Will we ever return to campus?


Nihar Patel

The empty CHS campus

On March 13th, 2020, when CUSD shut down its campuses at the beginning of the pandemic, many students felt that one month of “at-home” school might make for a nice vacation in the middle of the school year. However, as the optional Google Meets and “increase-only” grades faded into a canceled prom and postponed graduation, the excited buzz around getting to stay home all day quickly faded as well. As students pressed “submit” on their last assignments for the school year from the comfort of their beds, it was becoming increasingly clear that a quality high school education requires in-person and in-class instruction. So surely school would resume at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, right?

The original plan was to begin the 2020-2021 school year in the Phase Two hybrid model, where students would go to school two days a week and complete the remaining days online. However, as Covid-19 cases throughout California surged in August, the CUSD Board of Education decided to remain in Phase One, meaning school would continue to take place completely online for the start of the school year. As the weeks have gone by, students and teachers alike have been left wondering when they will get to return to the normalcy of in-person school.

Currently, the District has a school reopening task force for grades K-12, comprised of administrators, teachers, and counselors, including CHS Principal, Brett O’Connor. The task force’s purpose is to make recommendations about opening schools in Phase Two, to be ready if Los Angeles County permits partial reopenings. O’Connor explained that CUSD wants to be prepared to open as soon as the County gives permission. But any plans must be approved by the unions representing teachers, custodians, and support staff.

“When the County says it’s ok, I am pretty sure the School Board will say let’s go if they can reach agreement with the unions,” O’Connor said.

Those negotiations are ongoing, and raise some difficult issues about risk, as the taskforce attempts to balance the benefits of reopening with the safety concerns of students and staff.

“What do we do if a teacher says ‘I don’t feel safe coming back? I live with my mother, I’m afraid to teach. What do you do with that?” O’Connor said. “And what if we really need to clean a room deeply in passing periods? We have around 80 classrooms. Even if I bring in all my custodians, that is eight. And if all admin help, that would be 12 assisting.”

Even assuming O’Connor could clean a room as effectively as a custodian, challenges still remain. However, the return to campus for CHS sports teams proves that some in-person school activities are possible. That being said, some may question CHS’s priorities in letting sports activities resume while classes and other activities remain entirely online. CHS Junior and pre-pandemic cross-country runner and poll vaulter Liza Platonov thinks the school should be prioritizing education before sports.

“It seems a little ridiculous to me that we would prioritize sports over education, but if it makes people happy I guess I’m not going to criticize the decision.” Platonov said.

However, O’Connor explained that he believes it is critical to open up the school wherever they can, and there were ways to do that safely with sports.

“I think it’s great for students that we open up what we can open up,” O’Connor said. “If you are in girls’ basketball, it’s still good to get out of the house, exercise, have a routine, see your friends. I think those activities help students, help reduce stress, help reduce loneliness, all the good things that come from that. Everything we can open up, I want to open up.”

Back in March, students could not have imagined still being completely in online school eight months later. But here students are, eight months later, and infection rates are still climbing. If conditions improve, the District is still hoping for Phase Two partial reopening starting February 1, 2021. Until then, students can only hope that the administration is continuing to work towards reopening with their safety and education in mind.

“I hope that the administration is being responsible about this.” Platonov said. “They hold our futures in their hands.”