What Is School Going To Look Like?

Kate Roney, Content Editor

Returning to school has been a thought in everyone’s head since the start of the pandemic. First, it was wondering how school would continue last March. Then, it was wondering how school would look as it resumed after summer for the 2020-2021 school year. Well, it is no longer a guessing game. Students are returning to the classroom February 8th.

Tensions around returning to in-person school returned after the announcement was made that all teachers in the state would receive a bonus, however, any teachers who were educating remotely would not receive this bonus. This statement caused a fairly sudden acceleration in the discussions regarding returning to the classroom. At the same time several families had been suing the school for holding class online without an in-person option. It is unclear whether or not these events were the reason for the acceleration of remote learning discussions or if it was just a timing coincidence, but students seem to believe it is the cause.

“It pains me to say, but obviously money talks,” said Senior Grace Condie. “But also, the promise of vaccinating our teachers helps. I know many students and parents have been fighting for a choice the whole school year, so I would not say it’s completely money, but it definitely helped to get this option through.”

There are also people who are saying the opposite and that it was just odd timing.

“No, it (discussions about returning) absolutely wasn’t (a result of the bonus or lawsuit), and I think it’s important that we say that,” said Principal Jeremy Chatterton. “Discussions about returning to in-person learning have been continuous throughout the year.”

Whether the discussions surrounding returning were a result of these events or not, it is happening.

When the discussion originally began that students would be returning to in-person, the central point of the plan and reasoning that it was now considered a good time to return was contingent on the teachers being vaccinated.

“I think that teachers being vaccinated before we return is amazing. It shows the importance that the government and our society place on education,” Condie said.

However, this did not go to plan. No teacher has been fully vaccinated and the majority of them have not even received their first half of the vaccination.

“It’s gonna take some time,” said Chatterton. “We don’t have any of the second vaccine in hand.”

This is a large issue as it’s looking like it will be a long, long time before the teachers and staff are fully vaccinated. Chatterton’s personal prediction is that staff and teacher vaccinations are likely to go into April. This is going to leave teachers unvaccinated in classrooms filled with students for potentially several months, while students are likely not to get the vaccine at all this year.

“People are excited about the vaccine and they think it will fix all our problems, but it won’t. It’s going to be a long time until most of us get the vaccine,” said senior Audrey Brown.

A group of students raised their concern starting an Instagram account prompting students and members of the community to fight to keep the district remote. Salt Lake City has the highest number of COVID cases in the state and for many, returning and adding to that number and strain on hospitals doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.

“I think that they (people who wish to return) probably don’t see the complete picture of how dangerous the virus is for some people. and probably some of them are really only thinking about how the virus impacts them on an emotional level, which is completely valid. Mental health is just as important as physical health, but I think as a society we don’t know how to be uncomfortable anymore,” said Audrey Brown. “This is a really uncomfortable thing to go through emotionally, but there are lives at stake by going back and I don’t think they truly see that.”

Another concern of the students is whether or not they have the ability to trust their other classmates to be responsible and do their part to keep their peers safe.

“As an optimist i would say yes i think kids will be honest but as a realist….. it’s a little more complicated,” said Brown.

This is just one of many reasons why many students are making the decision to remain online. They are concerned for their safety and the safety of those that they come into contact with. However, there may also be other reasons why students will be seen continuing their high school education online.

“I expect we’ll have a fairly high rate of return of students come February 8th,” said Chatterton. “My guess though, is that after a couple of weeks, students might go back and say, ‘you know, it was kind of nice to be able to just get out of bed and do school and go eat what I want to and roam around. I think that we might have a little bit of a drop off after the first couple weeks.”

It is not a far reach to say that the events of this year are likely to change the format of education for the future. Students deciding to stay online could also be a matter of preference for the flexibility or convenience of a portable education. Besides, those who return will not truly be going about their education in a way that is any different from those students who decide to remain at home.

The entire student body cannot return to the school at the moment because the numbers would be too large and also because several of them do not feel safe enough to return. This means that the students who are online will still need to be able to attend class remotely. Those who choose to return will also be divided alphabetically, A-L and M-Z, and will attend two of the four synchronous school days, while Wednesdays remain asynchronous. This means that every teacher will have some students that are at home. In order for this to be successful and include all of the student body, teachers will still be educating and interacting with their students through Canvas and Zoom. They are going to be provided with a camera and tripod and are expected to stream the entirety of their class via Zoom while students who go into the building will be required to bring a laptop and watch the class through Zoom as well. People who both wanted a return and those who did not, find the plan a little odd.

“On one side I’m happy that devices are starting to come into the classroom to help kids learn, but also it’s not the best,” said Brown. “ Whether I think it is worth it, i don’t really think so. the kids who want to go back to school in person want to be in a traditional school setting again, and this is definitely not it. I would not be surprised if people start to stay at home again even if they have the choice to be in person.”

Condie, who wanted a return to school was not picturing that the return to school would be formatted like this.

“Honestly, I don’t think a hybrid will be very successful and I think we should be fully in school, and I know many others feel this way. But I’m still grateful we are getting any part of an in person education,” said Condie.

“It’s not going to be back to school as usual,” said Chatterton.

Throughout this most recent push to return to classrooms something that has been repeatedly emphasized by those in favor of a return is that those who did not feel comfortable would have the option of staying online. This is the case. Students can decide that they feel unsafe and remain in the safety of their homes, but teachers are not afforded that same freedom. Despite the fact that the teachers will not be vaccinated, regardless of their personal circumstances it seems that they are going to be expected to be in the classroom with numerous students.

“The expectation is that if we are going to be back in the school, or if there are students that are going to be in your classroom, your job description then says that you need to be in the classroom,” said Chatterton.

It can be considered unfair to the teachers that they will not have the same opportunity to choose to protect their health.

“Teachers should not be forced to put themselves and their families at risk. There are a ton of problems with this that go deeper than just putting teachers at risk in a pandemic. The lack of respect for teachers I find completely disgusting and immature,” said Brown. “I think I can speak for a good portion of the students body when I say that I love my teachers to death and if any of them were to die because of this? I would be so incredibly angry.”

However, it can also be seen that it is their job to educate and supervise their students. People in other professions where they are needed in their office buildings are expected to show up and some people believe that they will be safe because of the precautions put in place.

“I think it is ok for teachers to be required to return. Especially with  a quarter capacity in the classroom until they are vaccinated, it will be safe,” said Condie. “Teaching in a real classroom is a teacher’s job. I understand the reason for not having them there when we didn’t know as much about the virus. Now I believe it is time to prioritize the students while still having the most possible safety precautions in the classroom.”

This raises several issues for the district. If teachers are forced to resign, then classrooms are going to become shorthanded and this requirement is already causing conflict.

Another question is raised when the pattern for most high schools that have opened has been closing down periodically due to the school exceeding the number of cases necessary for a temporary shut down. For Highland, once there are 18 cases within the school, then in person learning will come to a halt for two weeks and everyone will move to online for that time period.

“I have several friends who go to schools in other districts, and specifically people who go to Olympus are really struggling to stay on top of their grades because of how much they’ve been going back and forth,” said Brown.

Preventing this from happening lies in the hands of the students.

“I think students need to be responsible by wearing masks correctly while in school, but also not just ripping their masks off as soon as they leave the building. Just being socially responsible,” said Condie.

Whether or not the district sees a larger and more permanent return to classrooms is dependent on the success of the next few weeks. Students need to be responsible and follow guidelines if they wish to preserve this new change.

“I think the most important thing is that they realize that coming back to school again is a privilege and something that they are going to need to take seriously,” said Chatterton.