In his fourth period AP Comparative Government class, Mr Henry explains UK logistics to the virtual students. (Mary Forbes)
In his fourth period AP Comparative Government class, Mr Henry explains UK logistics to the virtual students.

Mary Forbes

In or out? Schools at center of Covid restriction debate

November 23, 2020

Virtual school is safest option, and it works

When Covid-19 began to spread at the beginning of this year, everybody in school expected schools to close. My peers and I joked about how nice it would be to have some time off, and teachers were constantly reminding us that a shutdown was likely to occur.

However, nobody really believed it when the shutdown was officially announced in mid-March. When we heard the announcement that schools were being let out early and were being closed for two weeks, nobody could believe it. We were ecstatic, and hoping for some relief from school due to an issue that didn’t affect us… or so we thought.

But this 2-week lockdown quickly lengthened with every press release from the state of Pennsylvania. As the months ticked down to summer, nobody really expected us to go back to finish the 2019-2020 school year. And, of course, we didn’t.

Since the end of the summer, plans for a virtual school year began to take shape. Schedules changed, new technology was purchased, and students had to learn how to, well, learn, all over again. Shortly after the beginning of the school year, however, criticism started to rise from parents, students, and teachers alike.

Many parents were concerned about their children’s abilities to learn online, with obvious issues with focus and staying on-task in a virtual setting. Many also argued that this put an unfair strain on parents that were working during the day, who would now either have to hire a sitter, stay home, or end up trusting their children to stay on task.

But students, especially teens, began to speak up as well. Many ended up not learning nearly as well as they did in-person, and socialization was another issue with students as well. Since early November, students have either stayed home in a virtual setting, or have been allowed to come back to school in-person, but only in an alternating hybrid model.

Even with safety measures in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19, even in a couple of weeks in a hybrid model, we’ve seen multiple student and staff cases of Coronavirus at our high school alone. This, combined with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, has led to Montgomery County mandating the in-person closure of schools from Monday, November 23 to Monday, December 7.

But this closure for two weeks shouldn’t, and probably won’t, just be for these two weeks. As we’ve seen this past year, closures often are extended indefinitely, which is good news for those worried about contracting Covid. However, these cries for open schools will only ramp up in the days and weeks to come. But when it comes to student, staff, and the public’s safety, no chances should be taken. And while learning in a virtual setting is certainly inconvenient, safety is more important than comfort.

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With current measures, hybrid a safe choice

An education is a luxury that not everybody in the world has an opportunity to have. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the American educational system is being tested. In the United States, every child has access to a public education. While some school districts perform better than others, even the large, successful districts like North Penn are facing challenges in delivering its typical high level of education.

A well rounded education is more than just learning; it involves interactions with teachers, peers, advisors and coaches. Virtual learning, while it may work for college, doesn’t necessarily work for all levels of the educational system. There are some people who learn by listening, others who learn by watching, and others who learn by doing. Unfortunately, everybody’s needs can’t be met with virtual learning. All the ways of learning a student may need are not provided by staying home. 

Virtual learning gives students too many opportunities to avoid actually participating in their classes. While teachers do their best to include everyone in their lesson plans, it’s simply impossible to do that in a virtual setting. Students can easily mute their microphones, turn their cameras off, or avoid speaking at all costs. How does someone learn the pythagorean theorem while watching or making TikTok videos during class? 

Aside from just the curriculum and learning aspect of education, socializing with people is good for mental well-being, so being face to face with peers after such a long time away is exciting. Some people may not have been able to travel too far from home during this pandemic, but going to school can bring back normalcy to their lives.

One thing that has been overlooked throughout the pandemic is that schools are an outlet for some kids who may have a hard home life. Going to school two or three times a week could make a big difference in their mental and physical well-being.

While most may agree that in-person learning is more beneficial, many are also concerned about the safety aspects of doing so; however, that is a concern that has been fully addressed by North Penn School District.

At NPHS, thanks to many new protocols, people are rarely, if ever, closer than six feet to someone for more than 15 minutes. Social distancing is enforced in all classrooms. Seating charts were made by teachers so that germs are not spreading to other in close proximity. This also assists with potential contact tracing, if necessary.

The cafeteria is also set up to support social distancing. Students are allowed to sit at seats marked with blue tape. Only four people are allowed to sit at each table. In fact, there is plexiglass that divides each half of the table to further protect each student. 

Lunches are all grab and go. Only the cafeteria servers and the student will touch someone’s

lunch. There is the option between two meals to eat everyday. Lunch is the only time that students are permitted to take off their masks. Once they are done eating, they must put your mask back on. 

While some people are concerned about the sanitation of the classrooms, they shouldn’t be. There is hand sanitizer available in each and every classroom and the hard-working custodial staff is hard at work every night cleaning the school to protect everyone.

If people are concerned about using the bathroom during the day, don’t be. Bathrooms have color-coded signs. For instance, if a student is in B pod, that means he or she can only go to an orange coded bathroom with the orange colored pass. Plus, bathrooms are limited to three people at a time.

Even though the numbers in Montgomery County are spiking again, people do have to consider the population size. Montgomery County is the third largest county in Pennsylvania. Over the last seven days as of November 22, 2020, Pennsylvania has averaged 47.8 cases a day per 100,000 people. However, Montgomery County is only averaging 37.2 cases a day per 100,000 people over the same time frame. 

While we understand that we are all in this together and everyone must do their part to beat this pandemic, for the sake of our education and well-being, school should be conducted in person. 

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