Atlanta Public Schools

Head to Head: Should Atlanta Public Schools move forward with school reopening plans?

December 7, 2020

On December 4th, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) released their second semester plan for returning to in-person learning. In the plan, Pre-K and Special Education would return January 25th, grades 3-5 and 6, 9, and 10 would return February 1st, and grades 7, 8, 11, and 12 would have the option to return on February 4th. As of now, there are three learning options for students to choose for second semester– Virtual learning with your school, In-person learning at your school, and Atlanta Virtual Academy. 

Two Grady students were invited to share their differing opinions on reopening.

Schools should reopen for in person learning

My day consists of six hours of mandatory instruction, two hours of optional homework and around four hours of entertainment. This adds up to about 12 hours of screen time– the recommended daily amount is two hours. Parents and teachers tell students like myself to stay off of our electronics as much as we can, but then go silent when we have no choice. The idea of home can be seen in many different ways, but it can be simplified to a distraction from a professional workspace. People need to compartmentalize in order to stay sane.  We need organization in order to stay focused on our goals, which for students, is to graduate high school and set ourselves on the path to college and a career. For these reasons, Atlanta Public School’s (APS) plan to return to in-person learning starting January of 2021 is a step in the right direction.

As a junior in high school, I love Algebra– when I understand it. When I’m in school, I don’t feel the pressure of clicking a button to unmute myself (which means potentially interrupting someone with a bad connection) to ask a question about the solution to a problem. In school I’m not interrupted by my baby brother asking for a juice box or distracted by the loud banging noises from the construction outside. When I am at school, I have a mindset of getting tasks done on time and well. There’s something about the cool temperature inside the classroom and  the white brick walls that gets me focused and wanting to learn more.

The lack of being in a vibrant environment has also contributed to my lack of motivation with online school. Motivation is something that keeps me engaged. At school there were always interactive students who raised their hand for almost every question, encouraging us to do the same thing. But now we have black screens with names on them, separating us from classroom engagement and instruction. 

Students interested in art, business, sports and video production are restricted to the materials they have at their home, which not everyone has access to. Grady High School was filled with so much creativity and colors, with the courtyard, theatre and hallways being an inspiration to some, but not many homes have the same kind of detail. From the perspective of a student with a passion for creativity, it is hard to find motivation from a bright screen and the same family members in my home everyday. 

Online work and learning has affected everyone in some negative way. Returning to school may not be the safest option in these uncertain times, but it will help many students who are not up for hours on technology. For me, the prospect of returning to school will allow me to find motivation and the classroom engagement that I have been lacking online. 

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Schools should not open for in-person learning

Students all across Atlanta Public Schools (APS) have been at home for nearly nine months due to virtual learning. Some students are really eager to go back to school because they are tired of staying at home and not being able to meet their friends like they used to. To reduce the stress of staying at home and to get back to the way things were before quarantine, schools are starting to reopen. However, this may lead to more harm than good, adding to the weight our country is already bearing.

On December 3rd, APS released plans to return to in-person learning as soon as January 2021, starting with Pre-K and Special Education and eventually building up to high school in February. Students have the option to remain virtual if they desire. Protocols put in place for in-person learning include mandatory masks, screening measures, sanitizing stations, and access to personal protection equipment for both students and staff.

Although most students have adapted to online schooling, there are some students who haven’t. This may be because of a lack of availability of online services or personal matters. While these reasons for reopening are valid, the idea of going back to school is a terrible decision, as the risk of contracting COVID-19 is too high.. Many have a weak immune system, which makes them more vulnerable to the virus. Furthermore, COVID-19 can result in changes to one’s body which can be permanent or lead to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 277,825 people have already died in the United States due to COVID-19.

Ideally, a plan for reopening would include sanitizing the class after each period, giving hand sanitizers to students and making sure every student and staff member is wearing a mask and that students are following the 6 feet rule. However, it’s common sense that students and staff might break the rules that APS put in place, because they are fed up that they have to follow a certain rule and will feel like that their freedom has been limited. 

Finally, the reopening plan has some flaws which can harm both students and staff. First, if a child contracts the virus, they can pass it to immunocompromised family members, such as parents or grandparents who are extremely vulnerable to the virus. Second, this plan will cost a lot of money which could instead be going towards giving students better technology, enabling them to join classes online with fewer connectivity issues. Finally, this plan will be stressful for teachers because they have to keep in mind all of the rules which they have to enforce such as enforcing social distancing and sanitizing, while teaching to two sets of students at once. This stress will lead to a decrease in teaching ability and can affect their mental health. 

Schools should not open: the harmful effects on the students and staff heavily outweigh the potential benefits.

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