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The pandemic is affecting the third straight school year — and this teacher is very, very worried

California teacher Larry Ferlazzo. (Mariela Sanchez)

The 2021-22 school year is upon us, marking the third straight academic year that will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic began in March 2020, forcing most schools across the country to close and severely disrupting learning.

The 2020-21 academic year started with schools closed in most places. Districts opened on different schedules throughout the year, but covid-19 cases led to quarantines, masking, social distancing within classrooms and a series of other health measures that affected teaching and learning. Teachers experimented with virtual and hybrid learning — but none of it was seen as effective as in-person classes for most students.

Hopes that the 2021-22 year would mark a return to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy have been dashed by the rise of the delta variant of the novel coronavirus, with covid-19 cases skyrocketing in some places and mask mandates either being imposed or contentiously debated.

As new school year looms, debates over mask mandates stir anger and confusion

In this post, veteran teacher Larry Ferlazzo lists seven concerns he has about the new school year — fears he says are shared by many of his colleagues.

This is Ferlazzo’s 18th year teaching English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento. He has written or edited 12 books on education and is about to publish his 13th; writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week; and writes a popular resource-sharing blog.

Ferlazzo wrote a similar piece just before the start of the 2020-21 school year — and you can see here how some of his concerns came true.

Teacher: Eight concerns about school this fall that are robbing me of sleep

By Larry Ferlazzo

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 18 months worrying about our schools, our students and our families.

I wrote here about the concerns I had going into the last school year and, then going into the second half of the year. I also wrote — here, again — about my fears about how school districts would make plans this summer.

It brings me no joy whatsoever to report that, based on media reports, my conversations with teachers all around the country, and my own local experiences, that what has actually happened “on the ground” demonstrated that many of my fears were justified.

I have more worries entering this new school year, and hope that next year I’ll be able to say, instead, that they were overblown.

Here they are:

  • I worry about how the mental health of many students is going to hold up during a third school year affected by the pandemic, especially in light of the impacts from the delta variant. I worry that many districts have not hired enough counselors or prepared peer support programs to respond to this crisis. And I worry that, once again, that will mean that we teachers will have to pick up the slack — as we have for the past 18 months — on top of everything else we have to do.
  • I worry about the physical and economic health of our students and our families. We could be in for a long year, with no vaccine yet available for younger children, the increased transmission risk of the delta variant, and vaccine hesitancy among so many. And, with the ending of the federal eviction moratorium, I worry about a huge uptick in the number of homeless families.
  • I worry that many districts have not adequately planned a high-quality remote learning option for students who are not able, or not comfortable, returning to the physical classroom this fall. This inaction is likely to lead to one of three results — all bad: students who participate in poorly designed virtual learning options won’t learn much; regular public schools lose students to better-organized charters; or we teachers — and our students — get stuck in another nightmarish scenario of having to do concurrent teaching (teaching in-person and on Zoom simultaneously).
  • I worry that many district leaders continue to believe that they are the “smartest people in the room” and will make unwise choices in using the additional funds that are being provided to schools. One key reason this could happen is because some of them refuse to seriously engage with teachers and our unions (and with students and families) about the best ways to use those funds to benefit students and their families. I worry that they will continue to ignore the principle of subsidiarity — that the people closest to the problem tend to have the best ideas about how to solve them. As a result, it could become more difficult in the future to gain public support for essential new funding for our schools.
  • I worry about how to effectively teach in a classroom environment where all students have devices (laptops or tablets). We’re all “one-to-one schools” now, but a lot of us have never taught in that kind of a physical classroom environment. Many districts, as they did last year going into remote teaching, are likely to leave it to teachers to figure it out on their own with little or no support.
  • I worry that in the face of conservative attacks on educators teaching about systemic racism, combined with the pandemic challenges, many teachers — particularly those of us who are White — will find it convenient to continue to duck the issue in our classrooms.
  • I worry that my colleagues and I won’t see the 5 percent to 8 percent of our students who were on our class rosters last year, but who we never heard from. Districts might continue doing well-intentioned but relatively ineffective centralized outreach efforts to those “disappeared” instead of having schools hire local residents with community relationships to track them down.


These worries — if realized — don’t bode well for a wonderful year.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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