School District requires a binding decision on in-person or virtual instruction for the remainder of the first semester


Alexis Rejouis, Managing/Opinions Editor

Mr. Seth Alper’s fourth period AICE Psychology class has one of Olympic Heights’ highest in-person attendance rates with 14 students on Oct. 20.

Students and parents at Olympic Heights and across the school district have made their final selections for how they will be attending school for the remainder of the first semester. The “Make Your Choice 2.0” survey was issued to families on Oct. 5, and they were asked to commit to either returning to campus for in-person instruction or to be in virtual mode through Jan. 29, 2021, the end of the first semester. Survey responses were due Oct. 14.

Palm Beach School District superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy has acknowledged that the current system of having teachers simultaneously teaching students attending in person and those attending virtually has been less than ideal. A major challenge has been the unpredictability of students attending in-person one day and then attending virtually the next.

“Currently we are seeing numerous students bounce back and forth daily between in-person and distance learning,” Fennoy said. “This fluidity is taxing our teachers and many of our departments throughout the district.”

For the most part, students will be locked in to the choice their parent(s) made for them for the remainder of the first semester. The only circumstance that could alter that choice that the school district has addressed is if there is a significant spike in COVID-19 positive testing. In that case, parents who have opted for their children to attend classes in-person can change their choice to virtual learning.

Some students and parents believe that this expectation is unrealistic. They ask if the school district can make those students whose parents opted for virtual learning stay home no matter what. They are also curious if a student whose parents opted for a return to campus will be recorded as absent if he or she stays home on a given day and joins his or her classes’ Google Meet virtually.

OH sophomore Ruby Levenston expressed that “everyone’s situation is different and changing; however, I do understand the district’s point of view in requiring this.” Once locked into their choices for the remainder of the first semester, families can change that choice for the second semester, according to the school district. This is a clear sign that the district anticipates being in some form of virtual mode for the remainder of the 2020-21school year.

Another concern is what will happen if there is a higher number of students returning to in-person instruction than the school can accommodate while following COVID-19 safety protocols. While it seems as though the majority of families are leaning towards virtual school, and according to OH principal Ms. Kelly Burke OH is not expecting more than 500 students to opt for in-person instruction for the rest of the semester, it is still a concern for some students.

“Some of my classes [normally] have around 40 students, so I’m not sure how we would stick to social distancing guidelines if that many people were at school in-person,” remarked OH sophomore Samantha Levick. While it’s a long shot, and overflow rooms in schools haven’t really shown to be detrimental to learning, there is a possibility of some classes having too many students back in class and causing safety problems.

As of October 18, there are 104 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school district of Palm Beach County (55 students and 49 employees). The enactment of the “Make Your Choice 2.0” decisions will present an opportunity for this number to increase. Parents may have to send their children to brick and mortar school because they have to go to work or for other reasons, but many advise that students stay home if they can for the safety of them and their families.

“One of my parents is at high risk for the virus and we don’t want to risk their health,” said Levick. “I would definitely prefer to be at school physically, but my family’s health comes before my learning preference.”

While students are being given a say in the conversation about going to school during a pandemic, it is ultimately up to their parents to decide whether they will return to campus or stay at home. Parents have to deliberate over a number of factors, including the spread of the virus, the number of cases, the possibility of a vaccine, and their own family situation. 

“The safety concerns outweigh any missed social interactions,” explained OH parent Ms. Ilyssa Levick in regards to her decision-making process to keep her child at home. “My daughter has plenty of time in her life to be social if she is alive and healthy.”

With so much conflicting information in the news, students and parents at OH have struggled over how they will choose whether or not to return to campus. Students may be itching to go back to school and see their friends, but there are endless reasons and possibilities with COVID-19 that put social distancing over social interaction.