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What's a "Normal Education" Worth to You?

By Phoebe Smith '23

The majority of Americans oppose reopening our nation’s schools, yet several states, including Pennsylvania, plan to resume on-campus learning this September. Here’s why this is a bad idea. 

As summer comes to a close, schools are beginning to announce their reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year. Some are returning to campus, some are staying completely online, and some are introducing a hybrid of in-class and remote learning. Many schools that plan to fully reopen have presented students and their families with a list of ideals, namely that everyone will wear a mask on campus, sanitize hourly, and remain six feet apart at all times. There is, however, no guarantee that proposed policies will be implemented, and therefore no way of knowing if students, parents, and faculty will be protected until the school year begins. Several students in Georgia realized this when they returned to school and observed the laxity of administrators in enforcing the safety protocol. The pictures exposing unsafe conditions in other schools besides this one in Georgia have also circulated online, yet the Trump administration still supports reopening. Despite the president’s opinion, the national consensus and my personal belief remains: going back to school is dangerous and unnecessary. 

One of the most obvious reasons against reopening schools in the fall is simply that none of the data suggests it’s safe. The number of COVID-19 cases has not significantly decreased since schools closed; in fact, it’s increased in twenty states and continues to grow in eighteen. If it was too dangerous to send kids to school when there were 160,000 cases nationwide, why are we reopening when there are over 4 million? The statistics indicate that cases are soaring and will likely become even further outside our control if schools invite their students back. A common argument in support of reopening is that children are far less likely to die or require hospitalization due to COVID-19. While it is true that COVID, with some exceptions, doesn’t generally affect children, we cannot dismiss the probability of students’ adult family members, as well as faculty and staff, experiencing severe symptoms if infected. As a recent study by the CDC showed, 136.1 people between the ages of 50-64 per 100,000 population were hospitalized in June, and  “8 out of 10 COVID-19 related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older” (CDC). So what happens when a kindergartener removes her mask while speaking with her elderly teacher, or when an asymptomatic high schooler comes home from school and inadvertently infects his mother, who has a pre-existing condition? It is becoming increasingly apparent that many schools aren’t prepared for these possibilities, and until they are, no one in our communities is protected. 

In addition to the danger of sending students back, there’s also the fact that reopening schools simply isn’t necessary. Several online alternatives to on-campus learning were successful in the spring, and schools have had months to modify any flawed aspects of their initial remote learning plans. Some say that schools are multifaceted institutions responsible for providing students with more than just a safe environment to learn; for example, Daniel Halperin of The Washington Post makes the case that we must reopen schools for the wellbeing of our students, as, “consequences of school closures include surges in child abuse; hunger from subsidized meals; greater anxiety, depression, and isolation.” These are certainly major problems that need to be addressed, but it is not the obligation of schools to resolve them. 

Rather, it is the task of the federal government to ensure the availability of essential resources, and the task of society to first destigmatize and then tackle the growing issue of mental illness in this country. Schools are not babysitting services, nor are they food banks or therapy centers. As for the role they play in promoting physical health and helping students develop social skills, this does not have to disappear just because campuses are closed. My school, for instance, hosts weekly strength and conditioning sessions via Zoom and virtual summit conferences to encourage open discussion of current events. Sure, these meetings aren’t the same as in-person classes, but they’ve proven effective in giving attendees the understanding that they’re not alone, and will suffice in establishing some sense of community until we can resume in-class learning.

I, like everyone else, want a return to normalcy, but not at the cost of people’s lives. America hasn’t come close to flattening the curve, and reopening schools would jeopardize the health of students as well as families and teachers. Instead of developing protocols that won’t be universally followed or enforced, schools should concentrate on enhancing the online learning experience in order to offer more opportunities for safe socialization and at-home exercise, among other things. So now, with all this in mind, it’s time to ask yourself: what’s a “normal education” worth to you?


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