School opening is problematic and deserves federal attention

The Yale University library. The school plans to have a partial re-opening in the fall. (Lauren Volkodav/YJI)

Allentown, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. – Like many others, I want schools to reopen in the fall. I think it’s impossible to replicate the in-person experience online.

But rising infection rates and lack of funding make the idea of reopening the classrooms challenging at best.

Now, with only about a month or so until the start of the school year, many public schools still offer vague information about reopening plans to concerned students, parents, and teachers.

U.S. President Trump claimed early this month that reopening schools is “very important for the well-being of the students and parents.”

While I agree with that sentiment, I also question how exposing millions of students and faculty to the coronavirus – at the expense of their physical health – helps their well-being.

Reopening schools in the fall is unquestionably vital for the learning development of students. But many students lack access to a quiet study space or the necessary technology for online classes, which hinders their ability to learn.

It’s difficult to focus through several classes a day, all while staring at a computer screen.

On the other hand, for parents with young children who also have jobs to worry about, schools need to open so their children can develop as they should, including crucial social interactions.

Parents would then be able to focus on their jobs.

In Florida, where bars and restaurants have remained open despite the serious rise in infection rates, schools will be online in several districts.

Therefore, it seems the priorities of government leaders greatly differ from those of our country’s millions of students.

It’s disheartening to see in Florida that education is viewed second to the need for residents to have indoor dining and access to bars which pose a high risk of spreading infection.

Yet if “the science should not stand in the way” of reopening schools as White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a July 16 briefing, the Trump administration clearly does not take the reopening of classrooms seriously enough to provide any national guidance for educators around the nation.

As many school districts around the country begin to formulate reopening plans, disparities in school systems become increasingly more pronounced as some schools may have more difficulty in reopening than others.

In the past, I attended a public school in Beaverton, Oregon for a time where my classrooms often had more than 40 students.

This would make social distancing extremely difficult if not impossible. It seems unlikely that school districts can hire more teachers to decrease class sizes enough to make social distancing possible.

More recently, I’ve been attending an elite private school in Windsor, Connecticut, where the average class size was 12. Even so, my classrooms frequently had just six or seven students.

It would be feasible to plan for social distancing in classes of 12 or fewer students, but not in classrooms with more than 40 students, showing the divide in the reopening abilities of public and private schools.

Today, our priority should be reopening schools safely, not keeping high-risk businesses open. Though they’re getting no federal guidance, I applaud the work of educators who are working tirelessly to come up with safe reopening plans. I hope we all will be able to return safely to school in the fall.

Lauren Volkodav is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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