The Lower Merion School Board is currently deciding whether or not students will return to hybrid schooling this coming Monday, January 11th.
This decision comes with controversy. Those in favor, primarily parents, argue the lack of socialization is damaging, and we have seen statistics on rising suicides and mental health issues across teenagers to support that reasoning. Many students are struggling to different degrees with the lack of in-person interaction.
I struggle with the virtual scape; it is not the beneficial social experience that hybrid provides, but hybrid causes more trouble than it is worth. The nature of this pandemic requires that we stay separate for the sake of survival—if not for us directly, then for our loved ones and the greater community. Though I would love the chance to recapture my ideal senior year, I cannot openly support our return to school.
It is selfish in nature to dangle the idea of normalcy in the faces of struggling children and employees—giving them a choice in the matter, it is even more so. There is a danger to returning students and faculty, whether our district’s COVID numbers are better than the surrounding districts or not. We have yet to learn of the impact due to holiday travel and family interactions, and though we may try, precautions we take are never guaranteed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Besides the thread of the virus, an underlying issue remains the most prominent in my social sphere: the crumbling mental health of our community. We must acknowledge the guilt and further mental distress students who return will face. Many students, if not a majority, feel guilty for their desire to return to school, yet most are suffering without in-person learning.
It is cruel and unusual to allow students to fight with the reality that their mental health may require interaction, but that their need for interaction is harmful to the world. That is a choice no family should have to make: should we prioritize the common good or help our child with their declining mental stability?
It is the district’s responsibility to maintain the safety of its students and employees. So when the board allows us to return, they are openly declaring that we are safe. We are not. Our numbers nationwide are worse than ever before, and this decision will be one of many to define the harsh winter that we will face as a country.
Throwing our students, faculty, and district employees back into a possible COVID-19 crockpot is a risk we cannot afford. We have healthy people now, and more than ever, we are being advised to treat that health with great care and maintain it.
Though I miss socially-distanced lunches and in-class interaction, it will not make up for the plausibility of a severe outbreak within our community. We have better numbers than the surrounding areas, let us not throw it all away for a pathetic attempt at reliving the past.