We’ve been agnostic on the subject of whether it’s appropriate for students to return to classrooms on a limited basis as the 2020-21 school year begins.
On the one hand, we can readily imagine how badly both students and parents want to reintroduce some level of normality in their lives after a hasty and largely unsatisfying bash at remote learning in the spring.
There appears to be consensus that students, especially younger students, learn better when they can interact with classmates and teachers. School officials are making their best efforts, it appears, to provide a safe environment in which in-person learning can happen.
On the other hand, it just doesn’t seem likely that any level of precaution will be able to keep the novel coronavirus at bay when people begin congregating. All we have to do is look at the increases in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the state of Illinois’ in August compared to July.
The numbers started rising, and continue to rise, ever since the state went to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan back in late June. And just look at the experience of other schools in other parts of the country, where as soon as students were allowed back inside buildings, COVID-19 cases spiked.
Schools in Georgia that opened earlier this month, for example, are already shutting their doors after students tested positive, leading to the quarantine of hundreds more students who might have been exposed, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Just this week, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill abandoned in-person learning after more than 300 students and faculty tested positive for COVID-19.
Certainly, colleges are different than grade schools and high schools, and the measures taken in Illinois to combat the spread of the virus has differed greatly from those taken in Georgia.
But the Georgia and North Carolina examples illustrate just how contagious this disease is and that young people are just as susceptible to infection as adults. It’s no joke.
Last Friday, Riverside-Brookfield High School bit the bullet and determined it would begin the school year with students learning from home. Some may not have been happy with the organized and public protests against in-person learning by faculty.
We have to say, however, that teachers are putting their health and safety on the line in classroom settings, and if they don’t feel safe, their voices need to be heard. While school officials say that new state guidelines were behind the change, we believe the message from teachers also played a role. That’s good.
The big victory with respect to the decision to go all-remote at RBHS is that students will no longer be subject to learning via a third-party vendor’s online curriculum. Students who, from the get-go, wanted to attend classes remotely will now be taught by RBHS teachers, not some one-size-fits-all online module. We’re glad of that for the students’ sake and for the school’s. It was a bad option.
Many grade school students, meanwhile, in Riverside, part of North Riverside and parts of Brookfield, will begin the year attending class in person in a limited fashion. That’s a risk, and we’ll want to make sure the school district is in constant communication with families and the public about how it is fairing with respect to that risk.