This article was never published in The Eye of the Hurricane and is unfinished and unedited. It was planned to have been released in November 2020, but other students already had touched up on the matter, so I thought it would be redundant.
In recent weeks, there has been another COVID-19 case spike in Lawrence County. The New Castle School District sent a survey to parents, asking whether or not they would like their child to attend in-person or continue virtual instruction. Soon thereafter, a New Castle football player was reported to have tested positive for COVID-19. So this raises the question among everyone – should I send my child back to school on November 4th or keep them in virtual learning?
One thing we’ve learned over this summer is that stay-at-home orders, school shutdowns, social distancing, and mask-wearing work. But we also learned in the spring that a lot of students struggle with the style of online learning. But meanwhile, other students thrive. But, in my opinion, a student’s preferred style of learning should not dictate their means of going to school during the next quarter. There are actually quite a few factors that go into play.
Statistics & Insights
First and foremost, I’d like to go over the recent statistics of COVID-19 in Lawrence County. Because our county’s population is so small, it’s actually hard to go over statistics daily. Therefore, I will be using weekly statistics, rather than daily statistics.
To the right is a graphic I made to represent the weekly COVID-19 case increase in Lawrence County. Just as a reminder, notice how little cases there were between the week of April 19 and June 14. That is because for the majority of this period we were under the stay-at-home order. A few weeks after the mandate was lifted, there was an uptick in cases which was not seen at the beginning of the pandemic. It slowed down as summer came to a close, but spiked back up in mid-September to where we currently stand.
Now, on the topic of positive COVID cases, what about the negative ones? Because there isn’t a daily tracker for these on the Department of Health’s website, I’ve instead had to rely on Representative Sainato’s Facebook page for weekly counts. Within the week of October 18, there were approximately 402 negative test results. That means that the test positivity rate in Lawrence County is a whopping 23.7%, significantly higher than surrounding counties.
Newer cases are not directly associated with nursing homes, particularly Quality Life Services (Golden Hill) where the outbreak began. According to the latest figures, 91 of their 97 residents have tested positive since the pandemic began, as well as 48 employees. Considering Lawrence County has had more than 300 new cases in the past month, this means that there must be a community spread in addition to the spread at the nursing home. This, of course, is because much of the staff members at Quality Life Services go home to their families, where they may spread the coronavirus. If schools were to reopen, for example, the children of the staff at hospitals and nursing homes are at a much higher risk of having COVID-19 than many other students.
Looking from a pessimistic point of view towards this, the students will also likely take off their masks throughout the day to eat or to have a “mask break”. This, naturally, will cause particles of the virus, if the student has the virus, to travel through the air when they breathe or talk. Some students may opt to not wear a mask correctly or may not have a proper-fitting mask. Not to mention that many younger students will have trouble keeping the mask on all day and will likely touch it a lot.
The Learning Methods
Next, I’d like to go over the district’s plans for the up-and-coming quarter. District-wide, the first and most important change is the requirement of masks during the school day, which includes (but is not limited to) classrooms, hallways, common areas, and buses. Regular mask breaks will be given to students, and they are not required to wear them while eating or outdoors when six feet apart. Students are also prohibited from carrying backpacks, zipper-type binders, and purses to school to shorten security lines. Parents are required to complete a health check including a temperature screening before sending their child to school. Students in grades 3-12 are required to also bring a fully charged device to school for learning purposes only.
At Lockley, hybrid students will return to school five days per week, starting at 8:35 AM. Students would be dismissed at noon to continue virtual learning from home from 1:00 PM to 2:45 PM. Students receive lunch in a to-go bag upon dismissal. Students who opt into virtual learning will be assigned to a virtual teacher, who may or may not be their previously assigned teacher. All synchronous lessons will be recorded and archived and shared at the teacher’s discretion.
