After almost two years in virtual learning, many schools in the United States have at last reopened their doors for a full-time in-person education. People have said that this is the next step into recovering from COVID-19, and returning to “normality;” however this may be a step backwards. Cases were at a record low in June of this year, only for them to rise as the first schools began to reopen in July and as more people became content with not wearing masks.
In 2020, Kansas teacher Alisha Morris had created a database, tracking any cases of the virus in public schools, spanning from July 1st onwards to January of 2021—a retrospective look at cases of the virus in schools in 2020. From the start of July to August 23rd, 2020, the database logged approximately 4,300 cases across schools in the United States. Her project has grown since then, with volunteers helping catalog cases from news reports and personal anecdotes, at the behest of many school districts, which have tried to deflect attention from the growing number of cases. This also means that schools were perhaps not being completely forthright and transparent about how smoothly the school year had been running; this leads to parents misjudging how safe an in-person school environment is and does not bode well for how honest school systems will be for this new year.
Currently, Atlanta’s school district has reported 24,270 cases since schools reopened this fall, which does not include data from Clayton County, one of the largest districts in Atlanta. Thankfully, no other district surpasses Atlanta in COVID numbers, but many are following close behind, such as Los Angeles, with a hardy 5,307 cases as of September 1st. In Houston, there have been over 11,500 cases throughout staff and students; after the first week of school, Tampa had put nearly 9,000 students into quarantine. School had only been open for a few weeks in these cities. The biggest surprise about this exponential rise is purely the sheer number of cases, but also how quickly the number of cases rose.
With that being said, the excitement for being back in school is unparalleled, especially with many students not having been in the classroom for nearly two years. For a good majority of students, distance learning was not fulfilling and was detrimental to their well-being — plummeting mental health and motivation to an all-time low as well as not allowing students to properly learn and grasp material. Under all the emotional and mental stress, resuming in-person classes feels like a breath of fresh air. At least, that’s how it may seem at first glance. In reality, the pressures of school only increased, with teachers piling on copious amounts of homework and quizzes within the first week. The sudden contrast between taking class in bed and getting up early for lectures is enough to put students off their guard, but for teachers to assign work as if nothing was different the previous year is draining and anxiety-inducing. The exacting demands that teachers make on their students are surprising, especially considering that they know how difficult the previous year was and have a vague understanding, at the least, that students did not learn very much that year.