Pro-Con Editorial: Return to School? No, We Should Not


The side conversations during a class lecture, the passing time speaking with friends, and just being in an environment that’s designed for learning: we all miss it. It’s harder to stay motivated at home, stick to a daily agenda, and let’s be honest, we’re all exhausted.

But I won’t be going back to school when it reopens. 

Going back won’t look like school before Covid

When people hear the possibility of going back, they’re imagining a life before the age of Covid. But returning this year will look nothing like that.

Students will have to bring their laptops to school, and while they may not have to hop on Zoom, they’ll still be seeing the same materials that are just projected on the whiteboard. Great, a bigger screen. At what cost? 

Most classes are already forced to skip portions of their curriculum with the current block schedule of 100 minute classes. With the hybrid learning, classes are cut down to 50 minutes. How are Advanced Placement classes going to effectively prepare students for the exams when they can hardly keep up with the moving clock? 

From Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s encouragement to reopen schools by March 1 and the district’s announcement of transitioning to the hybrid model, there has been no clear reasoning as to why all this change is suddenly being implemented. Perhaps it’s to appease the loud, few, complaining community members who are urging for in-person school, since everything seems rushed. But if our health and wellbeing are truly priorities, then schools shouldn’t be reopening in the first place. 

Ineffective masks, poor screening, and unpredictable behavior

Let’s not forget that going back to school means wearing a mask from the moment you exit your vehicle to the moment you get back to it. And not everyone has effective masks, including surgical masks. Those blue masks are designed to protect the skin from liquid droplets, not to ventilate and filter out microscopic particles. Hence, why surgeons wear them while performing surgery to avoid direct contact with fluids like blood. 

The Food and Drug Administration says a surgical mask, by design, “Does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures. Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the mask and your face.”

There’s a reason why there were specialized engineers who designed masks like the K95 and KF94 and why engineers continue to find new, more effective designs. 

Surgical masks are also only supposed to be worn once, and in a nation where face masks weren’t normalized before the virus, not everyone is informed about these important details, nor is there enough PPE distribution to citizens. Thus, there’s an obvious difference in the wide use of masks and therefore the level of safety between different parts of the world. And if surgical masks are not as protective, then you can bet that homemade masks offer even less protection. 

As part of a daily protocol procedure, teachers will be required to check in every morning through an app by answering health questions asking about symptoms. But anyone can falsely answer those questions to manipulate the results. People know which answers would cause certain conclusions. A sick person can answer as if they’re healthy and then proceed to interact with others. 

Furthermore, students will not be tested before they enter school, meaning there is no cohesive way of knowing who might actually have the virus going in. 

If there’s one thing social media has taught me this year, it’s that people behave as if a mask automatically provides them an invincible shield from the virus. If students outside of school are embracing each other during a pandemic and removing masks while playing sports, I can not trust them to follow basic safety measures in the school. 

Not enough vaccines have been administered, and risks have not been eliminated

If everyone was vaccinated, then I’d actually consider going back to school.

But the district, nonetheless the entire nation, is not prioritizing student vaccinations. They’re vaccinating school staff members first, which doesn’t even allow a viable timeline for April.

The FDA recommends waiting 21 to 28 days between the two doses which means the overall process of vaccinating teachers will exceed just a few months. Wide-scale vaccinations have just started, and the 75% of administered vaccinations in the county so far just count the first doses. Reopening in April leaves absolutely no time for all teachers to receive both of their proper doses. 

But even if all the teachers are fully vaccinated, what happens to the students? Yes, adolescents and the general youth may have a far less chance of suffering from Covid, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be active vessels who can carry around the virus and spread it to anyone around them.  Whether it’s their objects or themselves, they can still transmit the virus to their families once they return home. Parents then go to work and infect their coworkers who then infect their own families as their own students go to in-person school.

“The hybrid model is probably among the worst that we could be putting forward if our goal is to stop the virus getting into schools,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a GBH podcast. “If kids are in school two days a week and then the other three days a week they are at home, the parents are probably going to end up having to seek child care from somewhere else. That means the child is making a new contact they would not have made otherwise, and that just provides another chance for the child to become infected and then bring it into the school.”

But what’s more concerning is that teachers don’t even have to disclose information about their vaccination status. So, getting vaccinated is entirely up to them, meaning non-vaccinated adults in school are especially vulnerable to the virus. 

In his Washington Post opinion article, Hanage warns that the hybrid model is the “riskiest model we have,” and that although there are no perfect models of schooling in this pandemic, there are alternative solutions to improving distanced learning.

“Instead of cycling students through schools and ad hoc child-care solutions, we could prioritize in-person instruction for those for whom remote learning will not work, whether because the kids are too young, their parents are essential workers or for other reasons. These decisions should be made on the basis of need,” he said. “The less the virus gets into the schools, the less damage it can do in them. Hybrid reopening plans risk opening the door for it.”

Other countries are going back because the amount of cases they get in a day is within a single digit, a two digit, or maybe a three digit number. Washtenaw County itself has over 20,000 cases. New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan and Vietnam combined only amount to 49 cases. They’re the ones justified to go back to school, not us. 

Add that on to the fact that Ann Arbor is the hometown to a large, public university which itself has been inefficient with its virus management, and you get a recipe for even more of a disaster. University of Michigan cases currently account for one-third of all coronavirus cases in the county, and all 23 of the  Covid variant cases in the county are related to the university community: a variant for which the current vaccinations offer little protection, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

Spring break for the district would end just days before schools reopen for standardized testing. People would have been back from their traveling and most likely have returned with additional cases of the virus. With school resuming immediately afterwards, the lack of time to self-quarantine is concerning. But then, there’s no doubt that people would ignore quarantining guidelines in the first place.

I went volunteering at a local community kitchen in January, and one of the volunteers there talked about his recent vacation to Florida, raving about his “amazing” experience of finally being able to dine at restaurants and bars. But then it became evident that it was only a few days since he returned from his trip. He had not followed the Covid guidelines of quarantining at home for two weeks. 

Self-quarantining is an expectation. People are expected to take responsibility for themselves and society as a whole, but frankly, we don’t have much of that, and yet, people continue to tell themselves that Covid is a mild threat. It doesn’t matter if there are fewer cases than yesterday. If there are still active cases, we shouldn’t be hopeful that none of our actions will have consequences anymore. 

Enough with the social interaction excuse

Sure, the idea of going back to school sounds like a liberating chance to finally interact with people. But as stated earlier, that is bound not to happen in the traditional way. 

Returning may seem like even more of an opportunity for seniors who want that final moment of memory-making before they graduate. I may bite back on my words when I say this, but going back to school for that social interaction and justifying that it’s your last year seems like a selfish excuse that ignores the risk of putting others at risk and even death. 

If you’re longing to see your friends, that can occur outside of school in a safer environment, not at the expense of others’ health in a limited area. We shouldn’t take this virus for granted, even if it means giving up such a precious and crucial time in our lives, times that I recognize that all seniors deserve. 

The Class of 2020 didn’t even have virtual school during their final months in high school. They couldn’t see their peers and interact with them in a class-like setting. They were the first group to have neither prom or graduation. At least we were given the chance to attend school where we could still see our peers and interact with each other online. 

Going back to school will only prolong the issue of Covid. It will destroy the chances for younger classes to experience their rites of passage. The freshmen this year may never experience a true high school life. We need to take this virus seriously and stop letting our social desires interfere with the health of people.