The return to all in-person schooling: two perspectives

Casey Friedman and Jacey Hinton

Casey Friedman:

While I am extremely excited for the social and academic benefits the return to all in-person schooling on Monday, March 22 will provide for myself and those around me, I believe there are glaring issues with this change which may increase the danger in coming to school for all. 

The national COVID-19 rates may be declining as we race towards herd immunity through mass vaccination, but Dr. Fauci and the CDC have warned of an impending third wave and the stronger UK and South African variants. Middlesex County is already seeing an increase in cases and according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the 0-19 age group has had a much higher case count in the past few weeks. 

Vaccinations in Massachusetts have begun, but at a slower rate than our neighboring states, and many teachers have not yet received both of their doses. The end may be in sight, but it is not here yet, and rushing to greet freedom before it has arrived will only delay our eventual release from pandemic life. 

“I align with the goal of going back fully in person whenever it is safe to, but my question is why now?” WHS Senior Mimi Gotbetter asked.

The new guidelines for returning to all-in person school continue to require masks be worn at all times, but now students and teachers must only maintain 3 feet of distance inside the building and classrooms. This new plan will also introduce measures of safety which are not clearly backed up with enough research and evidence. Some studies have shown that there can be a minimal difference between 6 feet and 3 feet of distance, but the CDC has not yet confirmed this and maintains their guidelines for the entire country to continue to maintain six feet of distance for maximum safety at all times. 

Even despite the supposed safety of the distance regulation change, on any given day most students in the building will get closer than six or even three feet apart. There are places in the building where crowds form or the hallways are tight, and it just happens. If we double the population of this building these instances will only increase, and many students are not properly masked at all times regardless.

  “I’m worried that cases will even spike so much we will need to go completely remote for a while,” senior Caitlin LaValle expressed. “Which defeats the whole purpose of doing this in the first place.”

This decrease in safety assurance will also create an impossible decision for many families where RLA may not seem like the best option for their child’s needs, but a higher risk situation in person is the only alternative.

“The option is either full in-person learning with 25 in a classroom, or being the only student on a livestream and being taught by an automated robot through a third-party site for some classes,” Gotbetter expressed. “Families with health concerns are being forced to make impossible decisions and must decide whether to put themselves or loved ones at risk for their child’s learning.”

I understand that student mental health is at an all time low, and that many people are struggling with loneliness and a dissociation from their social lives which has been harmful for their social and emotional well-being, and I want to fix this as much as anyone. But returning to school full-time will not be a real solution to these long-standing problems. 

“For me, the idea of going to school with 25 people in a classroom is more of a source of anxiety than anything else,” Gotbetter said. “And I don’t believe that going to school in-person is the sole answer to mental health concerns. Mental health support is.”

Beyond our own mental health and wellbeing, we, as a town, must also recognize the unique and impactful position we are in, and the consequences of the choices we make.

Weston is an extremely privileged place full of people who can afford to take precautions like working from home and having people deliver their groceries or offer them private transportation. Overall, our community could be somewhat less affected by this crisis because of our ability to afford certain protections. The same cannot be said for communities nearby and interacting with our own. If we allow ourselves to loosen and take unnecessary risks, we could be endangering communities a lot less privileged and much more disproportionately affected by this virus than our own. And this privilege doesn’t exempt us from the horrors of this virus either.

Our current hybrid plan is not perfect, but navigating a pandemic is all about weighing the risks and trying to find the safest possible options. While I may be excited to see my friends again, and be inside the school building five days a week, I cannot deny that this change, coming at this moment in time, does not feel like the safest or best option. 

https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-response-reporting

 

Jacey Hinton:

Although it is a large adjustment among teachers, staff and students, I believe returning to school with all of my peers will be a positive step into returning to “normal life”; especially with its social and academic benefits. 

While I understand the health concerns, the decline in COVID-19 cases along with the distribution of vaccinations will help control the spread of the virus. According to Mass.Gov, teachers and education staff are currently eligible to get the vaccine, and individuals age 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine on April 19, 2021. 

In the event that there is a Covid case, the school has devised a safety plan to ensure that the spread is contained. There will be assigned seats in all classrooms so that anyone who was near the infected person will be contacted to isolate until they can show negative test results. 

Free testing is available at the High School on Tuesdays and Thursdays and free testing is also available at the Field School on Tuesdays. Students, especially athletes, have strongly been encouraged to test weekly, which will reduce asymptomatic spread, according to the CDC. 

As a senior at Weston High School, I feel that I have missed out on many social opportunities with my classmates whom I will seldom see as we go off to college this fall. With the pandemic in mind, attending school with all of my peers will allow for some normalcy and socialization for our last few months as Weston. 

“I am excited to come back full time because I’ll be able to see all of my friends that have been in the other cohort all year.” senior Sam Ross said. 

The lack of social interaction can have a negative impact on mental health and cause social isolation. According to adolescent psychiatrist, Candida Fink, social distancing is most challenging for adolescents due to the fact that social interactions are a key part of teen development. 

“I think this will improve student mental health overall but not as much having to do with the fact that more people are there. This more has to do with the relaxing of other guidelines like the three feet instead of six feet. In school we haven’t been able to interact with each other the same way because we always needed to be far apart from each other now we can be a more normal distance away from each other and I think this will help to improve interaction, “Sophomore Trevor Gold said.

There is also talk of having prom and graduation which will need to be approved by the town. However, if we are unable to safely be in school, there is a low chance that we will be able to have a full grade gathering. We have been stripped of almost every senior tradition so even a chance at having a masked prom and graduation would be better than nothing at all.

In addition, to increase much-needed social interactions, going in five days a week will benefit our education, which has suffered over the previous months. For the past year, minus summer vacation, we have had a large portion of our learning via Zoom which, for many students, is not a practical learning environment. 

“I think it’s important that we go back to school because there is a major difference in a classroom environment versus. a Zoom. When you are in person there are less distractions, it’s more engaging, and you’re not staring into a computer screen all day. The vast majority of students learn better in person,” Ross said.

Taking classes over zoom is distracting enough without taking into account the technical issues. Service is often glitchy which makes it difficult to heat and engage with the lesson. You also risk being counted absent if you are unable to join the call.

“Generally speaking I think in-person learning works better for most than remote learning. I also think coming back would address some systemic inequities,” English teacher Henry Moon said.

I believe if we continue to work together as a community and hold each other accountable, we can reduce the risk of spreading the virus and allow for a safe return to school. 

 

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/testing-overview.html

https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/child-adolescent-psychiatry/home-alone-the-mental-health-impact-of-covid-19-isolation-on-infants-children-and-adolescents/