As the beginning of the school year approaches, teachers, students and their parents are in a shaky position. Schools tentatively prepare to open with a variety of changes to encompass evolving COVID-19 safety regulations, including hybrid virtual-physical schedules and other accommodations, while others still have shifting start dates.
Sammy Lebowitz, a rising 10th grader at The Weber School, said preparing to begin school under these circumstances is very stressful. The nature of the fluid situation has been confusing for him, he said. “I’m worried about a lot, as the uncertainty of this whole situation means that the school schedule is liable to change at any moment.” He said his school has planned a physical-virtual hybrid schedule, which means certain classes will be held in person and some will be virtual. “I believe that I don’t have any classes in person, but I don’t know if I’ll have to go on campus sometimes anyway,” he said.
Dr. Eric Medwed, a government and economics teacher at Centennial High School, said the biggest concern is not knowing how the year is going to play out. “The only thing we really know is that the county is not requiring students to wear masks, which is terrifying to me. I don’t know a single teacher who is okay with this,” he said.
Medwed said there’s been a lack of communication with teachers regarding the potential of virtual school. “All we know is students have a choice. They have not told us at all what that means,” he said. “As of now the students’ first day is Aug. 17, and teachers go back at the same time, which would theoretically give us two weeks to prepare. But again, we don’t really know anything yet.”
Jen George is a parent of two as well as a former high school teacher and a current preschool teacher at Congregation B’nai Torah. She said her children will be going to Riverwood International Charter School and Ridgeview Charter Middle School, and that she’s planning on sending them in person. But she expects the schools to close and become fully virtual as the COVID-19 infection numbers climb in Georgia. “I have absolute confidence in both of these principals,” she said. “The primary concern is the safety and well-being of their students. They are both amazing.”
George said her biggest concern is parents who aren’t taking the virus seriously. “It’s amazing to me the number of parents who have no limits on their kids right now. Like these are normal times and they’re going to be normal,” she said. George said she heard a story that “angered and terrified her” of a friend’s neighbor whose teenage son tested positive but is asymptomatic and is currently going about his normal life in public. “These are the parents that are making me crazy; you’re going to be the parents who are making us not going to be able to get out of this in the near future,” George said. “There’s another group who is keeping it hush-hush like it’s taboo, nobody can know that they have it, so they aren’t telling anybody they’re exposed.”
She worries that parents who are denying the seriousness of the pandemic will end up sending their children to school infected and prolonging the situation, which schools have no control over. “It’s not so much about sending the kids back to school, but in general for society,” she said.
George said her children haven’t been thinking much about the start of school. “They’d for sure rather go in person and wear a mask and at least see their friends. I do think being at home was really hard,” she said. Her son spent more time than usual playing Xbox, so he was able to talk to his friends. “For my daughter, it was a little bit more isolating,” she said.
Despite the risks, George is choosing to send her kids in person for as long as the schools remain open. “I definitely don’t think the quality of education will be anywhere on par,” she said of virtual classes. “I share a unique perspective, because I used to teach high school in the public schools. I looked at the whole thing from a parent’s perspective, but also from a teacher’s perspective. The teachers were asked to do something completely out of their comfort zone. … That was a huge ask for teachers. They’re two completely different platforms.”