This wasn’t the way anybody wanted the new school year to start — but covid-19, intense heat, staff shortages and a rat infestation have combined to cause turmoil in some school districts that have already opened.

After a year and a half of struggling to manage unprecedented disruption caused by the covid pandemic, school communities were hoping for an uncomplicated start to 2021-22. And that has happened in some districts.

But in others, it’s been rough — and districts yet to open are facing the same issues as cases of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus keep climbing around the country.

In Mississippi, Smith County Public Schools is closing for two weeks starting Aug. 23 amid rising covid cases and the death of an eighth-grade student, who died shortly after being diagnosed with the disease. Because most students in the rural district don’t have reliable Internet access, there will be no virtual learning during that time.

Several other districts in Mississippi already have temporarily shut down because of high covid rates — and more than 20,000 students across the state are in quarantine, according to state data. School started a week ago.

In Oklahoma, where most students have already started the 2021-22 academic year, a few schools have temporarily closed, and the small Eagletown Public School district posted this on its website this week:

Due to lack of teachers and overwhelming number of staff/students who have tested positive over the weekend we will CLOSE SCHOOL FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE WEEK. We will have classes today and then dismiss at regular bus time with no classes until NEXT MONDAY - August 23rd. Any student staying home today or who is checked out by the guardian will NOT be counted absent.
Learning packets will be available for pick up tomorrow in the high school office — all packets are due when students return Monday.

Four tiny school districts closed for in-person learning in both Texas and Georgia because of covid, while in Louisiana the same thing happened in one district, as in South Carolina.

One of those Georgia districts is Talbot County, where Superintendent Jack Catrett told WTVM-TV: “The difference now in this outbreak that we see than the outbreak that happened last school year is that this seems to be more centered on kids ... rather than adults, so that scares me to death.”

Health experts say the delta variant is more contagious than the original novel coronavirus and is affecting more children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association reported that for the week ending Aug. 12, more than 4.41 million children tested positive for covid since the onset of the pandemic — with more than 121,000 cases added during that week, “a continuing substantial increase.” Child cases have steadily increased since the beginning of July, the organizations said, and children were 18 percent of reported weekly covid cases for the week ending Aug. 12.

In Georgia’s Ware County, where schools were closed and students will now return on Sept. 7, Superintendent Bert Smith told News4Jax: “Initially, we thought we were going to have a normal start.” But the district saw a sharp rise in covid cases as well as staffing shortages, and now not even virtual classes will be held during the closure.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Public Schools has pushed back the start of school two weeks, to Sept. 8, because of a shortage of bus drivers. Superintendent Anthony Hamlet announced that if enough drivers cannot be found, the districts may have to institute hybrid learning — with some classes taking place at home and others online.

In Virginia, a few school districts, including Orange and Buckingham counties, closed for a few days recently because of excessive heat — with temperatures above 100 degrees. Daisy Hicks, the superintendent of Buckingham County Public Schools, said in a statement to NBC29: “Our school buses do not have air conditioning and with the mandate of students wearing masks on the buses, this decision was made for the safety of our students.”

And at Schurr High School in California’s Montebello Unified School District, teachers returned to prepare their classrooms last week to find an infestation of rats, according to the Los Angeles Times. There were “dead rats on the floor, rat nests in the cabinets, excrement on desks.”

Teachers also reported that the air conditioning system was not functioning properly — an important issue in the era of covid especially in a school where some classrooms have no windows. District officials informed parents that school would not open for several more weeks.

Adding to the disruption of teaching and learning is the quarantining of thousands of students and staff members across the country because of contact with someone diagnosed with covid.

That includes more than 8,000 students and hundreds of employees in Florida’s Hillsborough County, where the school board on Wednesday voted for a universal mask mandate against the orders of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

Four other districts have defied DeSantis with mask mandates, and the same thing is happening in Texas, where more than 20 districts are requiring masking despite an order by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) banning such mandates.

In Illinois, dozens of school districts are now on probation for defying an order by Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) for a universal mask mandate in public schools. The districts face the loss of state funding and more if they do not ultimately comply with the mask mandate.

On Wednesday, President Biden ordered Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to take action against governors who have banned universal masking in public schools, taking a tough stand against those who he said are trying to “block and intimidate” local schools officials.

All of this presages new difficulties for districts as they continue to open for the new school year — the third that will be affected by the pandemic.