A Virtual Student’s Thoughts on Returning to School Four Days a Week

Many health experts have expressed concern about new COVID-19 strains spreading across the country. According to NBC, both the UK and South African COVID strains have already been discovered in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Health reports that Fauquier County has a 6.8 percent PCR test positivity rate for this two-week period. This is higher than the 5 percent positivity rate that experts consider to be safe, according to the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Today, the U.S. has surpassed 500,000 deaths from the COVID-19 virus.
Despite these startling statistics, the Fauquier County Public School (FCPS) system is moving to reopen schools four days a week on March 15 for Pre-K through 5th grade, and April 5 for 6th to 12th grade. Because of the risks associated with the pandemic, it would be reckless to reopen schools for four days a week until herd immunity has been achieved through vaccinations.
According to the FCPS COVID-19 Dashboard, there are currently 25 active COVID-19 cases, and there have been 115 cases since September 24, 2020 among students and staff. As of February 12, there were 180 students and staff that were quarantined because of suspected exposure to COVID-19. This happened under the current hybrid model of two days a week.
The plan to reopen schools four days a week would increase the number of students attending school at one time, which would lead to less social distancing and would further increase the risks of COVID-19 transmission. The FCPS system recognizes this, saying on their website, “Social distancing at the gold standard of six feet likely will not be possible, but we will do our best to maintain social distancing where possible,” and “Certain bus routes may require more than one student per seat.” It is irresponsible to take these kinds of risks when it comes to the safety of our students and staff.

Another problem is that this new format might make learning harder for virtual students like me. I’ve been able to join live meetings and engage in class discussions while my teachers are teaching in-person under the current hybrid model. However, with an increase of students in each class, this plan would make things more difficult.

I chose to go to school virtually, but many of my friends will be returning to school once this plan is put into effect. This plan would unnecessarily put them at risk of getting infected and getting sick. While many health experts agree that the risk of severe illness is lower for younger people, the risk isn’t zero percent. This plan could also increase the rates of community spread, which would indirectly put the senior population of Fauquier County at risk. There is no reason why we can’t wait until herd immunity has been reached through vaccinations before reopening schools. 

Many people who support opening schools argue that the isolation associated with virtual learning harms the mental health and academic performance of students. These concerns are legitimate, but they could be addressed without taking the risks associated with reopening schools during a pandemic.
Due to the new COVID strains spreading across the country and the risks associated with opening schools, the FCPS system should move to a virtual model until the case positivity rate has been dramatically lowered and herd immunity has been achieved through vaccinations. The safety of our students and our staff is worth it.