BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Thousands of students across Alabama will soon be returning to the classroom from winter break, bringing concerns for teachers as the number of Omicron variant cases of COVID-19 continue to spike.

As school districts finalize their back-to-school plans, the Alabama Education Association recommending schools promote universal masking to help keep students and staff safe in the classroom.

“We know that our testing percentages are up higher than they have ever been and we are on alter for server spread in our area,” said Tracee Binion, UniServ director with the AEA.

Binion said her goal is to have students learning in person, but in order to do so, there need to be guidelines.

“I am saying to leaders in our area is to follow the science the safety protocols the masking when appropriate follow the social distancing when they can,” she said.

Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Mark Sullivan said the school system has had mask requirements since the beginning of school and that both students and staff will continue to wear masks and abide by CDC guidance. Sullivan said the school district will also continue to enforce COVID-19 mitigation efforts as they head into spring.

“We’re looking at around 10% in any particular class or grade level we’re looking at isolating that grade level,” Sullivan said. “One good thing is that we have a large percentage of students, staff, and adults that are vaccinated so that helps us.”

Schools are also dealing with substitute teacher shortages, another reason the AEA is encouraging masking to make sure teachers are in the classroom. Binion said that if a classroom has to transition back to remote learning, teachers are equipped with what they need to keep students on track.

“COVID, if nothing else, has forced us to improve our technology, improve our way to get can get an education to students who can’t be at school,” she said.