On Feb. 9, the GPPSS school board met to discuss the plan for the final few months of the 2020-21 school year. With a hybrid schedule in place and functioning well, there was a debate about whether to take the plan further, and return students to a full time five day a week schedule.
The board voted for the district to return to the building for in-person learning for five days a week and seven hours a day. This plan will start on March 15 and includes everyone except for the students who had previously chosen the One GP virtual route.
Although many parents and students rejoiced after hearing that GPPSS schools will be returning to a full time in-person schedule, many others also had concerns about the plan.
Concerns included the lack of social distancing in classrooms, hallways and during lunch as a result of so many students being at school at once.
Because most classrooms will go from having 13 students to over 30 students, there will be no room for the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended six feet of social distancing between students. Also, the hallways will be congested with twice as many people, raising the risk of students contracting Covid-19 while at school.
Students eating lunch at school is another big concern because people have to take their masks off while eating, removing the 99 percent protection two masked people get from contracting Covid-19. Currently the return to school plan includes three options for students: to eat lunch in a car, go off-campus for lunch or to eat lunch outside on school property in a tent that will be set up. The first two options are concerning because many students do not have cars. Therefore, the plan creates an inequitable environment where some students are left at school in a higher risk environment, while others can leave and be safer. The last option is also concerning for aforementioned reasons: students have to take their masks off to eat. Therefore, even being outside in a tent, the risk of Covid-19 contraction will be higher.
Given this information, we believe strongly that anyone that does not feel safe in the building should not be forced to attend school five days a week. The district should provide options that give students and families flexibility so they can feel safe in their learning environment. Although we understand that it may not be possible to transfer into the OneGP program because of scheduling problems, classes should be live streamed or recorded so that students can access their learning remotely if they choose. If students or families are absent, in quarantine or have safety concerns, they could be able to attend their classes online, either at the time of the session or later in the day. Recorded classes would also be beneficial to any students that are absent or did not understand the material, as they would be able to go back and watch the session at a later time.
Offering students and families an option to have their children learning remotely for part of the day would also solve the concerns that many community members have about the lunch plan too. Anyone that feels unsafe eating at school could attend remotely for half of the day and eat at home.
Overall, while we recognize that offering an option for students to attend school remotely for parts of the day will be more difficult logistically, the benefits it will provide in alleviating some students’ anxiety about returning full time will be much more beneficial.