Colleges should teach remotely this fall even if K-12 schools don’t

By Meredith Howard | Assistant News Editor

Anxiety is high among students and parents alike regarding how this fall semester will turn out. While in-person learning is generally preferred in “normal times,” people are rightfully concerned about the public health implications surrounding a quite possibly untimely attempt to return to campuses.

While I wish remote learning was a realistic option for the U.S.’s K-12 schools, the reality is that many working parents are unable to stay at home and help their children learn using an online curriculum, and all-day childcare options are expensive (not to mention, they face similar safety concerns as schools).

Logistical difficulties with online learning don’t absolve grade schools from the responsibility to protect students’ and staff members’ health, and unfortunately, some school districts have already soundly failed in that pursuit.

North Paulding High School in Georgia went viral after it initially suspended two students (the suspensions have since been revoked) for sharing photos on social media showing a crowded hallway with some students not wearing face coverings.

The school has since seen 35 positive COVID-19 cases and closed for about a week before allowing half of the student body to return in-person on August 17. Students originally returned to North Paulding’s campus without a mask mandate and with no guarantees of social distancing. The school is now transitioning to a hybrid education model to decrease the amount of students on campus at any given time.

This reopening horror story is concerning — and I expect to see more as many K-12 schools open for in-person learning throughout the U.S. — but colleges have even less incentive to open than grade schools, because they house students who are capable of taking online courses from home independently.

It’s reasonable for students who are in programs that are more easily taught in-person, such as sciences and creative arts, but in-person college courses should be the exception rather than the rule this fall. Baylor is currently offering “less than 30%” of courses online, and a majority of students will be returning to campus. I myself would have stayed home this semester were it not for my job at The Baylor Lariat, as well as the club sport I lead.

I’m glad Baylor is giving students the option to take their classes remotely, but I don’t think this effort is enough to stem the virus. Last week, the U.S. surpassed 5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. Texas alone has seen nearly 600,000, with 5,760 originating from McLennan County.

Baylor has an average of 14,000 students on campus each semester; the university hasn’t yet announced how many students are returning in-person this semester, but regardless of whether it’s 12,000 or 13,000, that’s still adding a lot of potential spreaders to an area in which hospital officials have expressed staffing concerns due to an increase in COVID-19 patients.

Another reason Baylor students should be home this semester is that while the college can control on-campus activities and class meetings, they’re unable to regulate off-campus gatherings of students such as large parties that can act as superspreader events.

While I am more understanding of K-12 schools going back to in-person classes, I’m still dissatisfied by the lack of guidance from the Department of Education regarding the reopening of schools. We need to see a mask mandate, strict social distancing guidelines, capacity limits, sanitation guidelines and contract tracing efforts made into federal law to prevent schools such as North Paulding High School from opening without requiring basic precautions.

Overall, it would be safest for students of all ages to stick with remote learning this fall. It may be unrealistic to expect this of parents of younger children, but there’s no good excuse for colleges to keep clinging to a premature return to normalcy.