Schools Suffer Under Prolonged Pandemic

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Remote learning is a hot topic. To some people, it has been the best way for them to learn, but to others, the transition to remote learning has made classes even more difficult. And some people haven’t really had much of a change. Either way, remote learning is complex. 

Recently, the Seattle Times published a story that showed that the state test scores of students in the state had fallen significantly after the pandemic had begun. But at the same time, remote learning keeps classrooms and schools from becoming super-spreader events, which is why they went remote in the first place. Everybody involved has to try to find a middle ground where students can learn and thrive but also prevent themselves from catching and spreading COVID-19. With the Omicron variant causing hospitalization among COVID-19 patients to soar, all of that should still be a priority. But the last month has seen students around the country walkout in order to protest lackluster COVID-19 prevention protocols in their schools, with students in Seattle Public Schools also walking out to protest their school district’s policies on COVID-19. 

The recent walkouts are understandable, considering the state of COVID-19 procedures in many school districts. For example, the Issaquah School District reported that on Jan. 25, 439 people tested positive for COVID-19 and came into close contact with 727 people over the last seven days. Of those people, only 15 people in the entire district are quarantining. Those numbers are low, but the Issaquah School district does not require close contacts to quarantine, and their definition of close contacts excludes people who could have been exposed, such as those more than three feet away in a classroom under certain circumstances. Those circumstances include when both students were wearing masks, and when “other prevention strategies were in place.” That lax policy leaves plenty of room for people who were exposed to slip through the cracks, such as if a student who later tested positive ate lunch in the commons, which is almost always crowded with people, and that doesn’t even begin to discuss the students who don’t wear their masks properly or at all. And the Issaquah School District is not the only school district with procedures that leave plenty of room for exposures to slip through the cracks. That has caused concern among many students all over the state and country and their families, who have been voicing their concern in different ways, whether that be through walking out of classes or voicing their concerns over social media.

All of these events have shown that it is evident that there are many factors that need to be considered when in-person learning is on the table, and one of those major factors is the COVID-19 safety procedures themselves, which makes sense. If COVID-19 safety procedures are followed, then it would be harder to spread COVID-19. But the actual safety protocols need to be reasonable in order to work properly. Take the uproar that happened just over a month ago when the CDC announced that the isolation time for people who tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic was to be reduced from a period of ten days to a period of five days. Doctors called it reckless since asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19. Another alarming part of the announcement by the CDC was that they recommended that “Healthcare workers with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic can return to work after seven days with a negative test, and that isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages.” These recent changes show that more and more organizations, and not just schools are starting to prioritize other things rather than safety from the virus, and that’s not fair to those who are at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications or are unable to get vaccinated. All sources so far have indicated that being fully vaccinated will help, but that is far from the only preventative measure that can be taken during a surge of cases.

A few days ago, Interim President Gary Locke announced that Bellevue College classes that were scheduled to be in-person will begin meeting on campus starting Feb. 7, unless the instructor changes their mind. Some people will find that relieving, while others will find it to be harder and, with the Omicron variant raging, more dangerous. For some, this will be their first time on campus since the pandemic started, while others have been in-person since fall quarter. Finally, please make sure to remember to wear a mask, social distance, and stay at home if you feel sick.