School Reopening: What’s the Plan?

Teacher’s Opinions on Reopening Plans

Katie Vastola and Moira Sirois

As coronavirus cases rise across the country, Alexandria City Public School (ACPS) is discussing options for reopening schools. While it is unlikely that high school students will go back this year, they are still planning for the possibility of it happening. Teachers have mixed feelings about whether or not it is worth it to return.

Going back to school creates health concerns because students and staff would be at a higher risk of exposure. T.C. Williams is already overcrowded, so there are questions about the possibility of following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines with the current class sizes. Some classes have around 25 to 30 students, and it is not possible to fit that many kids in a room while also being socially distant.

English teacher Katherine Bentley said she doesn’t think her room has adequate space for social distancing.

History teacher Philip Engle said, “I don’t see how we can socially distance at kagan tables or if we sit [students] rows. I do not see how that would work in a classroom, let alone the hallways or lunchroom. The building is overcrowded under normal circumstances.”

Health and safety concerns, however, are the driving force in making teachers not want to teach in person right now. Engle said that while he would have lesson plans prepared for in-person school, he is concerned about going back because of his health concerns. “I have been very strict in not going out of my home unless it was absolutely necessary such as a run to the grocery store,” said Engle, “I don’t want that to go to waste.” 

Mental health has been a concern during the pandemic. Bentley said, “I think [returning] would be ‘better’ in terms of emotional and social health, but in terms of public safety and physical health, it would probably not be better. It would probably be much worse.” The mental health benefits might not be worth the physical health risks.

Engle said, “I have two young children and I’d like to be around to see them become adults, so I would feel very uncomfortable about coming back right now, especially with how the virus is now reaching new records of infections.”

“I would be very, very excited to see students in person! But, realistically, I don’t know if that will be safe since TCW is such a big school,” said Bentley. We agree with her statement because although it would be fun to see friends and peers, it is not worth the risks that go along with it. 

While we wish it was safe to be in person, the model that ACPS has for virtual school is well thought out. Engle said his students have been very patient and terrific throughout the whole year so far. He said, “nothing can replace in person instruction, but this is a time where common sense and flexibility has to be used and my students have shown a ton of both.”

Bentley said virtual school is going better than she expected and feels like everyone has learned lessons from the 4th quarter last year. She said, “now we have set up clear expectations, a manageable schedule, and everyone is more familiar with online tools like Zoom or Nearpod.”

Adjusting to a new format of school is never easy, but Engle said his students have made this year more enjoyable. 

ACPS won’t force anybody to go in person if they don’t want to, so there will still be a virtual option.