Should students return to Wake County schools?

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Photos by Adam Shefet

A student desk for remote learning during Newspaper class.

Adam Shefet, Editorials Assistant Editor

Wake County public schools have been closed for six months, with March 13 being the last day that over 170,000 students and staff have been allowed to go to school due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Since then, many opinions have been shared about if and when schools should reopen and nearly the entire summer was spent contemplating if WCPSS would decide to open for the first day of school Aug. 17.

The decision was made to have a Virtual Academy and a normal plan where academy students would learn solely online and the rest would return to school when they open. As of now, students are not to return to school until at least Oct. 26, but a detailed return plan is being proposed to the school board in the coming weeks. WCPSS states that their plan is aligned based on public health data and that state and local health officials will decide the future plans for learning.

At Athens Drive, about 50 percent of the school is enrolled in the Virtual Academy, meaning that students or their parents see remote learning as the safest option for them. But, the safest option does not always line up with what the student or parent wants.

Most students, especially seniors, want to return to school to see friends they have not seen in months, to play their sports and to go to activities such as football games and senior events. Parents of younger students complain that virtual learning stunts the social and emotional development of their kids, as interacting with a screen does not offer the social interactions that in-person interaction would. This, compounded with the short attention span of kids and the constant help they may need with technology, leaves parents of young children with a big headache. Unfortunately, with cases still on the rise in North Carolina, an average of 1,500 a day, it seems less and less likely things will change.

Local private schools such as Cardinal Gibbons have returned to school and have quickly experienced small outbreaks. Within the first two weeks, 11 students contracted the virus and the  North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services confirmed them as a cluster.

The danger with returning to school is the risk it poses to older people that surround themselves with students. Although the virus was likely contracted off-campus, it traveled within the school and is now in the homes of 11 students. This poses a threat to older teachers, parents and grandparents who are more susceptible to the virus.

Further proof lies in the clusters found at colleges across the state with the most notable at UNC where 13 clusters appeared, resulting in 320 cases across nine residence halls. Classes were swiftly moved online and most students were asked to move off campus.

With cases rising and a vaccine not yet publicly distributed, it is hard to find compelling reasons as to why students should be moved to in-person learning. With several local examples of failed attempts, WCPSS should keep students in remote learning until students and staff can return to class without fear.