Having talked to many of my peers about their fears relating to COVID, a response I have heard often is “I’m not really worried about getting COVID and feeling sick, I am more worried about getting someone else sick.” Maybe the Concord Academy administration has heard similar responses, affecting their decision-making process of COVID guidelines as we return to school after a three week break. Maybe they believe that since those selfless students are unbothered by the idea of facing symptoms, they would feel comfortable being back in school. I have to believe that they would have considered this statement more deeply though, for the very people that students are worried about infecting are the same people we are putting at risk through our return to school.
With the CA community reporting 39 positive COVID-19 cases this past week, and the Concord Public Schools reporting 354 cases since their return from winter break, that the Omicron variant has reached schools and is affecting the lives of students, whether they are symptomatic or not. In addition to possibly suffering from symptoms of the virus, students who test positive are stuck at home while their peers are in a school setting that is no longer focusing on the accessibility of virtual students, providing those with the virus with an additional disadvantage.
This very issue contradicts our often-quoted mission statement: those with the virus are not getting an equitable education, and this certainly seems like it could lead students down the path of losing their love of learning. Being remote alongside everyone else was one thing, but being remote while everyone else has the opportunity to be in-person must feel like a completely different experience of isolation.
Given that CA is a fully vaccinated community, it is likely that non-immunocompromised members of the community will only face mild symptoms should they test positive for COVID-19. So, for someone like me, symptoms are not of much concern. However, being a day student, I come home to my (vaccinated) parents each night, both of whom are pretty much guaranteed to have worse symptoms than me if they catch the virus. Beyond my own life, plenty of students have unvaccinated younger siblings who are more vulnerable to the virus.
More than that, the teachers at CA are the most likely to come in contact with COVID-19, surrounded by hundreds of students each day–any of whom could be asymptomatic or still be in the incubation period of their infection, not yet testing positive. With the age range of teachers being as broad as it is, we should be far more concerned about what would happen to our teachers were they to catch COVID. Even if some teachers have the option to be remote when needed, how can we guarantee that they will take that opportunity? Many teachers at CA are so passionate about their work that I am concerned about whether they would care for their own personal risk.
With both of these factors in mind—the impact on a remote students’ learning and mental health, and the risks we put others in—I am led to wonder why the school did not choose to have a two or three week remote period at the beginning of this semester. Schools and universities around the country have been experimenting with being remote through what they assume will be the worst period of Omicron infections. Though we cannot make certain that this is the 100% correct decision, we also cannot guarantee that it is not the best thing to do. I believe that there is no harm in avoiding risk for a couple of weeks and allowing doctors and scientists to gather more information, and I know that I am not alone in having this belief. I agree that it is so much better to be in-person for our learning and mental health, but being remote for a short period of time to avoid a huge outbreak seems worth the price.