Students voice concerns for COVID safety amid return to in-person classes

Kayla Wolf, News Editor

No one could have imagined that there would be a global pandemic in the United States during the 21st century. No one could have predicted that the disease would mutate to become more contagious, thrusting us into a similar reality that we lived through 18 months ago. 

Yet due to the need for social-emotional connection with teachers and peers, many students, including students at Tualatin High, have returned to in-person school. However, one question remains on many people’s minds, including mine: Is COVID-19 ready to allow schools to resume in-person instruction?

According to OregonLive —a local online news organization— September was Oregon’s third deadliest month for COVID, with 424 deaths reported. With the highly contagious Delta variant running rampant, that number could increase, especially with students returning to school and having close contact with each other. Districts across the state are taking many precautions, including wearing masks and social distancing, and the Tigard-Tualatin School District stated in their plan for reopening schools that all students would be required to wear masks when on school property, as well as maintain at least three feet of distance. However, some of these policies can be ineffective when there is a large student body and not enough room to adhere to safety protocols. 

I understand the social-emotional need for students to return to school. After all, humans are naturally social creatures, and isolation for long periods of time can have detrimental effects on their social-emotional and mental health. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 1.9 million children ages 3 to 17 struggle with depression. However, there should be a balance between ensuring students’ emotional wellbeing with their physical health. This raises a series of difficult questions: What more should be done to ensure students can remain in school and learn, while also protecting their health and wellbeing? 

What is the individual’s responsibility during this time? 

What is the establishment’s responsibility?

In order to help create new protocols that will protect student safety while also giving them access to social opportunities, students should be encouraged to voice their opinions on the situation. The district could create a survey to find out what students and staff appreciate and dislike about current protocols, as well as their suggestions for improvements. Then, based on the results of the survey, a school board meeting could be organized to propose a modified framework with policies that will better support the adherence to protocols. For instance, there could be greater staff supervision during mealtimes to ensure students keep a six-foot distance when eating and wear their masks again once finished. There could also be a maximum capacity for the number of students that can sit at a table. 

Since they are the ones who are exposed to others daily, students should have as much input as possible in how these policies are amended. For that reason, it is important that students use their voices to suggest changes they would like to see. In doing so, they can help to create a safer environment for everyone, improve everyone’s social-emotional welfare, and most critically, allow us to remain in school.