPS is just outright lying to Chicago families about the cleanliness of schools as well as the transmission rates at schools. A study that conflicts with CPS showed that school has the highest rate of transmission compared to any other place for children.
“Many schools with older buildings needed major upgrades even before the pandemic started. If CPS really cared about their students the way they claimed, we would’ve seen a growth in the amount of funding and resources that at the very least matches that of CPD (Chicago Police Department).
“Bottom line, I truly believe that CPS doesn’t care if children and staff are safe. They just care that parents are back to work.
“While I understand that not every parent has the support systems in place to accommodate remote learning and that not every child thrives in remote learning, I’d rather my child fall a bit behind and live than have to deal with long haul Covid issues or even worse, burying my child.”
Chicago teachers in forefront of nationwide fight to close schools as COVID-19 infections reach record levels
More than 20,000 Chicago educators are entering their second week of struggle to demand virtual-only classes as teachers, parents and students across the country demand protection from the spread of COVID infections.
On Sunday night, school district officials announced that classes would be canceled on Monday for the fourth consecutive school day. After educators voted overwhelmingly last Tuesday to teach remotely until January 18, Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot locked educators out of their online work accounts, preventing them from conducting online classes with their students or communicating with parents.
The courageous stand by rank-and-file educators has prevented hundreds of thousands of Chicago students from contracting COVID in school as the pandemic rages. Chicago and Illinois are setting COVID case and hospital records and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office last week announced officials have started deploying trailers to hospitals “to help decompress their morgues if necessary” as they treat the most COVID patients they’ve ever seen.
In a national television appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Lightfoot reiterated her claims that teachers were engaged in an “illegal strike,” saying they had “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.” The mayor said her administration was “working diligently every single day at the bargaining table to narrow the differences and get a deal done” but ruled out any virtual-only classes. Lightfoot’s own chief of staff extended the ability for the mayor’s office staff to work from home for at least another week.
A teacher tweeted her reply to Mayor Lightfoot’s lying claim that the best and safest place for children is a classroom in the midst of the pandemic. “The best, safest place for my students right now is NOT my in-person classroom,” she stated. “Because I have Covid. Which I caught in my classroom to begin with.” Illinois teachers also responded enthusiastically to statements by students and teachers in Germany supporting their struggle. One said, “As a German teacher, I love this!”
Over 3,000 high school students sign petition demanding remote option for Massachusetts schools
A growing wave of opposition is developing across the country among young people to the unsafe reopening of schools as COVID-19 cases skyrocket in nearly every state. The latest expression of opposition comes in the form of a change.org petition posted January 4 by William Hu, a senior at Boston Latin School.
The petition has gained over 3,000 signatures from students, educators and parents concerned over the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the state of Massachusetts.
Under the heading, “Staying safe should be a right, not something that the government dictates,” Hu writes, “Over the past few weeks, I’ve been a first-hand witness to surging COVID cases in my school community as well as in my local community. Just before winter break began on December 23rd, 2021, my senior class consisting of 370 students alone had over 30 confirmed COVID cases. Even over the holiday break, it became a common occurrence to see fellow peers post on social media saying that they tested positive for COVID-19. To expand further on these alarming statistics, on January 4th, over 1000 Boston Public School teachers and staff members were absent due to COVID-19.”
Hu adds, “As I am writing this petition on January 4th, 31,184 new COVID cases have appeared just today. 2,221 patients were hospitalized in Massachusetts just today. Each day, COVID-19 death cases increase as well.”
An initial target of 1,000 signatures was reached within one day of posting. The target increased to 5,000 signatures for the petition addressed to the Massachusetts State House, Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu.
Week two of forced in-person school begins in Massachusetts amid record COVID case counts
In the first week of classes in 2022, with record COVID-19 cases, teacher absences and disrupted classes, students and teachers faced an unprecedented surge of the pandemic in schools across Massachusetts. Despite these dangerous conditions, Governor Charlie Baker and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) have mandated that K-12 schools remain open for in-person learning.
