By: Elias Azizi, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Fauzia Haque, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief; Valeri Guevarra, Founder/Executive Director
For the last year and a half, students in Canada, the U.S., and the rest of the world have been learning much differently due to COVID-19. The coronavirus has caused the majority of schools to scrap their normal fully in-person schedule. Almost all students of practically all ages have had to follow a hybrid learning model; a mix of in-person and online learning. However, with the availability of vaccines and more manageable COVID-19 case counts, many school districts are planning on returning to a fully in-person schedule for the 2021-22 school year. There will evidently still be certain restrictions and preventative measures in place like masking and social distancing, but for the most part, the academic schedules of many students will become back to normal. Even with these instituted protocols, educators, healthcare officials, and governments have expressed their concerns about this upcoming school year.
The Risk of Outbreaks
When it comes to COVID-19 (especially the Delta variant), all it takes is a single infected individual to cause an outbreak. In schools, hundreds to thousands of students work in the same building at the same time. Yes, classes do help cohort students and limit their contacts with others, but outbreaks are still quite possible. Imagine if one student in a class has COVID-19. This individual could spread the virus to some or even all of his/her classmates, causing an exponential spread. The risk may be apparent, but many educators believe that it will be safe to resume in-person learning and that COVID-19 outbreaks will simply be a new normal in schools. Susan Enfield, the superintendent of Highline Public Schools, a district near Seattle, expresses her thoughts on outbreaks in schools, stating, “I believe that we will be able to remain in person but we all have to be prepared that outbreaks will be inevitable” (CNBC). Thus, schools must expect to see COVID-19 outbreaks and must create protocols to effectively deal with them. The risk of outbreaks is definitely concerning for educators and governments, but in reality, it’s just a new normal in this era of schooling.
The Transition from Online Learning to In-Person for Students
Ever since March of 2020, the majority of a student’s education has taken place online. Almost every child had to listen to their teachers’ lessons online through Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, etc. Yes, learning from home in a cozy room may be convenient, but it isn’t as effective as in-person learning. Based on a Voice of America article that discusses student learning during the pandemic, new research on national test scores highlights that students’ learning has greatly slowed since COVID-19. Furthermore, progress in mathematics and reading has slowed by several months, signifying that many students are well behind their grade level expectations. To add, according to The Weirton Daily Times, a study on student learning during the pandemic in West Virginia has shown that only 28 percent of 3rd-8th grade students and 11th grade students are proficient in math in 2021, down from 39 percent in 2019. Evidently, most students were not able to learn successfully during the COVID-19 era of schooling. It is for this reason that the West Virginia Board of Education wanted to keep schools open in the fall so that students can catch up in their learning more effectively. However, the Board is well aware that the transition for many students from online to in-person learning will be difficult due to the poor proficiency scores in 2021. In order to make up for this loss of learning, the Education Board in West Virginia wants to “offer opportunities and give [students] that accelerated, personalized learning” to support their transition to in-person learning (The Weirton Daily Times).
Masking in Classrooms
For the past year and a half, whenever students were in school, they needed to wear masks and social distance at all times. However, during the 2021-22 school year, many U.S. state governments are choosing to not make masks mandatory in classrooms. In fact, based on CNN, at least seven states in the U.S. are prohibiting districts from requiring masks in schools. Essentially, these states are making masks optional in schools. This ‘optional masking’ approach in schools has made many health experts worried about the upcoming school year. Dr. Mark Kline, the physician-in-chief of Children’s Hospital New Orleans, believes that reopening the classroom without mask requirements or other safety measures is a ‘recipe for disaster’ (CNN). This statement is reasonable, since children under the age of 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated because the FDA hasn’t approved it for youth use yet. Many children eligible for vaccines (ages 12-17) also aren’t getting them because of their parents’ beliefs. According to Forbes, a Kaiser Family Foundation found that 50% of parents of children 12-17 are opposed to their children receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. A lack of masking and low vaccination rates amongst children are a dangerous combination and is causing healthcare officials to become worried about the 2021-22 school year.
When it comes to the reopening of schools in fall 2021, educators, healthcare workers, and governments are quite concerned. Yes, over half of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, but the world is still in a pandemic; we aren’t completely back to normal at the moment. Restrictions like masking and social distancing will still be used during the 2021-22 school year to try to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on schools. Not to mention, practically every school district plans on reopening schools for full-time in-person learning, as virtual learning has been detrimental for some from an educational, social, emotional, and/or physical standpoint. For over one year, schools around the world have gone virtual, so knowing that schools will operate face-to-face is a huge sigh of relief for students. Countries like Canada and the United States wouldn’t have been able to open schools for the 2021-22 school year without the diligence of their societies. Individuals around the globe must continue to follow safety measures and do their part in this pandemic in order for life to go back to normal. The light at the end of the tunnel becomes brighter every day when societies are following public health guidelines.
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