At George Washington, students would follow a similar schedule to those at Lockley, arriving at 8:10 AM instead. Arrival will be staggered in the morning, as well as dismissal at 11:25 AM. Students shall return home by 12:35 and will then continue learning virtually for the next hour and forty-five minutes. Students who opt into virtual learning will be assigned to a virtual teacher, who may or may not be their previously assigned teacher. All synchronous lessons will be recorded and archived and shared at the teacher’s discretion.
The High School uses a different method, with A Group, B Group, and V Group. A Group consists of those who have last names A-L, B Group consists of those who have last names M-Z, and V Group consists of virtual students. Bell schedules have changed, with the first period starting at 8:00 AM and the ninth period ending at 2:00. Group A will attend school on Monday and Tuesday, while Group B will attend school on Thursday and Friday. The opposite group will be attending virtual school at the same time as Group V during this time, which are live streams of the in-person classes.
Wednesdays are a bit different. All students and staff members will work from home for the deep cleaning of the school. Groups A & B will have asynchronous virtual learning during this day. Group V will have asynchronous virtual learning from 7:30 AM to 11:30 AM, then synchronous (live-streamed) learning from then until 2:30. This will allow for additional targeted support for students who do not participate in brick-and-mortar instruction.
Should any parent want to change their child’s selected educational option, you may do so until November 3rd.
Why Shouldn’t We Go Back?
To put it simply, it is putting people at risk. To further elaborate, I do not think students can be trusted to maintain a social distance from their peers, both within and outside of school. In fact, it’s pretty much been proven at this point, both on a local and national scale. Plus, many students go home to their parents, many of whom are essential employees, and some of which may have a condition that risks them to long-term health effects given they contract COVID-19.
On Monday, October 26, The Department of Health met with local superintendents warning about rising COVID-19 cases. They said they will make a recommendation on Monday for the county.
Truth is, New Castle would be reopening schools at a time where nearly every other district in the county has had to close at least one school. As of the writing of this article, Laurel, LCCTC, Mohawk, New Castle, Neshannock, and Shenango have all had COVID cases within their districts. The majority of those schools have closed for at least two weeks, many of which closed within the last two weeks.
The last day we were taught in-person was March 12th. That day is considered the day the pandemic got “real” in the United States. Basketball games were being canceled, celebrities were catching COVID, it opened everyone’s eyes. I remember getting the notification on my phone from Apple News telling me that there was one confirmed positive case. One! Now, over nine months later, we are approaching 9 MILLION cases. That’s almost 3% of the U.S. population! Why is it that we closed schools at 1,700 cases but are reopening at 9 million? It’s putting people at risk!
“But children are the least vulnerable group.” While this is true, these children go home to their parents, grandparents, and other guardians. People that are at a higher risk. Therefore, putting them at risk. And even if their parents/guardians are not considered a higher-risk group, those people have to go to work, the grocery store, the pharmacy, you name it. Therefore, they are indirectly putting other people at risk. They might not even know they have COVID – you can be asymptomatic. Herd immunity does not exist either – the virus does not create enough antibodies to last.
Simply put, this is still a virus we don’t know much about. It could mutate into a more deadly strain at any moment. Vaccines that are being tested could be unsuccessful. We just don’t know.
What Do Students Think?
Students in New Castle want to go back to school. Don’t believe me? Ask literally any student, odds are they’ll say they want to go back. I collected some statements from New Castle students on whether they want to go back and their reasoning behind it.
Dante Mangieri, a senior, says while he’d like to go back, he thinks it isn’t the right time.
Sarah Hunyadi, a junior, says she plans on attending classes virtually. “I personally feel like going back in the fall with the coronavirus still being active is not safe,” she said. “Online is the best option for both the students’ and teachers’ health. Coming from a student’s perspective, no student will be wearing their mask correctly. The virus is a big deal and no one is taking it seriously.”
Gavin Petrone, a sophomore, initially planned on attending classes in-person but changed his mind due to the recent spike in cases. “I’m hoping the teaching style is different,” he said.