When I first heard that Masters had decided to switch to a hybrid learning model, I felt concerned, but unsurprised. The school had been long deliberating about whether it would be a beneficial decision to return to school. But in recognizing the circumstances and uncertainty that come with in-person learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, my decision on returning to school became easy: online learning is the safest and simplest option.
On Thursday, Sept. 24, Head of School Laura Danforth sent out an email to all Masters School students, faculty, and families informing them of the school’s decision to return to an in-person format beginning Oct. 5. However, all families were still given the option to remain online. And although I greatly miss the school community and in-person environment, I decided that this path of online learning would keep my situation as easy and as safe as possible.
One of the factors that went into my decision was the many Covid-19 protocols and guidelines that have been put in place for returning students. On Sept. 29, Head of Upper School Peter Newcomb relayed an email detailing those protocols, some of which included constant mask-wearing, assigned lunch areas, and designated walking directions. And though I believe learning in-person wouldn’t be impossible, school would have been more challenging with all of these concerns constantly on my mind.
In contrast, online learning has been a breeze, because my situation is the most normal it can be. I can dedicate my focus to my classes, learn in a comfortable environment, and feel safe knowing that I’m not in danger of being exposed to Covid-19 – all of which would have been impossible had I returned to in-person learning. Moreover, I don’t have to think about always wearing a mask in the mornings. I don’t have to worry about being on-time to a designated lunch area. I don’t have to constantly be aware of which direction I can walk down the hallway. And as I said before, I don’t have to worry about contracting COVID-19.
Despite the fact that there are numerous guidelines in place, examples from around the country have shown that no protocol is foolproof. According to statistics from ny.gov, there have been 433 positive on-site student Covid-19 cases in New York City schools. Out of these 433 on-site student cases, 160 occurred in private and charter schools, equating for around 36% of all on-site student cases, despite the fact that less than 11% of New York City’s 1.1 million students attend private/charter schools.
As for the actual on-site infection rate, it is important to take into account the large amount of students that are staying remote. A recent New York Times article states that “More than half of the school system’s 1.1 million students have chosen all-remote learning through at least November, and many educators believe that number is likely to keep growing.” Taking these numbers into consideration, it can be determined that the infection rate for on-site tested students is around 0.077% (around 1 out of 1301 students) – at the minimum. And although this number may be considered quite low-risk for some, anyone could be the next person to contract the virus. To me, it’s just not worth that risk.
In addition to the findings from New York City schools, as of Oct. 9, local private school Horace Mann has been forced to return to online learning after receiving multiple positive teacher/staff Covid-19 cases. Masters has instituted thorough protocols, but a middle school student testing positive and forcing the entire middle school to return online for a day demonstrates that no school’s plan, even with lots of testing, strict mask-wearing and social-distancing protocol, and numerous in-school guidelines, can keep the virus completely away.
It’s no secret that online learning isn’t the same as in-person learning. It is more difficult to have true discussions, to be present, and to enjoy what I’m learning. On top of that, the loss of face-to-face connection is certainly a downside. Also, it is important to understand that although I think any infection rate except 0% is too high, numbers show that the risk of contracting Covid-19 is extremely low.
But to be candid, the circumstances we find ourselves in are what they are and it is now about how we adapt to these circumstances. It’s true that I would love to be back in-person but the fact of the matter is that in-person learning is not the right choice for me or my family. Many say they are “willing to take the risk” that comes with going back in person, but to me, it’s a risk I don’t want to take – it could mean life or death.