I Work at a School, and I'm Worried About In-Person Learning This Fall

There is no shortage of opinions when it comes to the topic of reopening schools in a few weeks. Parents are divided on whether the risk to their children's mental health or physical health is greater. Keep kids home, and they are losing out on important social-emotional growth. Send them to school, and risk them contracting COVID-19. Neither option is good, and I'm not sure of the right answer. But more and more, I'm becoming convinced there isn't one. As a parent, I will make the choice that feels best for my family, but as an employee at a private school, I may not have the same choice when it comes to my job. Our school is reopening in the fall, and I am really nervous.

I'm the communications manager at a private school outside of Boston. The families at our school are, in large part, well-off financially. Our school is lucky to have the resources and building space to reopen its campus in the fall under strict guidelines. We have the financial means to provide every safety precaution available, and large enough learning spaces that our roughly 300 students can be spaced out six-feet apart for in-person learning, the theoretically safest setup.

But that's the thing: to me, the safety feels theoretical. We can require all students and faculty members to wear masks. We can mandate that people stay at least six-feet apart from each other. We can have hand washing stations in every classroom, and hand sanitizer available all over school, but we cannot predict how the virus will impact our students once they are back on campus. Not enough is known about COVID-19 — we see that by conflicting reports from across the country. For the most part, kids have been at home, separated from large groups since the pandemic began in March. This feels like a huge experiment, and one that has serious implications should it fail.

As a non-teacher faculty member, I won't be in a classroom or even assigned to aid in a student cohort. I might not even be required to return to campus. I might have the opportunity to work from the safety of my home — I'm not exactly sure what my role will look like yet. But my friends and colleagues at school will not have that opportunity. For them, I am fearful.

And I can't even imagine the fear in teachers and school employees at lower-income schools. Public school districts have an even more difficult decision to make. Many students rely on schools for internet access and even meals, which makes keeping schools closed seem like a cruel choice. But how can we open schools and still keep students and teachers safe?

Questions like these, and many others, have been keeping me up at night as the first day of school approaches. I am afraid of my friends getting sick. I am afraid of students I love getting sick. The only way out is through, as they say, and we will only know the results of this experiment once it is underway. My hope is that it'll be better than I fear.