Students and the importance of reopening schools safely

With more schools deciding whether or not to reopen, school boards must consider all possibilities.

With the increase in vaccinations administered, the world is beginning to look like it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. But as restaurants and businesses open up to the public, schools are still stuck in a state of limbo. Discussion surrounding reopening schools however, appears to be shallow and has ignored concerns of both parents and students.

The Oakley Union Elementary School District Board was preparing for a Zoom meeting on Feb. 17 when, unbeknownst to them, they were already live to the public. Without realizing they had an audience, board members began to make comments about parents and reopening schools. 

“They want to pick on us because they want their babysitters back,” said Board President Lisa Brizendine.

After board members realized the call was live, they quickly ended it, but it did not save them from criticism. According to NBC News, the entire board resigned after a petition calling for their removal gained traction. Though the conversation was meant to be private and the participants apologized, their words reflect the lack of consideration and general sympathy for families by members of some school boards.

Yes, some parents might need the “daycare” schools provide, but to assume that is the only reason they might push to reopen schools is ignorant. The fact is, students rely on school for a variety of reasons, and online education hasn’t necessarily met their needs.

Education at all levels is vital to students’ futures, especially those who plan on attending or transferring to a university. According to the Brookings Institution, online learning over the past year has had a negative impact on academic performance, with students last fall scoring significantly lower in math compared to students from the previous year. In addition, students have made few learning gains in English. For those who need in-person environments and encouragement, their academic future is suffering from online school.

Remote learning also disproportionately affects lower income families. Students from families that cannot afford the necessary technology for online instruction fall behind and lose out on valuable learning time. For families impacted by the pandemic economically, vital school programs that provided food, shelter and health services became difficult to access, causing them to struggle even more.

Students have also been struggling with mental health issues in the face of distance learning. The American Psychological Association pinpointed that “the ongoing loss of access” to regular school activities and relationships correlated to a lack of motivation. For many students who deal with mental health issues, school counseling and psychologists might be their only outlet to deal with their problems. And academic troubles, the ongoing pandemic and stress at home can negatively impact students who can’t reach out for help in-person.

But not all students are the same and there is a likely chance that students have thrived in the online environment academically, socially and emotionally. In addition, we are living in an unprecedented time, with most schools adapting to an unfamiliar situation that could possibly put students and staff at risk. It is not expected that schools have the answers to all the problems COVID-19 has caused.

We at the Experience are not telling school boards they should or should not reopen – that is their decision. What we do believe, however, is that before school boards make their final decisions, they must consider all possibilities and take into account the concerns of the students they are meant to serve.