Speed Reads

empty chairs at empty desks

Teachers face tough decisions as Omicron sends attendance rates plummeting

Since classes resumed earlier this month, U.S. schools have seen abnormally low attendance rates as the Omicron variant infects or spooks huge numbers of students, staff, and parents, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.  

According to the Journal, attendance rates in New York City are down from over 91 percent before the pandemic to less than 70 percent since classes resumed at the beginning of 2022. Boston Public Schools have seen similar drop-offs in attendance. In Chicago, the rate of absenteeism stood at about 15 percent before winter break, but around a third of students stayed home on the first day of the new semester.

This increase in absences comes after most public schools scaled back remote instruction, leaving some students who are unable to attend classes with few options for keeping up with their classmates. Teachers are being placed in the uncomfortable position of deciding whether to slow down the pace of classroom instruction or risk absent kids falling far behind their peers.

Heather Hill, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, told the Journal that some teachers are setting up cameras in their classrooms or having present students stream video to their homebound classmates. Others are scheduling after-school calls with absent students.

Megan Struder, a public high school teacher in Stafford County, Virginia, told The Week that the "workload for teachers has doubled" since the start of the pandemic and that Omicron has been "even more disruptive" than previous variants.

According to data provided by The New York Times, Omicron continues to produce record numbers of new cases but without a corresponding rise in deaths.

The 7-day average of new cases per day currently stands at over 760,000, while daily deaths are at just over 1,700. Exactly 4 months ago, a 7-day average of less than 150,000 new cases per day produced a similar number of fatalities.