Schools face extended learning loss threats with new COVID wave

(NewsNation) — A new summer COVID-19 variant is putting schools in a tough situation, bringing with it the potential for extended absences and an extension of pandemic learning loss, and they’re forced to make decisions that are sure to be met with community blowback either way.

For instance, the second-largest school district in the U.S. is encouraging students to come to school sick to combat the high rates of absences — just not if they have a fever, the Los Angeles Times reported.

It’s a decision made in the face of an emerging new variant, EG.5, which accounts for 17.3% of infections in the U.S. according to the CDC data.

Los Angeles County health officials have warned that the start of school could lead to a return of COVID outbreaks, the report said.

While the transmission rate reportedly remains low, concerns of infection increase as students congregate in classrooms — especially since children have accounted for more than 15 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S. since the pandemic started.

But after three years of strict protocols and switching back and forth between online and in-person learning, the school district is swapping its standing after studies found that the pandemic may have caused drastic learning loss in students.

“I understand maybe the surprise of some parents, but we have always been informed as a school system by the expert voices of medical entities. Times have changed. Conditions have changed and the recommendations of protocols have shifted as well,” Los Angeles Schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho told the Los Angeles Times.

Carvalho explained that the physical threat of COVID has been far replaced by the potential mental health consequences of missing school and being behind academically.

Across the country, students have been absent at record rates since schools reopened during the pandemic. More than a quarter of students missed at least 10% of the 2021-22 school year — what’s considered chronic absenteeism — according to the most recent data available. Before the pandemic, only 15% of students missed that much school.

An estimated 6.5 million additional students became chronically absent, according to data compiled by Stanford University.

These absences pile on top of the time students missed during school closures and pandemic disruptions, which cost crucial classroom time as schools worked to recover from massive learning setbacks.

In Chicago for example, 45% of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students were considered chronically absent last school year, according to online data from the state’s Board of Education.

With the school year starting later this month, CPS told NewsNation the district is following guidelines for the state and city health agencies.

If a student tests positive, they’re asked to stay home for five days and wear a mask in class for five days after that. Students who are exposed are recommended to wear a mask for 10 days as well.

Back in LA, the district told NewsNation it’s remained vigilant throughout the pandemic in informing its academic community about the dangers of COVID-19 and ways to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

In a statement to NewsNation, an LAUSD spokesperson said the district will continue to educate its school communities about how to stay healthy all year long, and that — despite the agency’s warning reported by the Times — the district would be following guidance from the county health department.

Parent and school employee reactions to Carvalho’s approach were varied. One teacher’s union spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that the district superintendent should have put more emphasis on wearing a mask if students do go to school sick.

But while students are being encouraged to attend school, the most important guideline for sick students to follow is to stay home when they have a fever or test positive for COVID-19. Attending class while sick can lead to a possible outbreak within the classroom, which can also extend learning loss.

As students are still feeling the effects of the pandemic on their learning, with numerous studies showing children have fallen behind in vital subjects such as math and reading, districts are highly encouraging families to follow their local COVID-19 health guidelines to prevent further spread of the virus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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