COVID-19 and the Return to School

By Isabelle Aquilina (’23)

Whether you are staying virtual or coming in person, these past few weeks have brought a big change to your learning environment at the IA. The empty halls and classes of maybe only seven people sure are an uncomfortable sight to anyone that comes into the building. The strategy for opening up the physical classroom is different for each school, and how do these precautions, or lack thereof, affect the infection in these communities and thus the safety of its students and staff?

Across the world, schools are reopening as COVID-19 cases in their respective countries fall. Most, including China, Taiwan, Denmark, and Norway, are taking many precautions to prevent outbreaks, such as smaller class sizes and staggered attendance. However, virtual studies from European research teams have suggested that the opening of schools directly relates to the rise of transmission in that community. The costs and benefits of reopening schools can be weighed for eternity. However, an option for in person instruction is critical for community development and academic support, and most districts are willing to take the risk. The CDC recommends that any schools that choose to reopen should at the minimum ensure proper hygiene, sanitize the building, and require masks to be worn. In addition to that, schools should also engage in social distancing practices and even stagger classes, the latter being practiced at the International Academy through our Blue and Silver day system. The CDC guarantees that most of the schools that have begun to allow more students will create a higher rate of transmission. However, that depends solely on the responsibility of the students and staff as well as the administration that cleans and organizes the school system. 

Schools across the country are taking different approaches to the new learning environment and management of the students in schools. The effectiveness of these plans, however, may not be as foolproof as the CDC would like. Many schools in Michigan have already seen a rise with 30 new outbreaks in schools all across our state on Monday, October 26. Michigan is overall under control of the spread of COVID-19 when compared to the rest of the United States, with only 182,000 cases total and 7,586 deaths. However, since around the beginning of September, the number of daily new cases has been increasing, and while Wayne County has the highest number of total coronavirus cases, Oakland County, where the IA is located, is in second place. We are now seeing the highest spike of cases in Michigan, with 4,718 new cases on October 19th. In fact, this is an even higher spike than we saw in June. As seen by this data, and the new cases that are seen across Michigan, which have been rising steadily since September, the reopening of schools has contributed to the COVID-19 transmission in our community. The superintendents of school districts in West Michigan have released a letter saying if the number of cases continues to rise, they will be forced to cancel after school activities or close schools entirely again to reduce transmission. Is this rise in cases the fault of the administration or the students and staff in attendance? Depending on the age of the children in school as well as other factors, certain schools may be at a higher risk for an outbreak. That much is unsure, but the only thing to do now is to protect those that are not infected and attempt to slow the spread. 

So far, we have seen no new cases at the International Academy, and our classroom environment is functioning as normally as possible with the inclusion of the online format. By social distancing, wearing masks, and cleaning properly, we have managed to keep our school from developing an outbreak and contributing to the rise in cases nationwide. Hopefully these efforts will allow us to attend fully in person classes sometime before the end of the school year in June. New developments in the school environment can impact mental health and academic achievement. The trade off for avoiding the consequences of online learning may result in a rise in cases that forces the school  to shut down again. The most we can do right now is attempt to comply with CDC guidelines and stay safe to stop the rate of infection.

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