Credit: Jeff Koterba, Omaha World Herald, NE

I’m a 16 year old rising 11th grader concerned about education this fall. Governor Newson has mandated Santa Barbara County schools begin the school year fully remote. But even before Governor Newson ordered this mandate, local school teachers were expressing concern for their own safety if in-person schooling started this fall. Furthermore, the California Teachers Association is advocating a comprehensive list of requirements that must be met before in-person school returns. I am concerned that if schools wait until all these requirements are met, we won’t be back to in-person school for months or even years.

Students and parents want schooling to be held in person. Surveys of Santa Barbara families show 77 percent of parents want their students to go back to school this fall; 80 percent of high school students surveyed said they also wanted in-person learning.If one thing is clear, it is that most students and parents wanted school in-person this fall.

My concern is that when Santa Barbara County schools are allowed to reopen, they won’t because of the teachers. During the public comment portion of the Santa Barbara School Board Meeting on July 15, most of the concern about in-person school came from teachers and not the students or the parents. In fact, one of the few students who did get to speak was a rising senior who wanted to be in school for her final year to have a physical experience rather than a virtual one.

Many of the teachers who spoke expressed worry for their own safety. If the only consideration was safety, then teachers are justified in their desire for 100 percent remote learning. However, I would argue there are risks to everything, including safety. If school is 100 percent online for the entire school year, students risk the ability to connect in person with friends, risk their social life,risk not getting quality education,risk their sports and fitness, risk losing support, risk losing their purpose and a sense of community. The parents are also losing a lot, including possibly their jobs.

When teachers are paralyzed by fear, what message does that give the youth? Adults would rather protect themselves than take a risk that is potentially harmless and could better future generations.

The fact of the matter is that there are risks no matter what we do. In-person learning risks physical safety. And yet, online learning has the risk of increasing sucide, deteriorating social skills, hurting mental health, and hurting the educational and professional prospects of countless students for years to come. And teachers risk poorer mental health and reduced purpose by isolating themselves as well. Parents risk not having jobs because they need to be with their children.

I understand the fear. People are dying. But what we do with this fear is what defines us, not the fear itself.

I don’t have all of the answers, mostly questions. But listening is the first step. Thinking, processing, coming to conclusions is the second. The third is to express. So let us listen. Let us process. Let us express how we want to be remembered for what we did when we faced down a pandemic that greatly threatened our educational system and our very future: the next generation. Did we decide on a course of courage or a course of fear?


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