American schools are beginning to reopen, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge in states like Texas, California, Arizona, and Florida.
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The bottom line: Students want to go back and they want their schools to stay open, but they also want to feel safe when they do so. The high school students who spoke to TODAY Parents specifically mentioned mandating masks and enforcing social distancing — measures that some of their schools have not adopted.
'I feel like going back is very ignorant and dangerous'
Hannah, a tenth-grader at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, who posts under the Twitter handle "ihateice" posted pictures from her first days back in the high school's hallways this week and quickly caught the attention of thousands as well as the national media.
North Paulding's students had a choice to go back to school in person or online. Hannah, who asked that her last name be withheld, told TODAY Parents that online learning last semester "was a mess, and no one learned," so she decided to return despite concerns about her safety.
"I feel like going back is very ignorant and dangerous. Kids and adults aren’t following guidelines because Governor Kemp hasn’t made masks mandatory," she said.
"We have seen the state the rest of the country is in. I don’t understand why my county would make our safety something to be debated about."
When asked what would make her feel safe again at school, Hannah said, "To be quite honest, not going back would make me feel safest."
'I'm just nervous'
Andrew Dixon, a 16-year-old junior at Lincoln County High School in Fayetteville, Tennessee, said he also felt like he did not really have a choice about returning to school in person, though his school district did offer a virtual option.
"I have two Advanced Placement classes — which is half of my schedule — and I don’t feel like I would be successful at home," Andrew told TODAY Parents."To add to that, we don’t have any specific teacher to handle the virtual students, so teachers are responsible for the kids in class and also the kids at home. I feel like the students at home are sometimes at an automatic disadvantage because the students in the classroom are the first priority."
Andrew said going back to school has been "very interesting." Teachers wear masks, but students do not, he said. "No social distancing — the school tries to do so during lunch, but the students don’t do it," he added.
"I just feel torn, because I’m excited to go back, but nervous about doing school from home. Our district tried online in the spring, and it was bad." he said. "People are testing positive, and I’m worried I’ll be sent home to try to learn. I’m just nervous."
When he is sitting in class, Andrew said school doesn't feel that different. But then his classmates see that events like football games have been changed, and they feel mad or sad about it.
"It’s awkward," he said. "Yesterday, I had a student council meeting and we were discussing ideas, and every now and then we had to mention that COVID is still happening — worse for us now than ever."
Andrew feels that if students wear masks, it would significantly help to keep his school open and safe this year.
"I’m glad to be back with my friends and am hoping that we figure it out so we are able to go to school," he said. "I’m cautious but optimistic. Hopefully the school officials will figure it out, but what we are doing right now doesn’t give me a ton of confidence."
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'I feel safe going to school'
When classes resumed this week at Noblesville High School in Noblesville, Indiana, students were required to wear masks the entire day, with the exception of when they were eating lunch. The school is operating under a hybrid block schedule that divides the student body by last name so that students attend classes in person two days a week and virtually on Zoom two days a week. Classes last for 90 minutes and include time reserved to sterilize desks before the next class starts, and students are strongly encouraged to wash their hands between classes and maintain social distance.
Noblesville sophomore Thomas Whalen's first two days of school fell on his virtual days, so he has yet to attend in person. He told TODAY Parents he is eager to regain some normalcy to his school year, but he wants to be as safe as possible.
"My school district has done an outstanding job attempting to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19 through school," Thomas, 16, said. "I do, however, think that it would not have hurt to either push back the start of the school year to Labor Day or go fully online until Labor Day.
"I feel safe going to school, and I do think that that was the intention of the administration," he said.