The Proper Way to Open Public Schools


Marco Milani

In this illustration by Marco Milani, a school and text can be seen.

Most California public schools haven’t seen full-time in-person learning since the middle of March 2020, when the world was turned upside down due to the largest pandemic in over 100 years.

COVID-19 has altered our routine to the core — Sporting events are generally quiet, with close to zero fans in attendance; eating inside of restaurants has become a distant memory; and meeting up with friends requires very strict protocol with masks and social distancing.

For students and teachers all over the country, it’s been a whirlwind of stress, stress, and even more stress. The tough reality of shifting gears from in-school learning to sitting in front of a computer screen all day has outstandingly harsh effects on the young psyche. Even though it’s been a tough run for the education system, it’s important to note that the consequences of contracting the virus are very much a force to be reckoned with and should be taken seriously, especially since the lingering health effects are still unknown.

Students are struggling with every aspect of this — They want to see their friends, they want more accessible instruction to achieve more, and most of all, they want a sense of normalcy. Teachers arguably have more responsibility — They have to be more detailed with their lessons, one-on-one communication has become harder, and it’s all but impossible to evaluate a student while they hide behind a webcam.

The fight for normalcy is valid — downright essential, in fact — but the circumstances have to be fair. The transition has to be something that everyone wants, and that includes parents, teachers, and students. It has to come as a guarantee with a committed plan from government leaders and district officials.

They want safety from the pandemic that has killed almost 500,000 people nationwide. If safety isn’t included in the package, then can you really blame parents for not wanting to send their children back to school? Can you really blame the teacher who would be trapped inside a classroom with 25 children who all split up in different directions at the end of the day?

Luckily, some possibilities can put some of these concerns to rest and bring students back to school safely. Sure, it may result in a big financial commitment and some after-hours thinking, but these students are the future leadership of this country, and investing in them shouldn’t be a question, it should be an EXPECTATION.

The expansion of the availability of vaccinations helps immensely, acting as an extra shield of protection for faculty. Even though a vaccine for the underage population continues to be developed, there are more than enough innovations to use for this to work.

Masks have been continually proven to be an effective and easy way to protect against the spread. Testing can be utilized as a tool, even if it’s conducted every few weeks. Schools that have been back in session could tell you that pods and mini-groups have been key in terms of limiting exposure, and make contract tracing easier if a case is found.

There will still be concerns about reopening plans across the country, and that’s fine. However, there will be fewer things to worry about if education leaders display a commitment to their respective communities.

If the worst comes to worst, there’s always next fall. Now that COVID-19 numbers are flattening out compared to past statistics, the fall will certainly be a full-go for schools.

However, there’s a way to make it back this spring, and that’s the bottom line. If the plan isn’t full-throttle, then it will never work. If safety isn’t the number one priority in terms of reopening schools, then maybe it’s wise to let the plan go down the drain and fire the webcam back up.