School Should Go Online

COVID-19 at the Academy is already out of hand. Omicron has caused upwards of 30 positive cases in less than two weeks of school and many more absences for reasons such as waiting for a COVID test or testing positive over the break. Currently, cases are skyrocketing in our state and projections say that we have not even reached the peak of this variant. While I think it would have been more beneficial to start school online to situate students that traveled over break, it is too late for that. Remote learning worked last year in order to combat the risk of the virus and it is the right option for our school now. The extreme transmissibility of Omicron, the unreliability of hybrid classes, and the influx of both student and teacher absences are huge problems within the Academy community and the only solution is to move school online. 

Right now, the school has the online sphere available for those that are sick, but that warrants the thinking that they are just waiting for everyone to get infected. No one is immune from this variant and sitting in classrooms for 75 minute periods, eating lunch unmasked everyday in the dining hall, and proceeding as we did before Omicron simply does not make sense. The Academy has explicitly stated that students that test positive for COVID that are online are allowed to sit in on classes, but the integrated hybrid option is not available as it was in the Spring of 2021. Students coming back from Zoom quarantine periods end up really behind in all of their classes and this format incentivizes hard-working Academy students to go to school sick, so as not to miss anything. Everyone knows that missing one or two days of school at the Academy can be detrimental. Teachers that test positive most commonly have students at school all log onto Zoom individually, which provides a hybrid environment that is not much different from being at home on Zoom, but being at home is undoubtedly safer. 

Our school, unlike the majority of APS, has the resources to go online. Students in the upper divisions are required to have a laptop and we have gone remote before. The state is not shutting the public school system down because of the toll it takes on people with elementary aged children and the technological resource disparity within New Mexico. But the Academy has neither of these handicaps. The responsible decision is to move online before more teachers catch the virus and frantic decisions have to be made about the future of classes. 

Communication from the Academy has emphasized the mildness of the new strain as the reason to stay in person, as well as the negative impacts of being on Zoom for school full time. While I agree with their stance on the mental health detriments of social isolation, this strain does take a toll on people, giving them mild to severe cold-like symptoms, not to mention the potential effects of “long Covid.” Students who are weary of the virus do not have a choice and are forced to either attend school, which they may or may not feel comfortable with, or stay home and miss classes. 

COVID testing is really hard to come by right now and it is often inaccurate with the new variant. It would be best to move classes online to provide cohesion until the end of the Omicron peak, which is predicted to be late January or early February. This would let the virus settle out and it would allow for more studies to come out regarding this new strain. The issue right now is that it is so new and unfamiliar that no one quite knows how to proceed. Within the scope of New Mexico, Santa Fe has opted for remote learning in the past week and Taos Municipal Schools went remote after Winter Break. Many schools across the country have been forced to close because of teachers testing positive, and a shortage of teachers is what the Academy is heading toward. A move online is guaranteed to upset some, but it is impossible to please everyone. As for the mental health side, students will feel more comfortable knowing that the online period will come to an end within a few weeks. The biggest issue with 2020 was the never-ending feel of online school. I am not suggesting an indefinite move online that shuts down athletics and other extracurricular activities; I am merely suggesting that we go online during the peak of the virus to protect the academic section of school. Students should be able to decide whether or not they feel safe and would like to continue their extracurriculars. Right now the move is a matter of student and teacher safety. The Academy needs to take accountability for the health of its community.