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  • Matthew Tsui

Coronavirus Concerns Looming Overhead as Schools Prepare to Reopen

As we rapidly approach September or the start of the school year, despite concerns over the COVID-19 crisis, schools are undergoing intense preparation to reopen.[1] The nation began its recovery phase-in April, focusing on recovering the economy from a near standstill. This included the relaxation of stay at home orders, the reopening of businesses, and two stimulus check bills. While this was reasonably successful in some states, including New York, it merely led to COVID-19 cases climbing even more. Despite the apparent danger that reopening schools pose, states are quickly moving to bring students and teachers alike back to school.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's New York Tough Photo | Learning for a Cause
Governor Cuomo's NY Tough Poster

The nation's educators, students, and families have spent the past week grappling with reopening schools amid a pandemic. Teacher's unions have been threatening strikes, colleges have been closing classes, and the school has been proposing improvised quarantines and improved hygiene. On Wednesday in Michigan, the Detroit Federation of Teachers called for a strike against the plans to reopen the school in person, stating that with the 1,400 COVID related deaths in the community, it simply isn't safe enough to open.[2] New York certainly hasn't been quiet either. The pressure has only been building with Mayor Bill de Blasio and the president of the United Federation of Teachers going head to head after the unveiling of the Back to School Pledge. While the public employees in New York are legally barred from striking, they have threatened to hold a sickout if they feel circumstances continue to be unsafe. As the back to school date looms overhead, some teachers are also choosing to retire early, with the principals of NYC crown jewel high schools Bronx Science and Stuyvesant leaving their jobs.[6]

On August 18th, the College Board said that 178,600 students, or 46% of the initial amount of students registered for the August SAT, would be unable to take the exam due to test site closure.[3] With the SAT date only a week from the start of school, the school boards are still busy fine-tuning their safety precautions. As SAT examinations have been canceled since March, numerous college-bound students wonder if they'll ever be given a chance to take this crucial examination. Luckily, aside from many schools going test-optional, the College Board has been pressuring colleges to extend their deadlines for receiving test results, such that students could take the exam at a later date.[3]

Students at North Paulding High School
Students at North Paulding High School

High schools and universities were sent backpedaling as the cases piled up on their campuses. In some cases, the safety precautions recommended by the state were not followed; in North Paulding High School, a photo was snapped showing little signs of social distancing or even the bare requirement of wearing a mask.[4] The pattern of schools reopening only for a few positives to send them spiraling back into quarantine has only gotten more prevalent. One key reason why it's so hard to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is that up to 40% of the cases are asymptomatic, meaning a few superspreaders could spell doom for an entire school.[5] In fact, as of August 17th, 600 schools have reported coronavirus cases after reopening. Universities, including UNC, have also been forced to convert to virtual learning due to four clusters of infections.[2] While the documented on-campus cases seem low, outbreaks in the sororities and fraternities due to parties suggest that thousands of students have caught the virus unchecked. As the date to return to school looms ever so ominous, schools will need to check if returning is even viable and figure out a safe way to avoid crazy outbreaks. In New York, up to 6 out of 7 parents have stated that their children will not be returning to school. [2] Especially with middle school and elementary students, ensuring that they receive adequate school education and care remains a problem. Creating an effective eLearning system remains a priority. The US education system is heading into uncharted territory as September nears, and nobody knows what to do.





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