Expectations and Reality of a school during a pandemic


Laney Stephens

Desks Set up For Social Distancing

On a mild fall morning in early October, students, staff, and teachers trickled into the school building for the first time since March. Masked students meandered down the shiny linoleum hallways towards their assigned classrooms in which they would attend virtual school.

The near-deserted classrooms of early October may have seemed a long way off from school as we know it, however, it was the first key step to the district’s reopening plan. The next major stage went into effect in November, in which students had the option of remaining at home or attending in-person classes. The primary difference was that students who came to school could move between classes in the building, as opposed to staying in place throughout the day. TEA forced Austin ISD’s hand by not providing any funding for any school offering in-person not offering in-person classes starting week nine of the school year, leaving the district without much of a choice. Still, this plan could have been seen as overconfident, risky, and quite frankly, tone-deaf. After all, the US has continued to lead the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, and Texas had played a major role in that. So how safe was this plan after all?

In theory, it should have been perfectly safe, but that was assuming perfect execution. Dr. Mark Escott, one of Austin’s top public health officials, was quoted as endorsing the plan in September. “If the community is actively engaged in the masking and social distancing, inside the classroom and outside of the classroom, not only will this be successful now, we can continue to keep the schools open throughout the semester,” Escott said. This presented some glaring concerns. Notably, high school students have struggled with social distancing, both outside of school, and in school according to some teachers.

In October, some were apprehensive about the return to school. “There are so many unknowns,” one teacher said. Many were concerned that we didn’t have enough control over the virus, and were not prepared to reopen that soon. These teachers, who never signed up to be on the front lines of a pandemic, were advocating not only for the health and safety of themselves, but others as well. After all, these were not inconsequential decisions, and making the wrong one could end up costing lives. Unfortunately, the reopening plan faced a hiccup recently when multiple positive cases were reported at Austin High. The campus was closed for three days for testing and decision making. “I think that Austin High is an amazing reflection of society at large,” one teacher said. Inconveniently, society at large has struggled with social distancing, mask-wearing, and controlling the virus. It is clear that the plan has not been executed perfectly. However, there’s no reason to throw in the towel just yet. While reopening has not gone to plan, that doesn’t mean that it can’t from here on out. If the community can come together and commit to following safety measures inside and outside of school, the months to come can be much more successful. For the most part, the people of Austin High have the ability to determine the safety and success of the rest of the school year.