Schools want to open, but with cases on the rise, safety is a major concern.

Namita Nair

Staff Writer

     In September, Alameda County saw a decrease of COVID-19 cases throughout the county, and as the decline moved us from the purple tier of the COVID-19 map to the red tier, and gradually to the orange tier, school reopenings began to become a priority. Many parents and teachers alike were extremely anxious about the learning loss that would fester from the lack of in-person learning during this time, but with the airborne nature of this virus, it was simply impossible to guarantee the safety of students when they came on campus. With social-distance learning, teachers have been trying their best to encourage student participation and keep classes engaging. 

     But many students have had a hard time with this style of learning, and most prefer in-person classes. 

     “It’s way easier to learn in that sort of setting. I know at the time when I was in school, I was like, ‘I hate school. I’d rather do this from home.’ No, it’s way harder this way to learn anything new. I definitely missed that,” says Tanvee Priyadarshan (10), a student at American High.

     But she goes on to explain that, “at the rate that we’re going right now I don’t think [reopening is] likely to happen very soon.”

     With flu season in full swing, cases for COVID-19 have been projected to skyrocket. And it has already begun. Concerns for the availability of hospital beds and ventilators have begun to rise again, and this second wave of COVID-19 is projected to hit much worse than in March.

     Some are wondering why Alameda County was discussing school reopenings.

     Because cases were going down and the pressure to reopen schools was mounting, the county wanted to reopen. With extensive data and research being taken into account, the county created a handbook to guide reopenings in an effort to keep students, teachers, and parents as safe as possible. Unfortunately, we are back in the purple tier, stopping reopenings in its tracks.

A dining table now turned into a school supply hub, catering to families’ baking and learning needs.

     But even if we reopened schools, would students at American come back, and do they think that it is safe to do so?

     “I think it isn’t. Recently, especially recently we’ve seen a new rise in coronavirus cases. And also, even though there’s a vaccine coming out it’s going to take a while to, I think, distribute it and get it out to everyone. So I don’t really think it’s safe to go back to school right now,” says Maxine Wu (11). Having been involved with many clubs at American High, she sees the potential dangers of opening too soon.

As a student who has walked the usually bustling halls of American High, Aaditya Borse (11) brought up an interesting and important point.

    “Right now, no, I do not think it’s safe to go to hallways that are clustered. Everything’s tightly packed like the 700 hallways and 300 wings, were also full of people. It’s just not safe,” he opines.

     The sentiment that reopening school is not safe is pretty clear amongst the population, but some say that with the right precautions, they could potentially return.

     “Well, [the school staff is] gonna need to space out the students a lot better with the desks and stuff. They’re gonna need to be able to clean the classrooms, between classes, and at the end of the day, in the morning and stuff,” says Priyadarshan.

     Even with CDC guidelines, most students are weary about the size of the population here at American.

      Wu (11) elaborates, “American is a really big school and our class sizes are really big as well. So it has a pretty high density [for] people especially through the rotunda. There’s a lot of traffic in the rotunda… there’s only a few bathrooms so those are choke points where a lot of people are interacting with those. So it would be a challenge to make sure these spaces stay clean.”

     Almost 3,000 people, not including the teaching faculty and administrative and support staff, attend American High, and with this booming population, COVID-19 could spread rather quickly.

     “We have over 3,000 kids, and even if one person gets Corona…one out of 3,000… we brush each other through the hallways, we sit near each other in class. Even if we’re far apart, we’re going to be on desks. And I just don’t think that it’s safe because one little mistake could be too huge, like a chain reaction of a bunch of students getting Corona,” Anushka Singh (11), a member of the American High Girls Tennis team, states with a worried expression on her face.

     “And I feel like even if Corona goes away and we have a vaccine I think there’s still going to be a fear in the back of everyone’s minds, and I feel like that fear is going to….I think it might halt a lot of things…I don’t think we’ll be back to exactly how we used to be. I think the main thing is that no one’s going to be the same. I feel like Corona is going to change everyone.”

     The resolute and outstanding “no” to going back to school this academic year is quite clear, and the fact that students do not think that we will be back to normal anytime soon is jarring, however some students have adapted to the current educational situation.

Vismaya Nair (7) captured by her sister Namita Nair (11) participating in her 4th period Zoom call.

    “I think the students have gotten adjusted to this online schedule. And I feel like going back to school, it’s gonna be a lot more difficult for the students because for me, personally, I now wake up at 8:30. And then I just do my morning routine and just get on the call. And then you can go down, get food whenever you want. It’s going to be so much [more] different when you have to return back to school…everything’s a lot more structured,” Shriya Jagad (11) expresses.

     Even with her junior year projected to be completely online, she seems to be enjoying it and adapting quite well. 

     She explains, “[If we return] it’s not going to be as laid back as online schooling. I feel like also adjusting the curriculum… I feel like a lot of teachers have adjusted their curriculum to online schooling. So if there’s some sort of rapid change back to school, it’s going to be a little more difficult for teachers.”

     All in all, it does not look like reopening schools right now is possible or even wanted by students at American. Palo Alto Unified opened their elementary schools in mid-October, and San Jose Unified plans to reopen in January along with many other Bay Area school districts, but all these plans may have been put on hold because of concerns for the second wave of the pandemic. With cases going up the consequences of going forward with these reopening plans could be severe. We are simply not ready.

     As this crazy year comes to a close, reopenings could become more viable for the FUSD schools, but only time will tell.  

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