🏫 School Board Enthusiasts 🏫 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team's School Board Blog
The 2020 school year is going to be one for the books as Hamilton County treads unchartered territory as we attempt to head back to school next month under threat of COVID-19. A reopening task force has been...
set in place to help lead in the development of new reopening plans. The Task Force is composed of Keith Fogelman and Leitutant Cornel (Retired) William T. Brooks. Some key areas that will be emphasized with these plans will be the following: minimizing public health risks, addressing impacts on student learning and well being, recognizing importance of local public schools to the community and seeking optimal operation performance.
The plan has been organized into four phases. Phase one is described as “Risk of spreading of COVID-19 is significant. Requires significant mitigation.” This is essentially how the whole last month of school was. There was high risk so we did not attend school. During Phase two there is “Risk of spreading COVID-19 is moderate. Requires Moderate mitigation.” That means there could be a possible reduction in on campus learning. While in Phase three “Risk of spreading COVID-19 is minal. Requires minimal mitigation.” This is the vision for the beginning of the school year with all schools being open and majority of learning taking place on campus. Phase four is essentially no threat of COVID-19 where all schools are open with no need for distance learning.
The timeline for the school year is very optimistic to say the least. The board will begin with phase two on June 12, 2020. That will be followed up by phase three on June 19, 2020 and plans for phases one and four will take place on June 26, 2020. There are different options for students to learn this year which include on campus classes following guidelines that are set in place by the CDC and the task force. There’s also an option for complete distance learning and blend between the two. Many students and parents are grappling with the decision to keep their families safe and healthy or to have the optimal education and school experience. Many feel as though there isn’t an option that mitigates both concerns, so deadlines for applying to the online learning format, which come up as early as July 22, seem too soon. No single board member, task force, teacher or student has a legitimate answer to the problems we may face during this school year. The best thing everyone can do is stay up to date on announcements involving school reopening and board member elections!
With all of these questions still remaining for students, it seems impossible for students and their families to make the daunting choice of essentially choosing between their physical and mental health as they choose whether to pursue HCS at home virtual learning or to flow with the district’s reopening plan. When we first were presented with these options, I had so many questions. Would I be able to take the classes I was scheduled to take if I chose to go online? Will Hamilton County offer masks to students who need them? Will there truly be social distancing in classrooms? How often will common spaces, like restrooms, be cleaned? Even now, a lot of these questions haven’t been answered. I now know that “at this time” I will be able to take all of my regular courses if I choose to go virtual. However, if I decide to go virtual now I am locked into going virtual for the rest of the semester.
At the moment, I am planning to go back to school and go virtual if I feel unsafe after a few weeks. The main thing that gives me pause about going back is the conversation that if we opened right now we would already be back to phase 3. The main thing that scares me about this is that if all students are in the school building everyday, there is no way to social distance. The class sizes are too large; the rooms, too small. I was reflecting today on the average school day. The farthest apart that I normally was from my peers (except during lunch or going into the hall during classrooms) was about a foot and a half away, which is being optimistic. Normally, I was sitting inches away from another student as our desks were right next to each other. I’ve been in our public schools my entire life and seen desks arranged every which way to accommodate a full class, but none of them will allow the average class size of 25 kids to be three feet away from each other, let alone 6. Thus, I think that automatically reopening at Phase 3 would be a reckless decision on the part of Hamilton County. I truly believe that regardless of the phase we should be in by case count (unless we should be in Phase 1), then we should start at Phase 2. This would allow students and staff to ease into social distancing and practice the guidelines and see if Phase 3 really holds any merit in our current situation. I’m grateful for the work that HCDE has done on the reopening plan, but I still think there is more work to do.
With accommodations to public school students under normal circumstances discussed in the paragraph above, it is only reasonable for many students to be concerned (or even frightened) to go back to crowded classrooms with no measures of stopping community spread of the common cold. How are students going to find relief in a system they have seen been infected by much less than our current pandemic? This is an important part of going back to relative normality that appears to be overlooked, that being the mental toll of fear. Can we honestly expect students to go back into a crowded building without fear they will affect a member of their community or family? That is why, in my opinion, we must gather more mental health officials to schools before the stress of possible exposure affects the minds, and bodies, of students within our public school system. We must address that the fear students may have if they are required to walk into a school building may significantly affect academic performance, or even general health. Simply put, re-opening at stage 3 in this current moment may be too risky for all those involved. I know that, for myself, I will be attending online school until cases are lowered safely in my area. I also know many others who fear the possibility of becoming infected, and will only be attending online options.
