Should we return to in person learning?

December 8, 2020

Pro: We should return to in person learning

With Covid-19 comes many new realities for people across the US, online school being one of them. Remote learning comes with many challenges as all new situations do, but these cons clearly outweigh the pros. 

One worry is a rise in child abuse cases that go unreported. Students in abusive households can seek help from schools when schools are open, but lose that support when they are closed. Teachers are the child welfare agencies’ eyes and ears on a day to day basis when students are in school, reporting suspected abuse cases and saving children from dangerous homes. 

Anna Gassman-Pines, a public policy professor at Duke University, said, “When there are large-scale job losses in communities, child maltreatment rates go up.” Jill Cook, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association in Virginia, said something similar. “My concern is children for whom school was a safe space are now perhaps in environments where they really don’t have a lot of leverage to move or go outside or leave… that they’re in unsafe environments.” With schools closed abuse hotline calls are down up to 50 percent. According to Darren DaRonco, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Child Safety, “That means many children are suffering in silence.”

There are also grades to think about. A study on online school done by Stanford found that students’ grades drop while learning on an online platform. Students pay considerably less attention to lessons while learning online due to a number of distractions that require time management and self-motivation that younger students have yet to learn and master.

Other schools such as Harvard have done similar studies. Harvard found that students retained considerably less information when learning in an online environment. This causes lower grades in later classes that utilize the information that students don’t remember.

Online school doesn’t only affect the learning of students, it also has a large impact on their mental health. Students and teachers begin to experience social isolation due to a lack of communication causing heightened stress and anxiety. 

The lack of face-to-face communication also means that younger students aren’t learning the social skills necessary to excel later in life. This leads to students who don’t know how to properly work as a team, putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to getting a job later in life.  

While the majority of schools are stuck in an online setting, a few have been able to return using a hybrid model. Students in Chicago have been able to return to in-person learning centers. The infection rate of these learning centers has remained flat. Some private schools in the Portland area have also been able to return in a hybrid format, such as West Side Christian. These schools have seen no outbreaks of Covid-19. By wearing masks, checking temperatures and social distancing, these schools have been able to safely and effectively return to in person learning. Lake Oswego schools could do the same, putting students back into a much more effective learning environment.

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Con: We should not return to in person learning

It’s no secret that remote learning has been a challenge. Between endless zoom meetings, technical difficulties and the lack of human contact, it’s been a trying few months, let alone year. In the wake of these problems, many have been urging the Lake Oswego School District to return to in-person learning in hopes of instilling a sense of pseudo normalcy. But while in-person learning may be the ideal method of education, the state of the pandemic simply does not allow it.

Let’s look at the elephant in the room: Covid-19. Cases are on the rise, at an all-time high actually. Nationwide we’re at 14.6 million cases, with 281,000 deaths. Though news of potential vaccines has bolstered public morale over the past few weeks, the fact of the matter is that the pandemic is the worst it has ever been. Even in Oregon, which has handled Covid fairly well and has had relatively few cases, is seeing a huge surge. At the end of November, test positivity rates per day were standing at around 17 percent with about 1300 new cases per week and around 12 deaths every seven days. These are all sharp increases when compared to the early stages of the pandemic, or even when contrasted with the rates a few months ago. The fact of the matter is that Covid-19 is ravaging the nation, even Oregon.

In late October, Governor Brown relaxed regulations to make it easier for schools to reopen, lowering the number of infections per 100,000 residents in a county needed before returning to in-person class. To go back to in-person learning, Clackamas County would need a positivity rate of or below 5 percent, with only 50 cases per 100,000 residents in a given two week period. According to Clackamas County’s own website, our numbers are sitting at around 200 plus infections per 100,000 with a rate of well over 10 percent. 

Setting aside, for a moment, the fact that we are nowhere near meeting the requirements for in-person learning, how would we even do it? The official plan is a hybrid learning system in which half the school attends in-person in the morning and spends the afternoon learning remotely. The other half of the school would have this schedule switched. Classes would presumably be smaller, and face masks and social distancing would also need to be implemented. 

If that is to be the case, is there even really a benefit to going back in person? There would still be little social interaction, given the social distancing and small class sizes. The distancing and the partial time online would also make it difficult to interact with teachers and to do classroom activities. While certainly an improvement, is it really a big enough change to provoke the risk of illness or death for the students and staff of the district? I don’t think so.

Even with all of these precautions, going back to in-person learning is projected by the county to increase Covid-19 cases. This is not just some statistic, these are teachers and children that we are considering sacrificing for a minimal step towards normalcy. The reality is that, as hard as it is to accept, the only way to go back to normal is to follow state protocol and ride the pandemic out. A return to in-person learning will only delay that.

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