Opinion: Should schools be in full remote learning right now? (Part 5)

Part 5: Reflecting on all I’ve learned from my interviews along with my own perspectives and experiences


Photo by Julia Ehlers

The world during quarantine is not an easy place to live. Masks, hand sanitizer, sacrifices and hard decisions overwhelm most days, so what are you supposed to do when even the experts aren’t sure?

Before I start in on my perspective, I want to clarify a couple things. THIS IS AN OPINION PIECE ON A CONTROVERSIAL TOPIC. None of what I’m saying reflects the opinions of the Oracle as a whole, nor on any of the staff, students, or administrators at East, nor any representative at LPSDO. It’s just me, talking based on the interviews I’ve conducted, the experiences I’ve had, the data and facts I’ve learned since the pandemic started. If you disagree with what I’m saying, that’s fine. Your opinion is just as valid as mine, and I’m happy to have a civil conversation with anyone who wants to talk about this.
So after all of my investigation and all of my interviews (Check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 here), I haven’t really done anything other than complicate things more, by providing more perspectives and more food for thought. Are you ready for your answer now, reader? I don’t actually know what we should do.
I’ve thought about this for a long time – since before school started. Going back and forth on whether I should even go to school or not, whether I would be better off as a zoomer, whether or not it was worth it to risk my health and my family’s for a shot at a senior year. There’s a lot to be gained and lost either way, and unfortunately, there’s no scale for weighing the pros and cons of the future that can answer all of my questions and banish all of my doubts.
If I’m being honest with myself, I wished that I didn’t have to make this decision for myself – I just wanted the faceless, nameless people at the top to make the decision and tell us we’re not going forward with anything until it’s safe. Just to say, “No, we’re not doing this. There will be other years, and we’re not going to try to make this quarter, this semester, this year, normal for the sake of safety and for the chance to go back to the way it was in years to come.” I’m an indecisive person, and those people at the top aren’t nameless and faceless anymore – I’ve been lucky enough to get to have a conversation with them about their reasonings, their ideas.
And yet, everyone seems to just be going about their business as normal – going to school, going to work, going out with friends, all of it. I have a really hard time believing that this is what is actually helpful in stopping the spread of Covid-19, as I watch the numbers of positive Covid-19 cases go up and see that the number of people dying is going up, and that those people are getting progressively younger and younger.
So should we be in remote learning right now? It depends on a lot of factors, at least in my opinion. For one, we don’t actually have enough data to support either side – that it’s safe to be at school, or that it’s not. This goes back to some of Dr. Bob Rauner’s points – we don’t actually know if there’s school spread or not, because we aren’t doing enough testing to find out. Most of us have probably had a class where someone tested positive, and yet, I haven’t heard of anyone who’s been notified of a close contact.
This is certainly a frustration I have with the whole red tape thing – this is an emergency, a global pandemic, and yet everything has been based on politics at the local, state, and federal levels. It shouldn’t be about sides, it should be about everyone’s safety and the common good, and yet no one seems to be willing to put aside their party labels to figure out any sort of practical solution. We have a lack of leadership at all levels, both Democrat and Republican.
Another one of those factors to me, is the students’ health and safety. There’s points, again, on both sides that could support being in remote learning or being in person. I know there’s a lot of students who rely on schools for 2 of their meals each day, not just at East but throughout the district. School is a safe place for students to go – it provides social connection, food, heat, security, an education, child care for younger students, an internet connection, and potentially even an escape from a bad home situation. Shutting schools down would take away a lot of things that affect a lot of students in positive ways.
This includes child care. That’s not so much a concern for high schoolers, but parents are going to have a hard time finding child care for their middle school and elementary school students if we go full remote. There’s no way we can reasonably expect a first or second grader to stay focused on zoom for class every day without a parent home to help them, and that’s just not possible for the majority of families.
At the same time, there is a risk of catching Covid-19, which, in my eyes, is not something to be downplayed. There are some major risks and complications long-term that Covid-19 can cause, and none should be ignored. While students our age don’t seem to be at a high risk for catching coronavirus or having negative long term effects, we, as teenagers who love to go out and socialize, are probably spreading the disease way more than we know, as potential asymptomatic carriers. We may not suffer the consequences of going out with our friends, but what happens if we spread it to our parents, siblings, and loved ones? What if we spread it to our teachers, who are at risk? Is it worth that risk?
To that point, our teachers and our parents have a much higher risk of getting Covid-19 than we do, and then also have a higher chance of severe complications if they catch it. We have to keep in mind their safety in this debate as well. If we end up exposing too many teachers to it, forcing them to quarantine or even giving them Covid-19, we won’t have enough individuals qualified to teach anyone in person, and it defeats the whole purpose of trying to keep schools open.
