As two rising seniors at Cumberland High School, we were extremely disappointed and frustrated to hear that the School Committee decided that we would once again be completing our classes from the confines of our houses. Although virtual learning was an adequate fix at the onset of the pandemic, it was quite evident that it would not be sustainable for an extended period of time. With teachers having to seriously alter their lesson plans, and students being required to complete most of their work in total isolation and with countless distractions, anyone could have seen the limitations associated with distance learning.
In a recent School Department survey, 50 percent of families were committed to returning to school in-person, 29 percent opted for distance learning, and 21 percent were waiting for the governor to make her decision. With a large portion of the population committed to distance learning or undecided, it is surprising that the School Committee decided to go ahead and vote on Aug. 27. Why not wait four days, receive the ventilation assessment, and listen to what the governor wanted school districts to do? Especially now that the governor approved schools to reopen with full in-person learning, the decision seems quite premature.
The School Committee argued that their decision was made with the health and safety of students and staff as the top priority, which is completely understandable. There is no doubt that COVID-19 is a dangerous illness, and has the ability to rapidly spread through a group of people. However, requiring students and teachers to wear masks and having them adhere to the social distancing guidelines is an effective way to combat the virus. Data from the CDC also shows that the hospitalization and mortality rate is 9 and 16 times lower, respectively, for children aged 5-17 compared to adults aged 18-29. Not to mention, top health officials have conducted studies which show alarming rates of anxiety and depression for students in isolation, something that needs to be seriously considered. The governor and the Department of Health feel as though it is safe for students to return to school, so why does our School Committee not feel the same way?
The governor and superintendent have made it clear that anyone who does not feel comfortable returning to school has the opportunity to opt for distance learning. Why doesn’t everyone else have the opportunity to choose to learn in-person? The School Committee should put all their effort toward safely getting students into school buildings, and giving families a choice on which environment they want their students to learn in. We understand that this is not an easy decision to make, but we are asking the School Committee to please listen to the governor. Please consider both the academic and mental health ramifications that distance learning would have on students. Please reconsider your decision.
Brendan Johnson and Alec Lavallee
Cumberland High School Class of 2021