Today is the final day for students and parents to decide the hazy fate of their children’s education for the next two and a half months.
An email was sent to parents Friday, Oct. 23, asking them to indicate whether their child would return back to school Thursday, Nov. 12, or if they would stay virtual for the rest of the semester
While the community found out about the details of the reopening plan merely three weeks before the full-time re-entry of secondary schools, the talks around reopening RSD have been circling since the district decided Thursday, Aug. 6, to go all virtual for the first quarter.
Principal Dr. Steve Hankins said the driving force for overall re-entry is seeing some primary students and even secondary students struggle to adjust to online learning and wanting to get students back to school and to a sense of normalcy.
Within a few weeks of going all virtual, RSD created the Rapid Response Teams, which were made up of Leadership, Advisory and Response teams, and aimed to tackle re-entry at multiple levels while also monitoring COVID-19 transmission rates in the county.
Glenn Hancock, RSD Director of Assessment, Research and Evaluation told the Messenger in September that once the health indicators started to show the possibility that it would be safe to go back to school, the district would gradually reopen to the students once again.
But RSD: have the numbers shown the possibility of a safe return?
In St. Louis County alone, the current average number of new COVID-19 cases per day is 264, according to data from the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
The St. Louis County Department of Public Health also reported that when school started Monday, Aug. 24, the number of new cases for that day was 177. When we began the second quarter on Monday, the amount of new cases for that day was 205.
Given that the number of new cases of COVID-19 hasn’t decreased, it appears the risks associated with the return to school that we had when school began back in August are still present, if not greater.
Even the data for COVID-19 transmission that RSD has on its website tells the same story.
The most recent data that RSD reports, which is from the St. Louis County Department of Public Health and EducationPlus, shows that numbers for new cases have generally been increasing throughout the month of October. Specifically, this data shows that from Oct. 11 through Oct. 17, two weeks ago, to Oct. 18 through Oct. 24, last week, there was a 22.1 percent increase in the amount of new cases.
Additionally, RSD’s community statistics page reports that yesterday there was an 8.8 percent positivity rate of all COVID-19 tests performed, the highest recorded on the released data.
With the increase in personal gatherings from the impending holiday season and the colder temperatures that allow the virus to spread more easily, the likelihood of this virus spreading from person to person is increasing at the same time that cases are already on the rise.
Amidst the current attempt to return to school, it seems as if administrators and students aren’t on the same page for what efforts must be taken to return safely. In talking to administrators, many are under the belief that the majority of students are maintaining safety by only hanging out with a handful of friends.
In reality, on social media we have observed students hosting large parties with little to no mask wearing or social distancing. While one could argue the death rate for COVID-19 among teenagers is low, the hyper individualistic mindset among our peers of ignoring County guidelines because it doesn’t directly affect them is deafening.
RSD has prioritized re-entry over the safety of our community in this rushed reopening process, thereby downplaying the severity of COVID-19 and its ramifications.
While the average teenager without any pre-existing conditions isn’t as in danger of death by the pandemic, many students have extended families and relatives who have pre-existing conditions and are immunocompromised who would be at a severe danger if they contracted COVID-19.
To that, many community members eager to go back to school may claim that those students should opt for the virtual learning option, but things are more complicated than that.
The expectations for what school will be like for those who return to school and those who choose to remain virtual seem to be blurred. Despite RSD’s repeated claims that education will be the same quality for both virtual and in person students, we know better.
Teachers are being asked to handle a lot between juggling teaching in-person students and virtual students, ensuring the safety of in-person students, and keeping up with their duties of lesson planning and grading. How could we expect teachers to maintain the same high level of standards of instruction while handling all of that?
As students in RSD, we are lost.
On one side we see the turmoil and sorrow COVID-19 has brought to our nation and our local community and we weep at how quickly our lives changed in the matter of seven months. If we side with that and stay home, then we risk the quality of our education and social life.
On the other side, we see our community rapidly reopening and interacting with one another, as if the pandemic doesn’t exist. If we side with that and go back to school, we fear contracting the virus and risking the lives of our vulnerable family members for the sake of a quality education and good grades.
Parents and teachers were asked for their opinions on the return to in-person learning. Whether these opinions were listened to may be questionable; however, the fact remains, RSD never attempted to hear the students’ opinions on returning to school.
Hear ours now: We want our administrators to put the general health of the community before the desire to go back to school. We’d all like to go back to full-time in-person schooling like we are used to, but we recognize that in these times, in-person schooling does us no good if it comes from having to choose the lesser of two evils.