Late at night on August 20th, over 40 protesters congregated outside of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s home in Holland, Michigan, donning signs that read “Wake up Betsy,” and “People over profit.”
Protests just like this one are happening all over the country in response to the return of students to in-person classes for the 2020/21 school year. These gatherings consist of educators, administrators and parents concerned for the health and safety of local school systems during the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision-making process regarding how each school district should respond to delivering quality education to students during the COVID-19 pandemic proved a difficult and divisive task.
According to Dr. Nicola Findley, professor of education, “In Michigan, the governor and legislators presented a plan in mid-August for safe return to schools. This made it clear that the decision about in-person classes would be up to local school districts, although districts are required to submit plans for how they intend to educate students at this time.”
Because each school district implemented different plans and protocols for COVID-19, policies vary widely from district to district, as does the public’s approval.
“I think the decisions that have been made in different districts do tend to reflect local community wishes and that’s good, but any decision has pros and cons and will be met with some resistance,” said Findley.
The pros and cons of resuming in-person classes entail many different issues, a major one involving the ability of both teachers and students to follow the safety protocols prescribed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Personally, I don’t think that allowing public schools to open was a very sound idea,” said Martin Betancourt (‘21).
“The student to teacher ratio is already eighteen to one and few classrooms are going to allow proper distancing. Hallways are also a huge problem with the class rotation and all of the students walking through. Of course, if schools do open, students and staff should be required to wear masks.”
Another highly contested matter each school district considered in their COVID-19 response plans involves whether or not quality education can be delivered via online courses.
“I think that online classes can be useful to many students, especially younger students. These kids are part of a generation that is growing with technology so adjusting would be fairly easy for them. That is, if they have the means to attend remotely,” said Betancourt.
Whether online-learning is an acceptable substitute for in-person classes proves a divisive issue among educators as much as it is among parents of students.
“Most early grade educators argue that online classes may include some helpful ways to individualize learning, provide alternative experiences, support practice and other advantages,” said Findley.
“However, they often argue that this is best done in an in-person environment with the support of a skilled teacher who has a relationship with each child.”
Regardless of how each school district responds to the coronavirus pandemic, each district crafted their unique plan with two things in mind delivering a quality education and keeping students safe.