Omicron shutdown: Everything you need to know

Despite a spike in Omicron variant cases among the staff and student body,  AT continues in-person learning while the threat of converting to a remote setting looms over the school. 

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 presents a higher rate of contagion, causing positive cases across the United States to surge upward. In response, schools across the nation are on the brink of–or already have–shut down. 

While citizens continue to weigh their opinions on a potential shutdown, the ultimate decision rests in the hands of the superintendent. 

AT Principal Jack Andrews explains how the decision of whether or not AT should remain in person is constantly reevaluated.

“Our superintendent gets on a phone call every week with the health department, and they’re saying to stay course, to remain open. Obviously, that can change any minute. What would really influence that is the safety and security of students,” said Andrews.

The decision rests on no objective criteria: it is a culmination of recommendations made by public health officials, numbers, and observations made by administration.

“That’s a question we ask almost daily: What is that criteria? Is it a certain percentage of staff? Is it a certain percentage of the student population? A certain percentage of outbreak? We don’t have a certain percentage that we look for; some principals have compared this to a snow day. It’s not like if there’s five inches, you call it a snow day. It really depends on each situation,” said Andrews.

Since Dec. 27 2021, the CDC has decreased the isolation period from 10 to 5 days; however, these changes do not apply to educational institutions. 

“There was a big announcement from the CDC that didn’t impact schools. We have seen no update from the CDC regarding schools yet,” said Andrews.

As of Jan. 4, the US has set a new record of daily Covid cases totaling over a million positive cases attributed to an increase in travel rates during the holiday season in combination with the Omicron variant. 

AT is no exception to the rising case count. As of Jan. 13, District 88 has seen 1156 total cases. 

“In the last few days back from Winter break, there have been constant phone calls and contact tracing, so definitely an increase. We are not unique,” said Andrews.

With the rising number of Covid cases and stagnant quarantine period, classroom chairs have emptied as Zoom waiting rooms have filled. 

Of these 1156 positive cases, 195 belong to District 88 staff. 

“All different departments from teaching staff to teaching aid to clerical, all over the place. We do have some staff connecting remotely, inside our auditorium so they have wider space. We have staff out for a number of different reasons–they were exposed, they have family that were exposed. But, they can still teach,” said Andrews.

Most of these teachers have resorted to synchronous Zoom classes while others post asynchronous assignments for students. 

Economics teacher Ryan Peronto tested positive for Covid on Sun, Dec 9. Since then, he has been isolated at home and teaching remotely. He relays the experience of teaching online. “For me, it’s much harder to teach to a computer than in person- you don’t have body language cues to help you read if students are understanding material or are struggling. For students, a lesson that they might have found boring in person becomes double boring when they aren’t even seeing me talk, but rather my screen being shared. However, I am incredibly lucky to have amazing students that stuck with me through the remote period, and I am tremendously proud of them for that,” said Peronto.

The drastic changes at AT regarding class instruction have welcomed a shift in attitude toward Covid policy in the Blazer student body. 

“I don’t know exactly what changed, but students and parents have been more empathetic towards our policy. People have reached out with questions, and more staff and students have been complying with mask regulation,” said Andrews.

Andrews notes communication between administration and Blazer families has strengthened with the Omicron outbreak. 

“Sometimes I’ll receive a call from a parent saying, ‘My student said you were going remote.’ I’ll just clarify that we are still in-person, and this communication is important,” said Andrews.

He encourages these conversations to continue for anyone with questions. 

The ongoing conversation discussing and debating a potential Omicron shutdown continues with input from local experts. The possibility of a return to remote learning still remains a relevant conversational topic at AT and at every educational institution across the United States. 

The Covid-19 pandemic’s hold on schools is far from the finish line.