As of January 1st of 2021, Governor Kate Brown changed the restrictions regarding school districts in Oregon, and the decision whether to return to in-person is now made within the district, or school-by-school.
The changes were made to urge schools to reopen in February. Despite a continued surge in the number of Coronavirus cases, The governor has decided it’s time to go back.
For some, this is what they have been waiting for since the beginning of lockdowns in March of last year. For others, news of returning to school seems premature and scary.
How will we be able to stay safe in such large numbers? What measures will be taken to ensure safety? The questions keep coming. While no-one can anticipate exactly how it will all happen, we know that this shift from distance learning back to in-person school will have large effects on the community, and even the state. For students, this can mean both positive and negative consequences.
A large factor that comes to mind is if returning to school is even safe. Coronavirus cases have not been declining, and after the holidays, travel has caused more and more positive tests to roll in. The sheer number of people in a high school leaves room for concern for a possible return to school.
Some students at Century have voiced their concerns about the return. One student said they don’t feel it is safe enough with the rising cases in Oregon and believes going back to school will result in an outbreak. Another student stated “I don’t think that it is a good idea to return to school because it doesn’t seem safe yet. I miss my friends and teachers but don’t want to risk the safety of others.”
Part of the reason for this is because of the specific concerns for the precautions schools will or will not take. There isn’t a clear answer as to what exactly schools will have to do for safety measures upon reopening. Social distancing depending on the size of school and student body will already be a challenge.
Multiple students have expressed their concern with their fellow peers ability to wear a mask properly and their teachers ability to enforce such rules. It is true, it can be hard to enforce proper wearing of masks and social distancing rules for students of any age.
Both of these viewpoints bring up important considerations in debating the safety of school at this point in time. Even with the potential strict precautions, will it be safe to send children to school?
The flipside to these points can show us that going back to school can also benefit student’s mental health and academic success. Not everyone thrives in the online learning environment, and it can be hard to navigate a social connection through the screen.
Returning back to school could mean connecting to friends again, improved mental health, and better social skills for many students. One student admits that distance learning has been hard for them to make friends and stay in-touch with their peers. “I need to be able to see my friends again. It’s so hard to not see anybody all the time” they explained.
In addition to the social aspect of school that has been taken away, successful education for certain students has become harder to achieve since the beginning of distance learning in September. “I have so much trouble focusing in class, and I never used to have that problem before.” One Century student exclaimed.
Not everyone can learn the most effectively with such a distant form of teaching. One of the many struggles of distance learning for students is the disconnect with teachers. “It’s harder to get help from teachers sometimes because the responses aren’t always instant like they would be when you could just raise your hand in a classroom.”
And while these challenges are likely eased by a return to in-person learning, some students still feel that it is not enough to push us back into school together. “Even though I want to go back to school because I think it will help my learning and mental health, I still feel nervous about returning because it is possible that the school will not be serious enough about enforcing proper usage of masks and social distancing.” Another student from Century counters.
Between the benefits of mental health and education of students, and concerns of the health and safety of the community, returning to school can bring up a lot of questions and even controversy. All points considered in this decision are important, but now it is time to evaluate, do the pros outweigh the cons? Or vice versa?