COVID Surge Opens Divisions And More Student Struggles
• Students return to campus with many opinions on high school life and academic studies during a new COVID surge.
With the Omicron variant of the coronavirus (COVID-19) driving an alarming surge of cases in the U.S., the safety of in-person learning has been called into question.
In Palos Verdes, specifically, talk of returning to virtual learning following winter break was raised by a districtwide email from Alex Cherniss, superintendent of Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, on Dec. 28.
The email outlined three potential plans for returning to school, one that would have pushed back the start of school to Jan. 10, one that called for the switch to virtual learning for the first couple weeks and one that would result in a return to in-person school on Jan. 3.
Ultimately, an email from Cherniss on Dec. 31 announced the decision to continue in-person classes, despite the return to virtual learning at many universities around the country. The decision caused a polarizing reaction, and though many District faculty members have voiced their support, many students do not share this sentiment.
Students who oppose the decision to return to in-person learning have spoken out, voicing their concern through social media posts, emails and petitions.
One petition, created by Palos Verdes Peninsula High School junior Arman Omidvar, was spread throughout the student body and garnered more than 1,000 signatures from students in favor of returning to virtual learning. It was also posted on the Instagram page @pvphsonline.
Though both this account and petition have since been withdrawn, it created quite the stir, especially when it was first posted on Jan. 4.
“I am glad this petition was made and I’m not surprised it received so many signatures so fast,” Peninsula senior Maya Ashai said.
“I agree that being on campus right now is irresponsible given the high number of cases, and I have noticed so many absent students in all my classes. It is also frustrating to see people on campus not wearing their masks properly and treating COVID precautions as optional; I strongly support the argument that is pushing to return to virtual learning and would feel much safer that way,” Ashai said
On top of the health concerns surrounding in-person classes, there is the issue of ensuring that students who contract COVID-19 are keeping up with schoolwork in quarantine. Many students have contracted the virus, if not over winter break then in the weeks since school’s return, and this could result in missing up to five days of instruction.
Not only do students miss lectures, but they also miss quizzes and tests, which results in a massive build-up of work to make up. This puts a strain on teachers as well, as they have to coordinate with the absent students and reteach material.
Many teachers are beginning to hold office hours after school, which are held virtually with the intention of helping absent students if they need time to interact with the teacher one-on-one to ask questions and catch up.
As admirable as these efforts are, there is no better way to learn than in real time, and given the staggering number of absences, there are many students in the same boat and struggling to stay afloat.
On Jan. 10, 84 percent of students attended school in-person at Peninsula, implying that 16 percent were absent that day. This illustrates the severity of the matter, highlighting just how many students are contracting COVID-19 and missing vital instruction from their teachers.
If school were to return online, no student would be disadvantaged for being sick, as they can join an online meeting and attend school from the safety of their own homes.
“I know so many students who are out sick right now, as well as students who have opted for independent study because a family member is high-risk and they cannot risk being in-person,” Peninsula senior Talani Anetema said.
“It seems unfair that students who cannot be at school because of the virus are being penalized, falling behind and struggling to understand the content being taught in class and having to schedule make-up tests,” Anetema said.
“There is also a clear strain on teachers who have to figure out how to teach students who are not in class. It seems illogical not to switch to a virtual format again because we have done it before and know what works at this point,” she said.
This issue is incredibly complex, with many factors having to be considered by those who have control over whether campuses will remain open.
From a student perspective, however, it seems most responsible and logical to return to virtual learning, as efforts to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols are not as effective as one would hope, and students are continuing to miss classes crucial for their learning.
As of now, it appears as though campuses will remain open, which leaves only the option of taking every COVID-19 precaution seriously to ensure the safety of others. As long as in-person learning continues, it is imperative that every student and faculty member strictly follow safety protocols and gets fully vaccinated. Without the cooperation of everyone, the COVID numbers will only worsen.