Over the past several months nearly every American and person around the world has experienced some form of major upheaval in the way that they live their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As mandatory lockdowns and stay-at-home orders quickly swept through the nation, a growing sense of anxiety and uncertainty followed not long after. Schools were no exception as many institutions were forced to temporarily cease operations as a result of COVID-19, and April 22nd all Massachusetts schools were officially closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Realizing the need for continuity of education during the remainder of the school year, districts across the country employed a system of remote learning.
Remote learning is a much more flexible approach to education in which students complete work from home and video conference with their teachers through services such as Zoom to receive assignments and discuss class material. Although the system of remote learning has proven itself mostly sufficient in the short term, criticisms and concerns over the quality of education, enthusiasm amongst students, and grading of work have called the legitimacy and effectiveness of remote learning into question. As Massachusetts begins to ease its restrictions and progress through its four-phase reopening plan, the question of how schools will reopen later this year has become increasingly common among parents and students throughout Massachusetts.
As school districts begin preparations for the possible resumption of in-person education later this year, a memo recently released by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education detailing planned guidelines and restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 between students and teachers has drawn widespread criticism among parents, students, and teachers alike. Guidelines detailed in the state memo include mandatory usage of masks, mandatory social distancing while in school, limiting class sizes and exposure to other students to no more than ten people, limiting students to a single teacher, and allowing students to have contact with a maximum of ten people while at school. Critics of the planned guidelines and restrictions argue that they would damage the mental health of students and lower the quality of education that they receive. The Massachusetts Teachers Association released a statement in response to guidelines, criticizing them as “impractical”, and a petition on Change.org demanding that students return to school without restrictions received over 40,000 signatures before disappearing from the website.
Seeking to better understand students’ opinions towards the proposed guidelines and the possibility of restrictions for schools later this year, I released a survey asking students their opinions towards the response to the COVID-19 Pandemic and the guidelines proposed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The survey received 42 responses, consisting primarily of Rising Seniors and making up over 10 percent of the student body. Around 33% of students surveyed know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, most students see COVID-19 as either a “somewhat serious” (40.5%) or “very serious” (31%) threat to public safety, and a majority (62%) of students say that lockdowns and restrictions resulting from COVID-19 have had a negative impact on their mental health.
Remote learning has been received somewhat negatively by students, with 50% of students surveyed saying that they are not satisfied with the current system of remote learning, around 26% of students saying that they were satisfied, and the remainder remaining undecided or having no definitive opinion towards the issue. Support for continuing remote learning for either part of or the entirety of the upcoming academic year received similar amounts of support, with around 26% of students supporting the idea and around 64% opposing it.
Support amongst students for the proposed state guidelines varies by issue but remains limited across the board. Mandatory usage of masks while at school proved to be the most popular restriction recommended by the state, with around 40% of students surveyed in support of restriction. Other guidelines proposed by the state saw much less support, with proposals to limit class sizes to a maximum of ten students and enforce mandatory social distancing while at school, and limit contact with other students to a maximum of ten receiving around 31%, 21%, and 17% support respectively.
When asked to anonymously leave any remaining thoughts regarding COVID-19 restrictions and their impact on education, students had many concerns. Several students complained that they felt that remote learning consisted primarily of busywork and taught them very little, while other students were concerned that extracurricular activities such as sports would be eliminated as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
Although students at CHS generally acknowledge the threat that COVID-19 plays to public safety, support for guidelines and restrictions proposed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education remains limited. This suggests that restrictions proposed by the state may be considered too extreme by most students, or that growing numbers of students are willing to risk contracting COVID-19 in exchange for a resumption of normal daily life. Limited support for restrictions also suggests that they may be difficult to enforce if enacted due to the possibility of pushback from parents, teachers, and students. Although the success of restrictions will remain unknown unless they are tested in practice, limited support suggests that a large amount of the student body wishes for education to return to normal regardless of the risks it may present.
Survey Results: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1ACU-Jt_0sIer0oixf6dCyjIxLbcXY34YOX2gx1AYCsM/viewanalytics