With the USA death toll rapidly exceeding 224,000, Covid-19 has remodeled all aspects of modern life. Minor tasks, such as grocery runs and family get-togethers, have become potentially dangerous practices – while larger issues, such as education, prompt worry and dispute.
Decisions surrounding the reopening of schools are changing with the fluctuating state of the virus. Initially, schools were scheduled to close for a short three weeks in March, setting the expectation of a brief shut down. Instead, Poway Unified School District (PUSD) parents and students spent their summers answering surveys from the district, reaching out to fellow PUSD families, and discussing the advantages or disadvantages of in-person learning. Currently, high school and middle school students are still receiving education behind a screen while elementary schools have arrived back on campus.
However, an arrangement to open middle and high schools is in progress. According to the PUSD website, the latest reopening proposal is scheduled to be presented to the School Board on Nov. 12. The upcoming plan consists of a concurrent learning model, requiring teachers to educate in-person and virtual learners simultaneously. The district previously discussed implementing a hybrid learning system – which involves students alternating between in-person and online learning throughout the week – but realized that the learning model was inadequate for the needs of secondary school students. For example, if the hybrid model was adopted, 700 high school students would lose access to desired classes, certain electives would become unavailable to students who chose virtual learning, and six AP classes would no longer be accessible for both groups. The hybrid model also prompted budgetary concerns for PUSD schools.
In light of recent educational developments, the MC Sun created a poll for students to express their views on reopening. 411 students responded, with a variety of opinions on different topics.
When given the statement, “I want to return to in-person learning before a vaccine is administered,” a significant portion (23.6%) of students neither disagreed or agreed. However, 4.4% more students disagreed or strongly disagreed (40.4%) compared to the population who agreed or strongly agreed (36%).
On the contrary, an overwhelming majority of students appeared comfortable with returning to school after a vaccine is administered – 61.8%, according to the survey.
“Online learning should continue until a vaccine is administered,” an anonymous student said in response to the poll. “If we return to in-person learning before the vaccine is available to the public, there is a possibility of cases of COVID-19 rising again, which will only cause schools to return to online learning.”
Unfortunately for most students, a Covid-19 vaccine may take months to develop. Consequently, students face a difficult choice between online and on-campus classes; the latter may present significant health risks, as exemplified by Mission Vista High School. After a single day of in-person learning, one student tested positive for Covid-19 on October 21st. Following contact tracing procedure, 130 students and 4 staff members were then placed in quarantine. Reopening PUSD high schools could lead to similar consequences, which concerns a large population of MC students. According to the poll, 58.4% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I will be concerned about my own health if MCHS resumes in-person learning.”
Additionally, the spread of Covid-19 creates fatal effects for high-risk individuals. Although younger people are less likely to be hospitalized, according to a September report from The New York Times, outbreaks in adolescents can lead to outbreaks in older age groups who have weaker immune systems. Research from the CDC found that, in some southern states, outbreaks in young people triggered a surge in cases among people aged 40 to 59 years old. Fifteen days after the original outbreak, another surge was spotted among people aged 60+. These older populations face a higher risk of severe consequences from the virus.
“I have family that is immunocompromised, so I’m mostly worried for them, not myself,” another anonymous MC student said.
In addition to this danger, some students worried over the quality of their education. According to the poll, 47.7% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I feel that the transition to online school has disrupted my education.” 31.7% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, while 20.7% of students neither agreed nor disagreed.
However, in a surprising contrast, a strong majority of students admitted that their grades have stayed consistent between in-person and online learning. 17.6% more students appeared satisfied with online learning compared to those who were not, and 23.6% of students neither felt satisfied nor dissatisfied with the current learning structure – displaying a set of mixed feelings towards the present learning environment.
“I feel it would be very beneficial (for me at least) to resume school in person,” an anonymous student said. “That being said, I definitely want this to be as safe as [possible]. If there is a large risk, I think it is better for everyone to stay home and stay safe.”
Many concerns related to the concurrent learning model centered around teachers as well.
“I feel sorry for teachers who will have to figure out how to teach online AND in person,” another respondent said. “They will risk their safety and use their time.”
Other factors may affect the concurrent structure, such as financial expenses, increases in Covid-19 rates, growing preferences of virtual learning, and refusal from teachers to pilot the model.
Beyond all components, however, respondents actively voiced their concerns around mental health. Regardless of their preference for online or in-person classes, the changes in learning could lead to challenges for students in both situations.
“Returning to full time learning would be disastrous for mental health,” an anonymous student said. “It will quite literally shock the body to be thrown back into it full time.”
Some students, on the other hand, thought online school creates a larger threat to their mental health.
“The biggest problem for me personally is the lack of morale and motivation, considering that we […] are the ones responsible for pushing ourselves forward,” they said. “We have to give ourselves the motivation to do the assignments, and quite frankly, it’s draining on both mind and spirit.”
With a variety of factors at play, poll results show MC students find it difficult to arrive at one consensus between in-person and online classes. A single learning method fails to fit the needs of the entire student body, proving that the only solution to the current educational conflict is compromise. Although the present options may not meet all personal necessities, few choices are available at hand – emphasizing a drastic need for an open-minded attitude towards these difficult circumstances.
Link to our Student Poll