[Opinion] Students and teachers are safer learning at home

Travis Newbery, Editor-in-Chief

After nearly two months of online school, we finally have the option to return to in-person learning. That should be a good thing, right? Face-to-face instruction from teachers, hanging out with your friends and simply getting “back to normal.” What could be so bad about that?

The short answer is that it is way too soon. The entire “back to real school” experience we have been craving since online school began is not lived up to, and it really cannot be entirely achieved until we can fully put COVID-19 behind us. 

For me, the biggest, most glaring issue regarding why I did not go back to campus is the fact that it is still eLearning. You are sitting on Microsoft Teams, watching the same class everyone else at home is watching, except you are in the room with your teacher.

There are no papers passed out, there is no use of a projector or whiteboard, and there is definitely not any sort of teacher-student interaction or assignments that resemble a real school year. It is quite literally online learning in a classroom setting, and I cannot fathom why any student would risk their life to do that.

Students’ lives are not the only ones jeopardized here, though. With an “up-and-running” school comes a higher amount of interaction that puts many more people at risk. Students are now in close proximity with not only their teachers, but also any other school workers they have to interact with. This puts the families of students and every school employee at a higher risk of infection. Additionally, many MSD teachers are older, and therefore more likely to be immunocompromised, so having students back on campus puts them directly in a hazardous situation.

Something I think people do not realize is that the social aspect of physical school right now cannot be anything like previous years. The requirements of social distancing at all times does not allow for a fun and real social experience. As clunky as online school and online communication as a whole are, they ultimately make a better social experience than being masked and physically apart from your friends all the time. 

Besides, with texting, FaceTiming and social media use being a staple in the teen lifestyle, it is a natural choice to stay online, rather than participate in this new normal of pseudo-physical socialization.

Think of what a socially-distanced school means: no sitting with your friends at lunch, no group work, no class discussions or fun activities in class. Students are not even allowed to get out of their seats during class. All social interaction, whether it be with friends or even teachers, is not entirely out the window, but it is going to be extremely fractured and incomplete. 

If you take a look at the numbers, it is hard to justify the existence of physical school right now. About 530 students initially signed up to go back to school, and that figure has been rapidly declining as many realized the experience they had been hoping for is simply not available right now. In every one of my classes, there have been no more than two or three students in-person, with a couple of classes being completely empty because the students that elected to go back changed their minds. 

The bottom line for me: why would I go back to school for it to be on the same Teams call everyone else is on while missing normal interaction with friends and classmates, and risking my life and the lives of those around me with a deadly virus in the process? It is not at all worth it to go back to school yet. 

Don’t get me wrong; I am not a fan of online school, and since March, I have come to do something I never thought I would do, which is to actually want a normal, whole school experience. But the fact of the matter is that the nature of high school cannot align with the version we have to have right now, and we should all just accept that until it is actually safe to get back to normal.

This story was originally published in the October 2020 Eagle Eye print edition.