As schools begin to reopen or begin virtual teaching this fall, institutions face the difficult decision of whether or not they should hold in-person classes. Private schools possess higher funds and more resources to enforce safety precautions that enable students to physically attend school each day, putting students enrolled in private institutions at an advantage. Therefore, public schools require more funding so that they can safely conduct in-person instruction or provide opportunities for in-person connections between students and teachers. Although some may argue that remote learning can offer an equally robust education, students at public schools deserve the chance to benefit from an in-person experience just as much as those enrolled in private schools. 

CDC Guidelines

The Center for Disease Control has recently posted guidelines that both private and public schools are supposed to follow when reopening their institutions. These guidelines can play a major role in schools deciding whether or not they can safely offer in-person classes. Although the CDC acknowledged the fact that in-person schooling would best benefit the students socially and mentally, the physical health of their communities could be compromised depending on the opening circumstances. In order for a school to safely reopen, cleaning and disinfecting procedures need to be in place. The temperatures of the school administrators and students should be checked daily. Students and any administrators at schools cannot share objects, and transportation provided by the school should be postponed until further notice. Food services should not be provided by the school either for the time being. The quality of a school’s ventilation system is also a major component in determining whether or not they should open. The most ideal situation for a school would be to have a strong air conditioning system that reaches every classroom, open windows in every classroom, and fans in every classroom; this increases airflow and reduces the spread of the virus. Overall, the CDC declared that the highest risk option for schools to reopen would be holding all classes and activities in person, whereas the lowest risk option would be transferring all classes and activities to virtual platforms. 

Public Schools Need Funding

It’s no surprise that fewer students at a school mean less of a risk that the virus spreads. The sheer fact that private schools have a lower number of students attending their institutions puts them at an advantage over public schools in the reopening process. With fewer people inside of a building, private institutions can more efficiently remain 6 feet apart from one another. Private schools’ selection process requires that potential students apply to their institutions and may be granted or denied acceptance. Public schools do not have the option of turning students away; therefore, their student population is inevitably higher. Private schools also charge tuition, which provides funding for the school. In terms of COVID19, the tuition that private schools receive can be put towards new ventilation systems, thermometers for temperature checks, means for socially distancing in the classroom (plexiglass between desks), new technology, and more. In order to level out the playing field, public schools need more funding from the government so that their students don’t fall behind in the age of COVID. 

Superintendents of various public school districts across the country have acknowledged the fact that reopening schools will cost more money, due to the necessary protective equipment and tools for sanitization methods. Superintendents have also realized that public schools will need more funding to support the mental health of students returning to school after the past six months; they predict that more nurses and counselor services will be needed by students this fall. Unfortunately, with the fragile condition of the economy, states have been continuously cutting K-12 education spending. The Philadelphia schools are projecting a $38 million deficit for the 2020-2021 school year. New York City schools have experienced $185 million in budget cuts this past year. Florida’s Broward County Public Schools have announced a hiring freeze as they anticipate further cuts in their system as well. Paterson Public Schools in New Jersey are preparing for the layoff of 245 teachers. With fewer and fewer resources available to public school systems, we need to prioritize the education of these students, and we need to do it now… 

Effects of Online Learning

Many families struggled to support their children in their remote-learning this past spring, leading parents to worry about what their children’s future education looks like. Parents of younger students were challenged by balancing work from home while acting as teachers at the same time. Remote learning can lead to a lack of motivation in students, as they’re not as driven to learn as they did when physically attending school. Rather, online school leads children to focus merely on finishing the online assignments and checking all the boxes, instead of retracting information that they can carry to their next year of schooling. A junior in high school from California stated that when learning at home, “it is just a lot harder to stay motivated on one task without getting distracted.” Studies have also shown that those students who have experienced trauma are especially distressed by the idea of remote classes and turning their camera on for class or being potentially recorded on zoom. This adds additional pressure to parents as anxious children are less likely to reach out to their teachers for help and more likely to fall behind academically. 

These negative outcomes of remote learning have led parents to pursue private school educations for their children over public schooling, with the hopes that they will have a better chance of physically attending school. A private school in North Carolina, Thales Academy, received about 500 applications once the town’s COVID19 testing positivity rate was announced to be as high as 7%. These soaring COVID positivity rates don’t bode well for public schools, as it is nearly impossible to comply with state guidelines with the virus continuing to spread at rapid speeds. It’s much easier for private schools to meet state guidelines and CDC requirements and continue in-person learning, which makes private schools more alluring to parents. Those parents who have pulled their children from public schools and made the switch to private schools did so with the hopes of providing their children with the best (and most nondisruptive) education possible. A meaningful education, however, should not be solely offered to students attending private institutions… public school children deserve a chance too.   

Advantages of In-Person Learning 

An in-person education is extremely beneficial to students of all ages, as opposed to the virtual alternative. When physically in school, students can concentrate better because there are fewer distractions and fewer opportunities to leave the class than at home. In-person schooling results in more teacher to student time, rather than remotely submitting online assignments. Student completion rates of teacher-led classes are almost 5x higher than online learning. Being at school with a teacher helps students develop deeper understandings of the material and gives the teacher the tools to help their students by identifying student body language (ex: if students have puzzled looks on their faces, the teacher knows to review the material.) In-person learning also allows students to connect with, problem solve, and network with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Being in school gives students a chance to build meaningful relationships with people instead of staring at screens over zoom. 

Can Virtual Learning be Successful Too? 

Virtual learning definitely possesses its own advantages over in-person learning during times of a pandemic. Firstly, online learning is the lowest risk option for schools to pursue because it eliminates the potential for COVID19 to spread in school. Another benefit of remote-learning is that students can study wherever they are, so there is no excuse of being late or being unable to attend class. Courses can fit around a hectic schedule or extenuating circumstances. Online classes help students develop strong technological skills, which are important in today’s day and age as we utilize technology for many daily tasks. The delivery methods of virtual learning are also different and engaging, aiming to keep students focused on the teacher’s material. The biggest advantage of online learning, however, is its cost efficiency. In these economically uncertain times, some argue that online learning is the best option for schools (especially public schools) to pursue. Through virtual learning, public schools would be able to save the money that would have otherwise been spent on COVID19 safety measures. Virtual learning would also ensure that students from all different backgrounds with all different schedules would be able to attend class without a fear of the virus spreading. Going remote would take the pressure off of public schools in their scavenge for enough funds to successfully open up. 

Although virtual learning may be easily accessible and save money for the school, it is our states’ responsibility to do everything they can to open in-person learning for the students. In-person learning provides more than increased levels of concentration. In-person learning gives students socialization, which is necessary for their growth and development. Students who have not attended school in the past six months have experienced extreme isolation. A recent poll stated that 67% of parents are concerned that remote learning will lead their children to fall behind emotionally and socially. In-person learning also gives students a chance to utilize the guidance offices, which many students are in need of during this crazy time. Public schools need higher funding so that they can safely open their schools and supply their students with the education and support that they are entitled to. 

Give the Teachers the Tools They Need 

In-person learning would deliver the most benefits to students. However, if that cannot be attained due to the circumstances of the pandemic, public schools still need funding to make remote learning more effective and to build virtual support systems for students. Academic advising is one way that teachers can check on their students and make sure that they are staying on track academically and emotionally. Teachers should also create opportunities for students to foster peer to peer connections to instill a sense of socialization. There are definitely ways for teachers to be creative in their remote instruction; however, they need the state’s support by means of funding. These public schools are carrying the weight of the younger generation’s education on their backs, and they need the resources to succeed.