Editorial: On the return to school
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, the Carlsbad Unified School District Board of Trustees voted in favor of implementing Distance Learning 2.0 “Plus.” Though this might seem like old news, the reality is that this new plan went into effect just over 10 days ago. At this Wednesday’s special board meeting, a fatigued and seemingly panicked school board could renege on the promises made during that September meeting and set up a return to school four days after Thanksgiving.
The promises of that September meeting, a continuation of Distance Learning until the new semester but with ample activities taking place on campus, handed wins to everyone. Parents would see their kids come and go from 3557 Lancer Way once again, students would get to experience our campus, and teachers would be able to see their students but not have to create lessons for hybrid learning, which is more time consuming and creates issues if quarantine is required.
In our previous editorial, we stated that we stood by this plan. It allows us to live with the new normal set on us by a pandemic that has now killed twice as many Americans as there are residents of Carlsbad. Our world is a grizzly one. We have lost enough Americans to wipe our city off the map, roughly two times over.
This past weekend, the US broke its own record for most new cases in a single day, and while California is not the main contributor to this resurgence, the actions of this school board, egged on by the loud voice of a small minority, only express a desire for us to join that resurgence, despite the fact that we are already on the verge of being moved to the restrictive purple tier.
Our neighbor, Vista Unified School District, went back to school on Oct. 20. The result? After only five school days, two Mission Vista students tested positive for COVID-19. Nearly 300 high school students and eight staff members are quarantined for 14 days. Another two Vista students, one at a middle school and one at an elementary school, also tested positive this week. In total, 340 students and 17 teachers have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 and are now quarantined and isolated from instruction.
Why would we want this same educational disruption in Carlsbad? Who wants to quarantine alone, in a room, for two weeks? Even kids go through some of the symptoms of COVID-19, does anyone want to volunteer to go through their current workload with a fever and exhausting fatigue?
We understand the feelings of students and parents who want to get out of the house again, who want to see friends even from a distance, who want to pretend like COVID-19 is over – we do too. The power of “normal” and the desire to go back to our regular lives is an overwhelming one, but the desire to go back to school now, without the full range of protective measures we need, will only prolong how long it takes to go back to that normal life. And, we already have a plan in place that allows us to go back on campus, to see friends from a distance, to work with our clubs, sports and other co-curriculars.
On Sept. 23, the board voted 5-0 in favor of Distance Learning 2.0 Plus, and to hopefully return to school at the start of the new semester. There is nothing wrong with that decision. This new push to open schools after Thanksgiving in an A/B cohort structure where six feet of distancing is not possible is ill-advised and only happening because of the aforementioned minority pressuring the board.
In order to represent the CHS student voice, The Lancer Link conducted a survey, representative of the Carlsbad High population, to see what course the board truly should take. Hint: it’s the one they voted on one month ago.
We know that families will be congregating and traveling during Thanksgiving break and alumni will be coming home from colleges across the country. Returning to in-person school after the semester ends – rather than halfway through – will make transitioning less stressful and safer for students and teachers.
We also know that 72% of students surveyed feel comfortable returning to school with six feet of distancing; a measure which can be in place for a January return. A measure which is just as important as wearing masks.
Meanwhile, just 52% of students feel the same way with three feet between them and their peers. In addition to that big drop in support, it is important to note that three feet of distance is not effective in preventing contact with the virus. The CDC still recommends keeping at least 6 feet of distance from people not in your household. If anything, three feet of distancing is more of a placebo than we should be comfortable with, and its bare majority support is only going to cause more controversy, protests and tension in our schools.
Safety is another concern of the student body. Many students, 60% of respondents, reported that they do not believe their peers will follow safety precautions on campus, and currently, only 14% of students believe their peers are consistently following CDC recommendations off-campus.
A scarily low number, 43% of students, believe their peers will actually stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms, something which poses a grave risk to the safety of our school community. And with the Vista school district as a real-life example, there is no way to know you have the virus until you’ve almost certainly spread it.
Going back to school after Thanksgiving under a cohort system would also mean that students will get just 90 minutes of teacher facetime per week, in contrast to the current 180 minutes students get in the distance learning model. Only 37% of students believe such a return to school is worth it if facetime with our teachers is cut in half.
That 37% is the lowest level of agreement out of every question asked in our poll. Yet, that is what will happen if the board approves such a plan this Wednesday. A decision to go back to school after Thanksgiving will go against a supermajority of students. Students, which if forced to go back, will be the ones responsible for spreading the virus to the vulnerable in our community.
Additionally, 32% of respondents live with at-risk family members at home, in addition to roughly 6% of respondents that are high risk for COVID-19 themselves. Young people are not immune to this virus and they do not live in a vacuum void of older family members.
Student survey respondents expressed concern that a return to school would overwhelm their teachers, their security staff, their janitors – all members of our Carlsbad community who deserve consideration in this decision. Parents have been vocal about their wish for students to return to school, and their voices matter in this decision. But at the end of the day, they will not be the ones going back to school.
As the Editorial Board of the Lancer Link, we urge the Carlsbad Board of Trustees to continue the Distance Learning 2.0+ model until the end of the semester, and until precautionary measures, like six feet of social distancing, are put in place. We are already on the brink of being moved to the purple tier of COVID-19 restrictions (which would resemble May-type restrictions), and the country is in the midst of a resurgence in cases predicted to only get worse with Thanksgiving. Going back after this holiday is the worst possible decision that can be made.
Distance Learning 2.0+ allows for the best possible scenario: the opportunity to see peers on campus and keep potential exposure, worry, sickness and death as minimal as possible. If we prove able to work together in small and safe steps, we will quickly find ourselves in a second semester return to campus where life begins to look a little more like “normal.”