Returning to School in the Time of Covid-19

I’m worried. I’ll return to school in three weeks along with many other teachers in England. I love teaching. It’s more like a calling than a job to me. I love interacting with my students, giving them problems to solve, providing hands on experiences, making them discuss content, and seeing those lightbulb moments. I love it!

When school buildings closed in March and teaching moved online, it wasn’t the same. Not to say that some students didn’t thrive in ways they hadn’t before, because some did, but teaching over video, is not the same. Asynchronous interactions with classes is not the same. Not doing laboratory or practical work, is not the same. Teaching in person is so much better. I want to return to school. I want to see my students. I want us to go back to as close to normal as possible.

But I’m worried.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in an article for the Mail on Sunday,

“But now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so.” and “Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible.”



Do we really know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely? 

Before moving to England, I taught in the largest school district in Georgia (Gwinnett) for 10 years. Georgia has one of the earliest return to school dates in the US, and many have already been in school for a week.

Last week, a viral photo of a packed hallway at an Atlanta area high school started circulating. It showed the first day of school (August 3rd).

(The school initially suspended the student who posted the photo, but it was revoked. A suspension is like exclusion in the UK.)

This week? The school had to close for two days for a deep clean after nine students and staff members tested positive for coronavirus. 

Another district in metro Atlanta has over 800 students and 42 teachers in 19 different schools in quarantine due to either direct exposure to or contracting the virus. 

School has been back in session for in person learning with staggered dismissal times for just over a week, and already they are seeing a surge in cases. 

And then an article in The Times today reveals that secondary students transmit the virus like adults. Public Health England believes that tougher rules may be needed for secondary students compared to primary students due to this. Not to mention, in the US, nearly 100,000 children tested positive for the virus the last two weeks in July.

Let's get back to school - but safely!

I completely believe getting back to school is important for children and their learning, especially for older students preparing for exams next summer. 

(Although positively, a survey has revealed that children coped well with school closures.)

Staggered break times, staggered lunch times, staggered start and end times will all help some, but I’m not sure it will be enough when over 1,000 students are walking our halls (or corridors). 

So what is the answer? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m a chemist/astronomer. Biology is my least favourite science, and I’m definitely not an epidemiologist. But I do know data, and I would say we don’t have enough data yet to know the impact of students being back full time. However, we can observe what happens in other countries as they go back to school. Will we learn from the lessons they teach us? I just hope that whatever happens, the safety of teachers and students will be more important than a political agenda.