The new school year is right around the corner, and rising COVID-19 numbers and a new variant have parents and teachers concerned, Associated Press reports. There are fears that an outbreak could force schools back into remote learning. Many schools are not enforcing pandemic restrictions but may face disruptions if a teacher becomes infected. One major concern is the current teacher shortage, which could be exacerbated in the event of an outbreak. There is also a shortage of substitute teachers, meaning that classrooms are forced to pull office staff, combine classrooms or go remote if a teacher calls out.
Last year, during the omicron outbreak, many schools faced interruptions due to surges in cases. In Philadelphia, 114 schools went remote for eight days on average, a cumulative of 920 remote days for all schools. Parents are frustrated by the last-minute decisions to go remote, as they are oftentimes forced to miss work. Schools are also working to catch up with students to time lost earlier in the pandemic. Achievement gaps are widening between students based on race and socioeconomic status. However, with vaccines available to children as young as six months and growing access to rapid tests, there are hopes that this school year with be better.