Back to school turns into "Groundhog Day" as another variant — Omicron — yet again tests U.S. school districts' ability to keep students and staff safe.
Chicago Public Schools is now facing criticism from the Chicago Teachers Union. The union says the district's safety plan is not enough.
"The mitigations are not in place here," Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. "Communication is not in place here. The mayor, frankly, is failing our students. We want a plan of safety."
CPS offered 150,000 home testing kits to students in hard-hit communities ahead of their return Monday.
But the plan backfired.
Photos from last week show completed testing kits spilling onto the ground near FedEx dropoff locations.
The district says nearly 36,000 tests were completed, of which 25,000 samples were ruined.
Eighteen percent of the tests that were processed were positive.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez says schools are still safe.
"There is no evidence that shutting down a district, that somehow reduces spread," he said. "We see more spread when children are not in schools."
New York City Mayor Eric Adams echoed the same message.
"The children are safer in school than any other place, based on the facts," he said.
Students in New York City also returned to in-person learning Monday.
But some districts have delayed reopening schools. The Los Angeles Unified District will now reopen Jan. 11. Plus, students and staff will have to test negative to return.
"Never before have we seen the world collectively come to its knees, right? And I just want to make sure that my family and I are healthy and ready to return next week," parent David Montalvo said.
Milwaukee Public Schools also pushed its restart date as cars lined up over the weekend for COVID tests.
Seattle Public Schools delayed its return by a day to offer 60,000 rapid tests.
"You got to take more precautions because we don't want to go back to like, the lockdown stuff," high school student Irving Damian said.
Testing was voluntary.
Detroit delayed its reopening for a week and half, placing pressure on parents to balance work and kids at home.
"This Wednesday, Thursday, Friday I have to take off to babysit essentially my kindergartner, first grader and third grader to make sure they are all doing their virtual school," parent Maher Salah said.
Some parents are also stressed over remote learning's impact on their children's development.
"At this point in the pandemic to deny the harm, not only educationally with learning loss and gaps in achievement but also the social and emotional impact of isolation of young and teenage children. To ignore that at this time is to live in an alternate reality," parent and member of Chicago Parents Collective Ryan Griffin said.
All of it creates delicate decisions on how to safely return to school for now a third year in a row.