Here is our annual look at the top school news stories for this calendar year. Once again, the Covid-19 pandemic dominated our lives, has so far killed more than 800,000 Americans, and has changed almost every aspect of school life for students.
11. Critical race theory criticized
Although critical race theory is not generally taught in K-12 schools anywhere in the country, the idea still angers parents in some predominantly white districts, who view the subject matter as indoctrination. In some cases, state legislatures have stepped in to ban a subject that isn’t even taught. In brief, CRT is a legal theory that asserts that racism in the US has become institutionalized and benefits White people. Pursuant to this end, parents and lawmakers in some states have urged that books in the library that deal with CRT, gender identity, and other sensitive subjects be reconsidered and possibly banned if they are found inappropriate.
10. Abridged data loses meaning
The US Education Department refused to grant waivers for testing during the 2020-21 school year, but the rules gave states great flexibility in administering the tests. In Maryland, for instance, tests that should have been given to third graders in the spring were given in the fall to fourth graders. And they were shortened and reported out only three, instead of four, performance levels. Furthermore, because testing was at the mercy of COVID policies, the tests can’t be considered to have been administered under circumstances similar to those under which the assessments were standardized, casting more-than-reasonable doubt on the validity and especially the reliability of the results, which were generally abysmal.
9. School shootings break a bad record
At least 42 acts of gun violence were committed on K-12 campuses during regular hours in 2021, the most during any calendar year since at least 1999, the year of the Columbine shooting, according to a Washington Post database. The number smashed the previous record of 30, the Post reported. With school shootings occurring at record-breaking levels, some people have resorted to starting rumors and threatening violence on social media, causing several schools to shut their doors temporarily.
8. Girls’ volleyball makes history
As fall sports, such as Illinois girls’ volleyball, returned to the fall, a few state champions this fall made history for their schools. Metea Valley High School’s team from Aurora, for example, defeated 15-time state champ Mother McAuley from Chicago and brought back the school’s first state title in any sport.
7. Teachers report being overloaded
With many schools, such as Farmington Central Junior High in rural Illinois, using a hybrid learning model—where some students are taught in-person while other are learning remotely—teacher burnout could erode instructional quality, stymie working parents, and hinder the reopening of the economy, The New York Times reported in November. Some educators feel hybrid models may be unsustainable. Even at the highest levels, where today’s learners are accustomed to online information delivery, teaching suffers with hybrid learning.
6. The bands are back
Bands of America, the Tournament of Bands, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and other festivals that traditionally include marching bands—or that focus on the marching arts—saw a triumphant return in the fall of 2021.
5. Student mental health suffers
Student mental health grew worse during the pandemic, as many typical support systems were taken away. It continues to grow more worrisome as the school year progresses. The American Psychological Association and other advocacy organizations have tried to disseminate information describing what schools and teachers might be able to do about the problem. Even the surgeon general of the United States issued a summary report. The eroding mental health of students may cause an increase in school-based violence and suicide.
4. Bus drivers deserve better
Several Maryland school districts have started programs to recruit and retain good school bus drivers in an attempt to compensate for shortages caused by competition in the workforce for people with a commercial driver’s license and other factors. The shortages in Maryland have generally mirrored national trends, especially in rural school districts, and have caused widespread disruption in student transportation and bus routes, including buses that never showed up, earlier this school year. Substitute teachers and custodians are also in short supply.
3. Delta in September, omicron in December
Two big coronavirus surges in 2021—the delta variant as the school year began and the unprecedented omicron variant as winter breaks started—have thrown a wrench into any hope for a return to normal schooling any time soon. Indeed, almost the only part of any school day that’s normal now is the time of the opening bell. The omicron variant, while extremely contagious, appears no more dangerous than delta, although increased levels of vaccination among Americans may be mitigating some of the virus’s harmful effects. Still schools struggle to understand what to do.
2. Hundreds, thousands of students quarantined
Many school districts report that students are missing more class than ever due to quarantines and health concerns, leading some educators to wonder if schools are quarantining too many students. Daily attendance figures show that on a typical day schools have about 1 percent fewer students this fall than they did pre-pandemic. On top of students in quarantine, some students are “chronically absent” as well.
1. COVID policy protests erupt
Crowds of community members have erupted in sometimes violent protests at normally sleepy school board meetings across the country, as parents divide themselves over COVID policies, mask mandates, and vaccine requirements. At one point, school boards asked the federal government to step in to control the protests as acts of domestic terrorism, and several groups have filed lawsuits on one side or the other. As the January 6 insurrection revealed, Americans are divided on many issues, and school COVID policies are no exception.