This brings me back to the whole testing thing again though – we don’t know enough about any of this. If we were spending the time and money to test more, and do more research, I believe a lot of these questions would be answered more easily. You’re never going to satisfy everyone, but you can’t make a decision without all of the facts in front of you. Granted, in an ever-changing and evolving situation, it’s hard to have all of the facts – hindsight is easier than foresight. But our government didn’t even ATTEMPT to use our resources to find out – we chose ignorance and risk over information even if it might look bad.
Another factor is the educational side of things. Plenty of students’ grades have suffered from zoom learning this year compared to years past. Teachers are struggling to engage students through a computer screen, and students are paying less attention and learning less with the ever-present temptation of distractions. If we did go full remote, this would certainly be a major issue. Some students have other factors playing into their ability to have a positive at home learning experience, whether it’s a learning disability that hinders them from being as productive, or a lack of a reliable internet connection at home. These students would certainly be at a disadvantage if we went full remote, and should be kept in mind with any decisions made.
However, in my opinion, there’s a LOT of students who use the ‘difficulty of zoom learning’ as an excuse to not try. Obviously we all have preferences for which ways we like to learn – I’d love to be able to see all of my classmates faces at once, have discussions face to face with a whole class, and see my teachers every day, but that’s just not possible or safe right now. It is possible though, to have good grades despite zoom learning. It is possible to pay attention in class, but at least in my experience, it seems that there are a lot of students who shut off their cameras and don’t bother trying. The number of teachers I’ve had lecturing my classes on not turning in assignments, and not even bothering to start them, suggests to me that this isn’t entirely a zoom learning problem, but also an effort problem.
That is not to discredit that it can be harder to get questions answered and understand what’s going on in any given class while on zoom, but I think it’s important that we take some of this with a grain of salt when factoring in education through zoom to decide if full remote learning is worth it.
Another one of my problems with the whole remote learning debate stems from the double standards of activities and athletics. Before you jump on me for saying that we probably shouldn’t have activities and athletics going on the way they are, let me explain. It seems to me that the goal is to keep schools open, with masks, sanitizer, and physical distancing still in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but having our various athletics and activities still open for business doesn’t fit this idea.
Let’s take football, for example. They didn’t wear masks when playing, and there’s absolutely no way to maintain distancing in a full contact sport. They faced off against other schools every single week, and they have practice six days a week for hours each day. Spectators are allowed, though limited. It seems to me that sports like this have a much higher risk of spreading Covid-19, and yet we’ve turned a blind eye and refuse to do any testing, because we want sports to go on, regardless of how safe it is.
That’s not to say that football, and sports in general, aren’t safe, but we don’t actually know, yet again, because we didn’t test. You can’t un-spread a virus once someone has it, and we neglected to actually put our resources and effort into doing the research before we took the risk.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to go to sporting events and concerts, and participate in cross country meets and show choir competitions just as much as everyone else. However, it seems to me that they create more risk for the people involved – parents, students, staff, spectators, administrators, literally everyone – and they undermine our ability to keep students in school, and keep schools safe from the spread of Covid-19.
I’d like to point out this thing called altruism, as well. Altruism is ‘the belief in or practice of disinterested or selfless concern for the wellbeing of others.’ We need a lot more of that right now. In reality, if we all decided to wear our masks correctly and religiously, shut down bars and restaurants, cancel school activities, participate in mass testing and contact tracing, and stop socializing in person, just for two months, we’d be out of this.
But instead of committing to something that’s ‘too hard’ to do for two months, we’ve made exceptions, and acted selfishly. There are plenty of countries all around the world that have already gone back to normal, no masks or anything, because they all put aside their own selfish, personal interests and desires, made sacrifices, and worked together to protect everyone in their communities from Covid-19. We are not one of them, but we could be.
So should schools be in full remote learning right now? Again, it depends. I don’t think it should be a black and white, yes or no question. I think there’s certainly a lot of things we should be doing differently right now, but I’m not sure that shutting down schools is the answer. Would I have said that before these interviews? Almost certainly not. But with all of the evidence and explanations I’ve been presented, I think judging some of this on a case by case basis is probably the best way to go.
It all starts with information in my eyes. Taking the time to research and test and then learn from that data is everything, and without that, we’re not going to go anywhere but down. While shutting down schools probably isn’t the answer, putting all unnecessary activities on a hold would probably be a wise move. Providing aid directly to the small local businesses who are currently struggling, and to the unemployed or those with low incomes would certainly be a good start, in both protecting our communities and restarting our economy.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think starting a conversation with each other, and setting aside our differences to find one is a good place to start. The power of many voices joined together is always going to be more powerful than a single one alone, but the only way to be heard is to start by listening and learning.