I've been reporting periodically on how pandemic school is going in my own rural/small town county. Since nobody is doing any kind of systematic large-scale tracking of which schools are doing what and how it's going, I'm just throwing one more batch of data into the general big-city-dominated noise (here's the most recent post on the subject, from the beginning of November).
Numbers have continued to climb here, though deaths are still relatively low. The four local districts moved to save winter sports season, so basketball and even wrestling have been going on scholastically. In Pennsylvania we experienced a tightening of the rules around the holidays, but now they're loosened and restaurants are operated at limited capacity again.
A couple of local school districts (there are four) mostly decided to go back to full face-to-face at the beginning of the second semester last week, while the others remained hybrid and anticipated going full face to face in a week or two. That plan lasted a couple of days, until it turned out that a cafeteria worker at my old high school had tested positive for covid. That triggered a two day shut down, but while that shutdown was happening, more positive cases turned up and now the school will be remote for a couple of weeks, then hybrid, then maybe full on again in March. That seems to have given some other districts pause about going back full on.
The in and out, on and off is taxing; we have reached the point where a change in plan no longer makes it into the newspaper. It also raises the question of how many students are being sent to school with some suspicion of illness (it's safe to assume that's a non-zero number).
Preparation and protocols are an ongoing issue. When heading back to full face-to-face, parents at one district had questions about ventilation. "Windows may be cracked open on the bus and in classrooms," was the response. If a student is out for testing for covid, it's unclear what the chain of notification actually is. Who should be told, and who will do the telling? Nobody really seems to know.
Monday tested snow day response; it wasn't great. One district was already in distance learning mode. One district simply did an old fashioned snow day and cancelled everything. Another switched from hybrid to distance--they announced they were cancelling transportation--but required teachers to do their distance learning from the school building, no exceptions (triggering a big last-minute scramble for child care). School leaders are giving the impression that they are not so much planning as waiting to see what happens and then coming up with a reaction; that may be a result of poor planning or poor communication, but either way, after 11 months of this, it seems as if folks in leadership positions would be a bit further along in their learning curve.
Local teacher unions have not been particularly vocal one way or another, but then, local unions are as divided as the general population on what best to do (at least one area teacher attended the insurrection rally in DC on January 6). As with all issues, ever, how well or easily the administration works with the staff during this crisis has lots to do with the reserves of trust that the administration has either built or squandered. Our school boards are mostly filled with regular folks and not politicians, trying to do the best they can with the same bunch of hard-to-parse information that everyone else is looking at.
There's a general sense in the community that the end is in sight. People are finally able to sign up for vaccination (if they are old or unhealthy--teachers still aren't to the front of the line). Organizations are planning to conduct events this year that were cancelled last year. It's unclear how much of this is just wishful thinking. There's still not a great deal of urgency around the pandemic here, though people are mostly following social distancing and masking guidelines. Folks are mostly trying to do the right thing, but there's a lot of disagreement about what that is.
It's hard to overstate how much an area like this has been hurt by the deliberate lack of state and national leadership over the last year. And the bad thing is that even if leadership emerges now, it will not be effective because the previous leadership vacuum was filled with all manner of stuff that will not be easily driven out.
But overall, we're mostly doing kind of okay here in that most of what we've got is chaos and disorder rather than a lot of disease and death. I'll let you know if that stays true.