School district administrators who have temporarily closed schools have been threatened with audits, and any school that does go remote will not have those days count toward the 180 required days of learning.
On January 8, Massachusetts reached a 7-day average of 19,902 COVID-19 cases per day, and a 7-day weighted average positivity rate of 23.02 percent.
Waste water samples taken 3–7 times per week to test the amount of SARS-CoV-2 RNA copies have seen the 7-day average increase nearly sixfold, from the previous week’s tally of just over 2,000 RNA copies/mL in early December to nearly 12,000. Previously, the highest number reached, at the height of the Delta wave, was just 1,500.
“They care more about these trucks than people”: US autoworkers call for shutdown of production as Omicron spreads
With the highly infectious Omicron variant spreading rapidly throughout the country, autoworkers are calling for a shutdown of production to halt the transmission of the disease.
A supplemental worker at Warren Truck sent a letter to the World Socialist Web Site Autoworker Newsletter describing deplorable conditions including filthy bathrooms, leaking roofs and unsanitary workstations. In response to the letter, the WSWS received several submissions from workers about conditions in their own factories. A Detroit-area autoworker wrote, “My son has contracted COVID and is hospitalized. His friend has the new Omicron variant. I was exposed to that. How can they continue to keep the plants open when everything else is being shut down?”
Another said, “Also with all these COVID cases at Warren Truck they’re still making us work 6 to 7 days in these dangerous conditions. We need a break; our immune systems can’t get strong to fight off the virus. They care more about these trucks than people, it’s getting out of hand!!”
In response to the conditions at Warren Truck, a senior worker at the plant has started a petition against the forced overtime for temp workers. A copy of the petition sent to the Autoworker Newsletter said:
We the undersigned, have been devoting our time and energy into launching the new Grand Wagoneer. We collectively agree that if you make us work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week that safety, quality, delivery, cost and moral [sic] will be negatively impacted.
We understand that forcing us to work or having forced being available to work on an almost unlimited basis may comply with the CBA, along with State and Federal laws. The fact that something can be implemented doesn’t mean that it should be.
The company’s most valuable resource is its workers, human beings. We need to have time to take care of ourselves not only physically but mentally. We have families at home who miss us.
Therefore, we are demanding a reasonable limit to the overtime hours and days that can be scheduled daily and in advance.”
WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS NOT MACHINES!
The only way we can continue to create world class quality vehicles, is if we be treated with the decency and respect that we deserve.
An open letter to the working class: The pandemic must be ended and lives saved in 2022!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we approach the end of the year, workers in the United States and throughout the world must decide to act collectively and finally put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. 2022 must not be another nightmarish year of mass infections, illness and death!
The social catastrophe of the last two years is the outcome of the criminal subordination of public health to the relentless accumulation of corporate profits and the private wealth of mega-millionaires and billionaires.
In terms of its cost in human lives, this pandemic certainly ranks among the greatest tragedies in American history. When this year began, 373,356 Americans had already succumbed to the virus. Today, that figure stands at 842,493, an increase of 469,137 deaths in 2021 despite the rollout of life-saving vaccines.
One out of every 100 seniors over the age of 65 have died. Life expectancy—the most critical indicator of public health—has now fallen two years in a row. This has never happened except during World War II, when the fall in life expectancy was caused by the loss of many young men.
But the impact of the pandemic has been worse than any previous war. More Americans have now died from COVID-19 than during four years of combat in the American Civil War (roughly 700,000) or during US involvement in World War II (407,000). Every day, another 1,500 Americans needlessly die from the disease.
Officially, 33.3 million Americans were infected with COVID-19 in 2021, but the real figure is far higher due to inadequate testing. In addition to the growing death toll, millions of people are grappling with the effects of Long COVID. This affliction can impact every organ system in the body, persist for decades, and leave the infected individuals with serious physical health problems and brain damage even more severe than that associated with lead poisoning.
Virtually everyone has a friend or family member who has died from this horrible virus. Many of you reading this have yourselves been infected and may be suffering from Long COVID.
Read the Full Open Letter from the Socialist Equality Party (US)