Back in March, the world of education was stopped at a standstill. Schools across the country, from K-12 to higher education systems, were forced to close their campuses and send students home. Now, three months later, schools are planning for the fall semester. Universities and colleges began sending out emails to students regarding reopening plans and K-12 school boards began to send out notices on how the semester would work. With overly hopeful words and empty promises, these plans float around destined to ultimately fail.
Let's start with higher education.
College students were forced to pack up and leave within days of closing announcements leaving many stranded with nowhere to go. Those desperate images plastered on news websites of students sitting next to their hastily packed belongings still haunt my mind. Now as things are beginning to return to normal, schools are releasing statements about the fall semester. Most schools are adopting hybrid plans where students have the option to return to campus and have most classes online with the exception of a few. With optimism in these plans, school officials fail to recognize the obvious: COVID-19 will win.
The first issue is with students who may not have the resources to accommodate these plans. Harvard University spoke of the fall semester as early as April with words from Provost Alan M. Garber:
"This spring semester has also reminded us that our students come from diverse backgrounds and circumstances. Their home environments, resources, and geographic locations are sometimes obstacles to full engagement and immersion in online learning. We are committed to ensuring that all our students, whatever their situations may be, have enriching and successful experiences and are able to maintain their academic progress and continue their intellectual journey"
Clearly not. Harvard Business School just announced plans for a fully online semester, yet the insane tuition prices are still intact. Will online learning even be as effective? But that's not the only issue with higher education. With campuses and dorms packed with students, along with a non-mandatory mask policy, will cases really not rise?
I may have more experience with this one now. My local school district just released plans for reopening my high school. I'm in one of the biggest district in my state, so the release of a one-page colorful infographic of what school is going to look like was just insulting.
School is one of the harder places to practice social distancing, and they put in plans to try and implement health and safety standards. But what they are is overconfident. The amount of touching, bumping, and cross-contamination that goes on during a school day is astronomical. The school boards announce these empty words to try and alleviate worry, but instead, it instills more distrust towards how a successful school year can actually happen.
The worst part of my school district is the lack of a mask requirement for students. However, all faculty are required to wear masks. So the 10-1 student-faculty ratio meant nothing when discussing plans.
Schools released an intent to allow a virtual option for those who choose to stay at home in an attempt to appease those worried for their health. But the flaw there is the lack of options for virtual learners. Learning online has already been compared as the lesser option with less hours focused and a smaller catalog of class choices. The icing on the cake is the district being explicit on how the online option will not have as many options, even cutting out extracurriculars and athletics completely. So students have the option to choose between their health and their education. An impossible choice.
Schools are just not ready to open this fall, no matter how much school officials insist they are. Students will sacrifice more than anyone else with the new systems. As America is failing the country with coronavirus containment, it is also failing its students. It's inevitable.