Should schools across the country return to learn in-person?


Courtesy of US News

Students return to in-person learning but maintain safety precautions in Denver, Colorado.

Amidst shocking coronavirus numbers – specifically the death of over 1.2 million worldwide from the virus – schools and colleges are inevitably asking themselves heart-breaking questions to address the challenge of reopening. Should they provide bussing? Require masks? Restrict breaks and club times? While administrators provide insight into this acrimonious debate, they also ponder a more important question: should learning be remote or hybrid?

New York Times reporter Appoorva Mandavilli wrote that the virus has less effect on children. Yet despite this information, states have previously closed down schools and colleges with the goal of slowing down the virus. Students faced with entering the virtual world were not just faced with disturbances to their educational routines, but also nutritional and social development issues, according to JAMA Pediatrics.

On the other hand, some argue that remote learning provides students a stress free environment to work at their own pace. In interviews with The New York Times, one student, Ella Mastin, said that e-learning has provided her more time to sleep and complete her studies. Yet another student, David Mellejo, said he has been able to explore his interests at home and learn topics that are not taught in school.

Professor Douglies Harris, of Brown University, wrote that with conflicting approaches to this situation, there seems to be one goal in mind – “helping people live as long as possible and minimizing pain and suffering from the crisis.” Harris also wrote that while we can visualize “our breath, and the virus, spreading throughout the room for others to inhale,” we are incapable of seeing mental dangers. He even pointed out that closing down schools also closes down the economy, causing unemployment rates to rise.

The best way to help people live as long as possible while minimizing pain and suffering from the virus seems to be remote learning. Mental health and unemployment may pose a threat, but the death of over 200,000 Americans will permanently loom above us.

This does not mean that mental illness and unemployment are inconsequential matters – they are not. However, the cost of a human life is invaluable. In order to address issues such as stress, mental illness, and nutrition, school administrators must think critically and voice their concerns to politicians.

In fact, we have already seen changes happen within hundreds of school districts across the country to tackle these issues. In California specifically, millions of students have received free “grab-and-go meals… regardless of eligibility” to help solve food insecurity issues, according to EdSource. Nutritious meals, according to Vox, are “crucial for kids’ mental as well as physical health,” wrote Anna North. Some schools are even tackling issues of depression and loneliness by organizing clubs that interest students and provide them a place to speak up.

It is not just principals and teachers making tough decisions. Presented with choosing a remote or hybrid model, students must make a decision also. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? What are the benefits? And most importantly, what are the costs? Every student and every school district has different needs and wants. While one student might feel socially anxious and prefer staying remote, another might be outgoing and prefer a hybrid model.

Therefore, each district and student must make an educated choice that will keep them safe while learning. Learning must go on, despite the pandemic. Any learning system must continuously evolve to adapt to the needs of students and the community. There is no one right concrete answer in choosing how and when to return to school, other than to stay safe.