The Risk in Reopening Schools

Dear Asian Youth,


As back-to-school season creeps upon us once more, one cannot help but feel anxious about the upcoming year. Sure, this summer hasn’t been a typical one with pool parties and backyard cookouts; instead, it's been filled with paranoia of how education will be taught amid the imminent threat of COVID-19. After the scramble teachers faced last school year with countless districts suddenly deciding to transition to online learning, many states are advising- or even mandating- that school begins online, giving ample time for preparation in hopes for a smoother transition. Yet when this period of mandate ends, students and parents alike will be forced to decide whether to attend in-person or online school.


This choice is not an easy one. Online school is so dependent on familial environments, and many students have trouble focusing at home, but it follows social distancing guidelines and reduces the chances of spreading COVID-19. However, if a family chooses to send their child to school, in theory, they are providing a more impactful education and immersing their child in a normal, school-like environment (as normal as it gets now). This, of course, comes with the consequence that they are increasing the chances of spreading COVID-19. Simply put, there is no straightforward answer. The "right choice" is completely subjective depending on a number of factors. With no foreseeable end to the pandemic, we must rely on the statistics and, from there, our intuitions to make these risky decisions.


For those that are required or want to remain online, there are notable advantages and drawbacks. On the surface level, it prevents the spread of COVID-19. By separating people who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms from their healthy peers, we have the potential to save countless lives. Though many claim that children are less susceptible to spreading or contracting the virus, the evidence of that claim is weak and provides no clear explanation as to why that occurs. Moreover, online school allows students to have more flexibility with their schedules. In-person schooling takes large amounts of time away from home so, in turn, by choosing not to attend school in person, students can pursue side projects and hobbies in their free time. Not all students have the ability to dedicate long hours to focusing on schoolwork, especially in front of a screen. Online schooling allows for breaks to occur at the student's discretion and may increase precocity for certain individuals. In addition, online schooling omits the need to pay for transportation and other supplies such as binders, backpacks, and folders. For low-income families, this can help make schooling an easier process so that they may reallocate money to other areas of need. Despite all of these benefits, the consequences associated can be particularly harmful to specific student groups as well. In more impoverished communities, according to the New York Times, “younger children and those in lower-income districts do not learn as well online as they do in person.” Many families have had to choose between health risks and money, despite what they prefer. In the long term, this wealth gap persists. Wealthier families who do have access to more resources have a clear upper hand in both education and health/safety precautions. In addition, for students in their teen years struggling mentally with limited environments, prolonged time away from friends and diverse personalities, online school can trigger symptoms of anxiety, depression, and lower creativity and imagination levels.


On the other side, interactive schooling can seem both daunting and promising. For more experienced students, in-person schooling has already become a normalized concept. From a young age, students are taught that school is a place of education and learning, and home is a place of relaxation and after school activities. By reimmersing students into previously associated places, it theoretically promises better results than those of online education. Moreover, the transition to face-to-face education can, in contrast to online schooling, boost morale for those who have not seen their friends and encourage growth and positive feelings associated with school. Finally, for those who just need to have their pre-pandemic lives restored, in-person schooling is the easiest way to reinstall that environment (with appropriate equipment of course!). However, there are drawbacks that have many rethinking their choices. Though children allegedly have a lower rate of contracting COVID-19, this in no way means the virus will simply disappear. Those who do get the virus can then transmit it to their parents, which are far more at risk, and then their parents may spread it to coworkers, and eventually their grandparents. In short, it puts an entire web of people at risk. In-person schooling is a gamble of safety that is difficult to control, and just by performing daily tasks, the chances of transmission skyrocket. Besides such, it is difficult to know how well school will work with social distancing and masks. Many schools are overpopulated and leave very little room for air to circulate.


For schools planning to open for face-to-face schooling, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that facial coverings should be worn at all times, faculty and staff regularly wash their hands, management provide hand sanitizer with an alcohol content greater than 60%, and social distancing at least six feet apart be enforced. As educational tools for elementary school, the incorporation of activities that teach the importance of hygiene and facial coverings is also being thought of. For middle school, short videos and engagement in classroom discussions on how to properly wear facial coverings and why they are required. For high school, lesson plans and essay topics on cloth masks and other precautionary measures as a source of control and protection will also be weaved into the curriculum.


It is difficult to tell what the future will hold. There is so much to debate, and without the data we need, it is almost impossible to know what is best for the students around the world at this time. Take care of yourself and make educated decisions!


-Allison Li