The reasons against and for closing Flex amidst rampant covid cases

Anika Aggarwal

Staff Writer

     The week after Winter Break, every student came back to an abrupt change. They could no longer choose their Flex period for fear of the coronavirus and its pervasive variants. Despite Flex’s, well, flexibility, many students and teachers were forced to alter their plans due to the new restriction. While some saw this as a necessary step to protect everyone from getting sick, many were upset by their choices being taken away and their inability to complete work efficiently.

     Savanna Johnson (12) reacts, upset at the lack of flexibility Flex normally allows for.

     “Normally in Flex, I like to kind of take it as a break and relax a bit, but in some other classes, it’s just not that type of environment. Being stuck in there for three hours at a time, it’s not very enjoyable.”

     Flex allows for students to work at their own pace, allowing them to choose what environment and resources to employ depending on their chosen Flex. Trisha Raman (12) recognizes the unique challenges various students may face not being able to go to their preferred Flex.

     “A lot of people like to go to classes where they have Chromebooks available, so that they can do their work because all the work is digital. However, being in classes such as Art and PE, that’s not really a possibility unless you bring your own laptop, so that limits what you can do” she says.

     Additionally, Vic Muang Muang (10) shares how students’ habits and routines were disturbed by closed Flex.

     “The Flex I usually would choose is the same. It’s like my yearbook class. With cameras and SD cards, if I didn’t have Yearbook that day, my work would be delayed. I didn’t really compensate because the only way I would have been able to do that is during lunch and brunch. Honestly, I’m not going to waste that time for school. That’s me time.”

     However, not everyone was upset at the new change. For Rajveer Barring (11), the closed Flex was not a major concern and didn’t change his plans. In fact, he benefited from the change.

     “I was actually quite excited because I missed a test for AP Psychology and if it didn’t happen, I would have to go to her Flex, and it basically gave me more time to study. My plans [weren’t really affected], just doing homework, watching TV.”

     Many students wondered how this decision came about, seemingly a last-minute one. Mr. Howard, an English teacher, shares how his idea was implemented into our schedules.

     “I proposed we close Flex to 3rd/4th periods depending on the block day as a measure to mitigate spread of the Omicron variant. Staff had a productive discussion, with many perspectives and opinions. Staff ultimately voted to do a modified closed Flex,” Mr. Howard asserts. 

     Though he understands the burden students face in taking away their choices, he believes the reasons are justified.

     “Many students would like the freedom to meet their friends or go to the teacher of their choice, despite the dangers of the Omicron variant. There have been some students and staff who believe closing Flex will not have a significant impact on mitigating the spread, while others have expressed frustration that Flex is among the only things significantly changing to mitigate the spread (e.g., I heard some complaints about the dance not being postponed). The vast majority of AHS students, though, understand the dangers of [Covid-19], which we know because our students generally do a great job of masking.”

     In addition, several teachers decided to incorporate Flex as class time, much to the dismay of many students. Johnson shares one incident that prevented her from completing her work adequately.

     “Today, my teacher, since we’re all there before class, we went and got our books during Flex instead of during class. You couldn’t even get any work done, because he was using that Flex time as part of class time,” she complains.

     Raman describes the surprise she and her friend felt having to spend extra time doing PE instead of using Flex to complete any other work.

     “One of my friends who had PE and Flex was shocked that she had to dress and actually do PE when she could have been using that time for whatever else she had to do.”

     Many students questioned whether this was allowed and why teachers would choose to take up extra time for class. Mr. Cain, an assistant principal at American, clarifies what Flex is defined as and the various forms it can take.

     “It’s instructional time, so yes. As a teacher, you have the freedom to utilize that instructional time for what you see as fit for the benefit of the students,” he states.

     Several students questioned whether closing Flex was a good option for students or if this was simply safety theater. Johnson shares her frustration with the reasoning behind closed Flex.

     “I was kind of mad, but I think [closed Flex is] pointless. I feel like there’s really no use to it. We’re eating lunch without our masks on around all different types of people. We’re also moving to classes each day. Also people, if they need help, or they need to get stuff done, they’re not able to get that help during that time, and that’s what Flex is there for. So there’s really no point to having us stay there because honestly, it’s not really helping, like with the spread of anything, because we’re still in contact with desks, still in contact with people.”

     Mr. Howard says otherwise, arguing the measure is one of many actions that can help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 and its variants.

     “Even if closing Flex has no measurable impact on preventing spread and is merely safety theater, I think it is good for our enormous student population of over 2500 students to see on a daily basis that Omicron is serious and we need to modify our day-to-day lives to keep ourselves and our community safe. When students’ schedules are so drastically impacted, it’s a reminder not only to comply with the safety measures we do know work (such as masking properly), but also what could happen if we don’t (the campus closing and everyone’s schedule and education being severely disrupted). So, closing Flex is, I think, effective safety theater if it is only safety theater.”

     Other students cast doubts on how much of a difference removing one extra classroom from the schedule would make in stopping the spread.

     “I guess that would make sense if you chose a different flex every day, but I choose the same flex, so for me it didn’t really change much. I guess there will be exposure to less people, but it’s only one more class. I understand that some people choose a different one every day,” Muang Muang recognizes.

     Mrs. Jeung, a social studies teacher, emphasizes that closing Flex is one of the only changes the school can make right now to slow the spread.

     “It’s all about contagion. If we don’t do this, we don’t get to be here. Basically, we’re getting to the point where it is so everywhere, that a little part of me thinks we’re probably going to go distanced again if we don’t get Omicron under control. It’s as big right now as the black plague, in terms of contagion. We are literally holding on by a thread.”

     To slow the spread, Muang Muang gives an example of actions the school could take to help prevent people from catching the coronavirus.

     “You know how all the testing and stuff is only available Wednesday? I think they should make it available on more days. It might be out of our control because of the quantity, so I guess that’s more like a government problem,” she proposes.

     Mr. Cain stresses that student safety is always top priority and by implementing closed Flex, this simple change can still make a difference.

     “There are practices that allow for a safer type of environment. That’s the number one thing, is when it comes down to student safety.”

     As the covid restrictions return and the viruses spread, Johnson provides another safer alternative to slow the spread of the coronavirus and Omicron.

     “The only thing you should really do if you really want to stop that is to shut the school down.”

ROP students sit in the library for their closed Flex. Rajveer Barring (11) says how students’ ability to get help from teachers is hindered by closed Flex. “People who need help with academics, it will be less helpful for them because it’s not very accessible.”

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