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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Kim

Packing Backpacks for Class and Covid: How are Schools Handling It?

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Back to school always means back to buying supplies and busy schedules. It’s the time to get back into a routine in order to make it through the school year. This time can also be an exciting one for students. They get a new teacher, classroom, classmates, and sometimes change buildings. The 2020 school year is no different when it comes to supplies and schedules, however, there are extra worries as students continue into their classrooms. Covid-19 has posed many problems since the pandemic caused numerous schools to close back in March 2020, yet even with the CDC’s guidance, schools don’t know what to follow.

The concerns stem from the growing number of cases, as well as the lack of tests and vaccinations. There also seems to be a lack of knowledge on how schools should handle Covid-19 as they start their fall semesters. Many question the guidelines given to schools by the CDC. Guidelines can be found on the CDC’s website, but include: washing hands often, social distancing of six feet, covering mouths and noses with a mask, and disinfecting touched surfaces. Some feel that they are necessary, while others see the measures taken as people reacting in fear. One guideline questioned is the use of masks. Though the CDC recommends masks for those over age two, many grade schools are not enforcing the use of them.

A poster inside UMSL's campus
A poster inside UMSL's campus

However, most colleges and universities require masks. The St. Francois County Health Center states that masks shouldn't be used to "negate quarantine", but DESE's guidelines say that masks should be worn by all K-12 students or those over age two when not social distancing. The health center also states how schools should follow DESE's recommendations "to the best of their ability". Not only do people question recommendations to fight the virus, but they question the concern over the spread of it. This has led to even greater confusion over what should or should not be done to prevent more cases from appearing. The confusion stretches from grade schools to universities.

Though schools yearn to keep their students safe, they do not want to overreact and cause difficulty in students’ learning. Some of the dislike in masks is from the idea that they might interfere or disrupt learning. Teachers fear miscommunication while instructing students and worry that they’ll just be telling them to leave them on all day. Many also have concerns over whether they can enforce students to wear masks. Parents have similar worries, but many seem to have more concerns over their child’s ability to socialize. This fear is greater within elementary schools, as many younger students can’t get their socializing through social media as older students do. Many students' only way of speaking to peers is at school and school activities. Some parents see masks as a barrier to communication and their child’s socializing. As well as other guidelines are portrayed as harmful to the students’ ability to interact with other students, such as maintaining six feet of distance and changing recess activities. However, one elementary schooler’s parent feels that schools are doing “the best they can given the situation and that school districts themselves can only do so much.”

The whole situation is a concerning one. Both sides have the students’ best interests in mind. The two sides being: people who understand/follow guidelines and those who don’t see why they should follow them. It’s understandable in specific instances not to follow recommendations, such as a child under age two not wearing a mask. However, having exceptions to the guidelines doesn’t mean no one should follow them. Though it’s obvious from the media that both sides care about the students’ health, it’s not so obvious why so many schools won’t enforce the guidelines. Parents and staff can have their opinions outside of school buildings, but enforcing recommendations inside a school’s premises shouldn’t be questioned.

Those who disagree say that grade school students don’t contract COVID as often as college students and older adults meaning there’s less worry. Yet the concern with students being exposed to Covid-19 isn’t just that they will get ill from it, it’s also that they will further spread it. The fact is that younger students can still transmit the virus to older students or family. This will just keep the pandemic going on for even longer and cause more people to become ill. Another point to remember is that younger students can’t go out alone. During quarantine, these students stayed home while parents would go out. With schools opening back up for fall, students are more exposed than before. If they’re sent to class in-person, they’ll be coming into contact with staff and peers, potentially exposing them to the virus if those people aren’t showing symptoms. This could explain why so many younger students haven’t seemed to contract the virus; there just weren’t as many opportunities for them to be exposed to it.

Though many schools try to social distance students, the use of masks is not being enforced. Several grade schools claim that they can only encourage students to wear masks, stating that it’s the students’ personal choice whether they wear one. From what I’ve seen in elementary schools, this personal choice spreads to staff members, too. This pick-and-choose attitude with guidelines could cause more problems. With so many Missouri counties sitting in the red zone for Covid-19, having schools not fully enforce the CDC’s guidelines is worrying. Back to school is usually full of excitement for students, but excitement this year is replaced with suspense. Students don’t know how long they’ll be in-person or if they even should be. What can be said is that Covid-19 will be looming over our schools for all of the 2020 semester.

A mask required sign on UMSL's campus
A mask required sign on UMSL's campus


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