A pandemic third school year
Welcome to the weekend. Britney Spears, Abortion, Haitian Refugees: We covered a lot of ground on the show this week. Was there an episode that stood out for you – or an episode that you would like us to follow? Let us know. We always love to hear from you.
As the Northern Hemisphere settles into a pandemic third school year (whoa), our team reflected on reopening schools and how the Delta variant affects children. In the process, we asked ourselves: how are our sources in Odessa doing?
Our producer, Soraya Shockley, called out some of the people you met in our four part series on reopening a high school in West Texas. Here is what they said.
A pandemic third school year
The first day of school, always a momentous occasion, had added weight this year: in many school districts, it was an attempt to return to teaching in person after several school years of disrupted teaching.
But a West Texas preschool class had the “Groundhog Day” -like experience of reliving that first day three times. Scott Muri, superintendent of the Ector County Independent School District, said on the first official day one of his preschool students tested positive for the coronavirus, sending the entire class into quarantine for 10 days. Afterwards, the class returned to campus, only to have another child in the class tested positive. And so it started again.
“I think about this 3 year old,” Scott said. “This is his first school experience. And, you know, it’s been a bit chaotic for him and for a lot of our kids. “
Reality of another disrupted school year in Odessa, Texas, in stark contrast to early summer hopes, when President Biden announced virus ‘Independence Day’, masks came off and travel resumed.
“We were excited because everything was back to normal, the kids were showing up,” said Jimmy Olague, deputy head of the group at Odessa High School. “We had a full summer group like we always do.”
But in the months that followed, the number of children admitted to hospital with Covid-19 reached the highest levels reported to date. Nearly 30,000 of them entered hospitals in August as American children began to return to school, overwhelming children’s hospitals and intensive care units in Texas. At least 45 districts in Texas have closed in-person classes due to cases of Covid-19, affecting more than 40,000 students. And one school day in Scott District saw 110 positive cases among students and staff, he said.
“We haven’t had 100% presence in our group since the first day of school because there’s always someone out there, there’s always someone in quarantine,” Jimmy said. “I have the impression that the virus is worse. I feel like it’s a lot more around us.
At the same time, Governor Greg Abbott banned vaccination and mask warrants in Texas. (He tested positive for the virus last month and has since recovered.) This means teachers and administrators have limited options to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“I wish I could say in my class, you have to wear a mask, but I can’t,” said Naomi Fuentes, a teacher at Odessa High School.
Absenteeism affected students’ performance in class and in the group. “Our playing isn’t up to par right now,” Jimmy said, adding, “It’s been tough. My drum line is a lot smaller.
And while Scott, Jimmy and Naomi said the pandemic has also negatively affected the mental health and behavior of their students in the classroom, they each noted the students’ resilience and positivity.
It helps, Scott said, that “the football team is having a great season.” As students come and go from class and group practice, one thing is constant: the annual rivalry game with the Permian Panthers, the subject of the book “Friday Night Lights”. This year’s game will take place next Friday night.
Recommendations of the ‘pod club’
Every Sunday on the New York Times Podcast Club Facebook Group, we ask our members to share the shows they loved.
Here are some recommendations from our pod club to listen to this weekend.
Let’s talk to Lucie: This SiriusXM podcast uncovers recordings that were once lost in history: the Lucille Ball interview show on CBS Radio in 1964 “Let’s Talk to Lucy.” It’s a slice of old Hollywood, with a legendary guest list that includes Barbra Streisand and 22-year-old Bob Hope.
The State of Vaccine Mandates in the United States
- Vaccination rules. On August 23, the FDA granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 years of age and older, paving the way for mandates in the public and private sectors. Such warrants are authorized by law and have been confirmed in court challenges.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities require students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all of them are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. California became the first state to issue a vaccine warrant for all educators and announced plans to add the Covid-19 vaccine as a requirement to attend school starting next fall. Los Angeles already has a vaccination mandate for public school students 12 and older who attend in-person classes starting November 21. New York City has introduced a vaccination mandate for teachers and staff, but it has not yet come into effect due to legal challenges. On September 27, a federal appeal board overturned a decision that temporarily suspended that mandate.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and large healthcare systems require their employees to be vaccinated. Mandates for healthcare workers in California and New York state appear to have forced thousands of holdouts to receive injections.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required from workers and customers for indoor meals, gymnasiums, shows and other indoor situations. City education staff and hospital staff also need to be vaccinated.
- At the federal level. September 9 President Biden has announced a vaccination mandate for the vast majority of federal workers. This mandate will apply to employees of the executive, including the White House and all federal agencies and members of the armed forces.
- In tthe private sector. Mr Biden demanded that all businesses with more than 100 employees require weekly vaccination or testing, helping to propel new corporate vaccination policies. Some companies, like United Airlines and Tyson Foods, had mandates in place before Mr. Biden’s announcement.
This earth: This year, Crooked Media’s “This Land” is back for a second season. Its first followed a murder case in Oklahoma and the potential impact on a reservation there. Two years later, he tackles another Indigenous story: how some Conservatives have used the rules surrounding the adoption of Native American children as part of a culture war.
A wish for Afghanistan: Led by Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, it explores the conflict in Afghanistan through interviews with sources from all sides – an American diplomat who negotiated the withdrawal, a founding member of the Taliban and Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan president.