Additional Student Responses Now that you’ve heard what we’re thinking about school reopening, here’s what other students are thinking: (these responses may have been edited for length and/or clarity)
“I'm planning to do online only. There are over one thousand students in my school, and it's too risky to open it for the first semester.” -Cai, Ooltewah High School
“I’m planning to go in person unless things get worse.” -Paijah, Ooltewah High School
“At the current state things are in, regarding COVID-19, I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to reopen schools. Cases are still rising & I think that if we reopen schools in this current state, there will be a “spike” in cases. Then, schools (& maybe other public buildings) will be forced to close back down again, which is very counterproductive. I’m doing online because I’m not risking endangering me or my family’s or friend’s health just because I want to see my friends in-person. It’s not about what we want, it’s what we need. Unfortunately, there are a handful of people who don’t understand that during this pandemic, which doesn’t help. Certain people rely on schools in different ways beyond education, & I feel like there should be a solution to that during our “self-isolating quarantine”. However, I think we need to find an alternative rather than just opening schools and thus endangering students’ lives & the lives of their families.” -Leah, East Hamilton
“I’m doing HCS Online. I don’t think it’s necessary for the high schoolers to go back to in-person schooling and turn school into a Petri dish for COVID-19. However, I do understand why it may be necessary for younger kids to go back.” -Rachel, East Hamilton
“I feel really scared about this school year. I'm going to be online until further notice, and I'm wondering how they will be able to give me the classes I need and want. I'm worried that I won't be able to do my work as well as I would be able to in person.” -Carys, East Hamilton
“I'm planning to go back to school in person just to make sure I can secure recommendations and get help on all of my college apps. But I'll be wearing a mask, bringing my own lunch so I don't have to go to the cafeteria, and not riding the bus home like I usually do.” - Ren, East Hamilton
“I think that the schools reopening is not a smart move. In South Korea, they reopened schools but immediately saw a huge spike in cases, motivating them to close schools once again. I fear that anyone who goes back to school will be putting themselves, their families, and anyone around them in danger, despite whatever precautions are taken. My school has over 1000 students and all it takes is one student to come into class with a case, the individual knowing they have the case or not, and it would spread like wildfire. What mainly worries me is the students bringing it home to their families with grandparents, infants, or unhealthy family members. Besides this, the teachers are putting themselves at extreme risk, coming to school each day, for a pay check that isn't remotely equivalent to them putting their lives at risk every day. I will not be putting myself, my family, my teachers, or my friends at risk and will be taking my classes online. I've recommended the same to all of my friends.” -Griffin, East Hamilton
“I think that we need to take measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Things like mandatory masks, temperature checks, reduced classes, lunch in class, desks far apart, everyone wipes down their desks after class, hand sanitizer, bathrooms that actually have soap, education on how to prevent the spread, and why you should wear masks in public would be sufficient measures. If we were to take the online school approach, it may be difficult for elementary schoolers to get a proper education with all of the distractions at home. But, that being said, they are less likely to take the precautions necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” -Alice, East Hamilton
“I feel like the plan is as thought out as it can be, seeing as there is new information about COVID-19 everyday. I personally want to do the hybrid school year because of the difficulty level of some of my classes. I feel that if I was at home, those courses would be 10 times harder.” -Jalla, East Hamilton
“One of my main concerns about doing online right now is with the elementary school kids. A lot of parents work and thus they will be unable to watch their kids. I think there should be some form of child care. Honestly I’m very nervous about going back to school but something that has helped me is looking at the silver linings in this whole thing.” -Abby, SMMHS
This is definitely an uncertain time for all of us, but there are ways to find some certainty both in regular life and around the school reopening. Hamilton County will be hosting reopening town halls over the next few weeks to survey how the community feels about the reopening plan. You can sign up to attend one of those here and there are sessions specifically for parents and students. The full reopening plan can be found here and the synopsis of the plan can be found here. If you need a touch of certainty in your day to day life, a lot of people are turning back to shows that they’ve seen before. Since you already know what happens, it’s a certainty that regular life hasn’t afforded in a while as you binge watch.