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Flipside September 2021 cover

Juniors Tori Ray, Oliver Bowles and Omar Maraikayer stand outside the cafeteria in George Washington High School on Aug. 17, before masks were made mandatory in Kanawha County schools on Aug. 20. Students are finally back in the school building, but how long will it last with the delta variant of COVID-19 rapidly infecting people?

Over the past couple of weeks, schools all across West Virginia have been opening their doors in hopes of a fresh start and a normal year.

Already, it is possible to see the repercussions for assuming that it was safe to jump back into regular schooling. Especially in terms of middle and high schools, there is a shocking lack of requirements in place for the prevention of COVID-19.

In Kanawha County, vaccinations are not required, and masks were only mandated again at the end of the second week of school. Most schools have decreased the precautions that were in place last year, lacking socially distanced spaces or altered schedules to decrease student congestion. This chance at normalcy has already turned sour as more and more cases are popping up in staff members as well as students.

As these cases emerge, administrators have been racing to contact trace and notify other students who may be at risk. High school students who can prove that they have been vaccinated are sent back to class, while those who are not able to do so must be quarantined to watch for symptoms.

While this, in theory, is a good way to handle the spread, many of the active cases come from fully vaccinated students or staff. Is it safe to send highly exposed students back into the classroom, vaccination or not?

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It is also important to consider the time delay that comes with contact tracing and waiting for test results to come back. A student may have attended school for three days before feeling ill and getting tested, so while waiting for those results, other students may have been already exposed by them and then spread it further, all before they are even able to be notified about being exposed. It’s a dangerous balance of risks, on all fronts.

Despite the climbing number of active cases, many school administrators and members of the Board of Education are determined to keep students in school this year, to the best of their ability. This comes after a year of mostly virtual and remote learning.

It is impossible to ignore the damage that online learning inflicted on the average student. It is easy to see that grades and scores were down, but more importantly, many students began to care less and less about their schoolwork and education. They no longer wanted to engage with their virtual classes or complete assignments. This shift in mindset is more damaging than any bad score.

It is clear that students need to return to a classic school experience, but it comes at the price of a surge of cases. Only time will tell how the rest of the 2021-2022 school year will play out, but it is clear that the risks of last year are still very much a force to be reckoned with.

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