OPINION: JCPS needs to finish this year digitally

EP Presnell

In his first week in office, President Biden has made it clear he is eager for teachers and students to return to the classroom as soon as possible. This sentiment is widely shared among teachers and students, as NTI is a mentally exhausting, however there are a number of important factors that point to making the transition back into the classroom next school year rather than the current one. 

New strains and more cases

Throughout the course of the last 10 months, the COVID-19 virus has developed several new strains, including two new ones found in the UK and South Africa. The UK strain is 56% more transmissible than the first and the South African strain could perhaps be worse than the one that has emerged this past month in the UK. 

While there is no evidence that these strains are deadlier (due to their recent mutations) they are easier to contract, and COVID-19 affects almost everybody differently. In the ten months we have been in quarantine and unable to return to school, there is no telling how many more strains the virus could create or how deadly those could be. 

Switching back and forth

An important event that students and teachers must be prepared for is the chance of not returning to school the next day. If one student in a class is exposed to the virus of tests positive, the potential of whole classes having to quarantine is at risk. For older students, it is much easier to go to school one day or stay home the next. For younger students though, there are much more factors at play. 

Before and/or after school care is a program many families in the county take advantage of due to longer working days, and if a student loses the ability to attend this program due to exposure, it can be hard on that family. 

In addition to this potential scenario, alternatives to a normal, everyday school schedule do not provide the relief that families need. Having a hybrid schedule of half online and half in person is hard to work around, especially with the potential exposure scare that might force students into distanced learning anyways. There is no perfect way to fix this, but if JCPS were to allow more of the community to receive the vaccine throughout the spring in the summer as new phases of people are allowed to receive it, the chances of this happening would decrease greatly. 

Staying safe

The most significant reason why we should finish out this year through online instruction is safety. We need to think of all we have lost this year and how many more we could lose by returning to in-person school too quickly. Everyday, thousands of people are lost in this country to the virus, and there’s no telling how many more we could lose. Everybody has heard this, but the severity of that threat seems to be taken less seriously as we continue through this pandemic. 

JCPS has lost teachers, students, parents and more of its community to this pandemic, and each of those people has a family that is living on without them. In order to save as much of this heartbreak and disruption, it is crucial that we return to school only when it is absolutely safe. 

For seniors, this means losing one of the most hyped-up years of our school experiences which is heartbreaking in itself. I believe that the class of 2021 deserves special recognition of some sort for going through their last year of high school digitally. It’s unfortunate, but the community’s safety is simply too important to risk by going back to school.

Although there are many reasons why we should go back before the year ends (specifically how difficult NTI is and the challenges of learning on a shortened schedule) it seems safer to finish this year out online. Coming from someone who has despised NTI, even from last spring when it was nowhere near as hard as it is now, I believe this is the smartest and safest way to go about reopening schools. 

At the end of the day, I believe everyone can agree this has been a hard and quite frankly awful school year. At first I had all the hopes that we would get to return to the building before the year ended, but lately I have seen more people lose family members to COVID and lose people to the virus than ever before. Being a senior, it breaks my heart that I’ll never get to go to prom or perhaps get a proper goodbye to my teachers, but being able to see my family and friends safe is more important than that right now. Let’s finish this year out strong and start next year as fresh as possible.