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From a concerned student

With the stakes not as high and vaccines being distributed, the issue of reopening schools and other public necessities arises. When news broke on March 9th of plans of reopening in my district, my peers and I were, to say the least, apprehensive. "California government will give funding if a school district reopens by April, but for every day 'behind schedule,' the funding gets reduced by 1%" read the very first sentence of the announcement. It went on to state that "if school districts don't reopen by May, there will be no funding from the state government" (LA Times). When we read this, my brother's and my eyebrows furrowed as we looked at each other. Without having to be said aloud, we knew that we were thinking the same thing: How do we know if some schools are not just in it for the money, disregarding students' and staffs’ safety? Keep in mind that most schools are considerably underfunded. As of now, aside from those currently working in essential jobs, adults (one such being my dad at 60 years old) have not received the chance to get the vaccine so teenagers receiving it is even further down the line. And to this, I ask: Is now really the right time to bring kids back, and why now considering most students are mid-way through their semesters?

Understandably, even after a year since COVID-19 went rampant, it remains a time of much confusion and there is no one to tell us what the "right" thing to do is. There are so many what-ifs such as what if we had required masks from the beginning or what if we got the vaccine out earlier, but really, there is no way to rewind time, so instead, we need to focus on the present. Most schools, not all, are doing distance learning and it has been especially rough on some students who on top of school, struggle with problems at home. Bringing them back to schools would help eliminate at least half of the problem right?

Not exactly.

Let’s look at the states that have reopened their school doors to students.

On a Tuesday morning of September 2020 in Texas, half of the students attending Seguin High School, who have previously been accustomed to distance learning, now have to find means to travel in order to attend school in person as per the new orders. However, it is not only the students who aren’t ready for in-person learning yet. “ . . . guidance from the Texas Education Agency leaves districts largely on their own to design protections against a virus that spreads undetected in as many as 40% of those who have it.” To add on to that, “in many districts, maintaining 6 feet of distance among students will simply not be possible.” Schools and districts themselves are simply not prepared for the sudden in-person school order and with that being said, how would you expect students to learn effectively if even the districts and schools don’t know what they are supposed to be doing. They will spend nearly the entire day, including lunch, in one classroom following the plan intended to reduce the public health risks during a pandemic.

A new announcement came December 15 of 2020 in which Seguin High School will move back to remote learning after it saw an uptick in cases with a total of 11 total confirmed cases among staff and students and an eye-opening number of 150 people in quarantine, despite only half of the total students choosing to attend in-person schooling. In the span of three months, so much has happened that it makes one wonder what these numbers would be like if only it kept to remote learning instead.

Based on this infographic, since the reopening of schools in September in Texas, the number of cases recorded in students and staff started to rise substantially before yoyoing up and down in the following months. Although that number has significantly lowered as of February, the threat still remains. How do we know history won’t repeat itself in California as per Governor Newsom’s order?

Florida, like Texas, reopened its school doors to students following the Fall Reopening Plan in 2020. According to the CDC report of Florida, “during August 10–December 21, 2020, a total of 63,654 COVID-19 cases were reported in school-aged children” with 40% of these cases being school-related. As Oren Miron a Ph.D. A student at the BGU Department of Health Systems Management has said, “Vaccines will not be given to children initially, so managing infection rates through temporary remote learning is of paramount importance."

Instead of reopening schools fully at this time in California, there are other solutions. We can implement a hybrid model but instead of putting out a survey to students asking if they want to come back, we can bring back only the troubled students who have a hard time focusing at home, as evidenced in their grades, or those who don't have a stable internet connection or have technical problems in general. Of course, it is not limited to these students as districts should consider each student's case. At schools, preventive measures must be taken and safety should be the top priority at a time when vaccines aren’t being distributed to students. Other factors to consider: who will take accountability for students who test positive and how should they be dealt with safely and ethically? A hybrid model will not only ensure that schools don’t only reopen for their split of the 2 billion, a blatant incentive for underfunded schools but also prioritize the students' and staffs' safety.

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