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Schools should not go back to online-only learning, despite the omicron surge

Classrooms are frantically being filled with the foreign faces of substitute teachers. Lesson instructions are being omitted, leaving the students still present to figure it out for themselves. COVID-19, specifically with the new variant omicron, is crippling our schools.

Omicron is COVID-19’s newest variant. It was first detected in early November in Botswana and days later in South Africa. On Dec. 1, the United States had its first confirmed case. While with the original strand, first found in Wuhan, China, an individual would likely only pass the virus to only two to three people, the delta variant almost doubled that to six to seven people. Scientists are predicting that a person with omicron could infect around 10 people.

This past week at East High School, 49 out of 178 students were out sick with COVID-19 in one teacher’s Biology classes. Eighteen teachers out of 130 were also absent, either with omicron or caring for someone in their family who has been infected. Three of those teachers are my own.

Consequently, Denver Public schools, like all schools (public and private) are struggling to find substitutes. They are also asking teachers that are present, to cover classes in their off periods. Already 15 schools in the DPS district have transferred back to online learning with the surge of omicron.

The big question: should everyone go back online? Even though it is the safest option, physically speaking, mentally for young adults and teenagers it is not.

Colorado schools should not use online learning to slow the spread of COVID-19, but if a school or a district is forced to go online, it has to be short-term. Students have already gone through what it feels like to be online and having to relive that for some students might be a traumatic experience.

During online learning last school year, I had to help watch over my younger twin sisters who were still almost newborns while my parents went to work. When it came time to go back to school, I tried to learn while holding a baby. When I would step away for a moment, the teachers would be upset. It wasn’t exactly ideal. In fact, it was probably the most stressed and lonely I have ever felt.

I didn’t talk to anyone my age or any of my friends. My grades decreased. My mental health was cracking and online-only made the situation worse. Once we went back to a hybrid in January, I was so grateful. I will never take school for granted again.

Students felt isolated and alone during the lockdown. We struggled to talk, even to the people we lived with. Having an outlet like in-person learning allows students to connect with the people around them and find out who they are. If they were to continue online learning, suicide, anxiety, and depression rates will rise from where they are now.

Instead, schools could go back to a hybrid model where students come in on certain days. They could also offer the option to students to commit to online learning if they are at risk or feel uncomfortable. Allowing a hybrid model where students can come in on certain days allows them to still feel connected with each other even if they can’t see each other every day.

On Nightly News with Lester Holt students said they were “less interested”, life was “becoming ‘overwhelming’, grades [were] slightly dropping… thinking “everything’s getting worse.”

I spoke with my peers, teachers, and administrators at East High School: some said it is better to wait it out or go online short-term and then return; others wanted to find a different option completely since the last school shut down shattered their mental health.

Grace Lyferd, a ninth-grade student said, “I know for a lot of students, it would be detrimental for them to go back online.”  Another student, Zari, said, “Personally, online really did horrible things for me.”

East High School’s Vice Principal, Nathan Grover said, “Kids sitting at home, being isolated, not being able to socialize, wearing masks, all of those things definitely takes a toll.”

After a tumultuous two years, students are finally adjusting to the new normal with masks at school. The future was looking bright. Going back online would have students’ grades decreasing again, students would be less engaged, and the feeling of isolation and hopelessness would creep back in, if not already there.

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