What do the kids think about reopening schools? K-12 students sound off on COVID-19

By Leanne Italie, The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Parents have weighed in on reopening schools. Teachers have weighed in. Public health experts, too, along with cities, states and President Donald Trump.

But what about the kids themselves? As the grown-ups fret, kindergartners to high schoolers faced with a range of scenarios for virtual and in-person classes are expressing both fear and glee over leaving home to learn.

Many said they’re most worried about fellow students breaking the rules on wearing masks and keeping their distance, especially in areas that are hot spots for the coronavirus.

“We’ll be home in a month,” said a skeptical Peter Klamka, an eighth-grader in Las Vegas, in a county that logged 95% of new coronavirus cases reported in Nevada early last week.

The 13-year-old will return to his private school in about three weeks.

“Some kids will be more responsible than others. I’m not looking forward to it but I’ve got to go school so I’d rather be there in person,” Peter said.

Not yet 5, kindergartner Rivington Hall in Westport, Connecticut, will begin her first big-kid year on Zoom after finishing preschool at home. That may change later in the year.

“I’d rather go to school because it has more toys and it’s more fun,” she said as she munched on animal crackers and sipped from a juice box.

Anxious parents around the country are looking to schools that have already opened for signs of how it might go. One, North Paulding High School in suburban Atlanta, rescinded a five-day suspension for a student who shared photos and video of crowded hallways and few students in masks after doors opened this month.

The school has since suffered an outbreak of COVID-19, along with other schools in hard-hit Georgia.

Nearly 50 miles away in Alpharetta, Georgia, 10-year-old Collier Evans will attend school remotely when he begins fifth grade Aug. 17. He could have gone in person full time or picked a blended option but said he was anxious about returning to school.

“My parents and me, we said we don’t want to go in a classroom, get sick and then I’d bring it home and get my family sick,” Collier said.

As for distance learning, he said: “I hope it’s going to go better than last year. You had to wait in a queue for like 30 minutes to ask the teacher one question.”

In Tuscon, Arizona, 10-year-old Simon Joubeaud Pulitzer returned to his private school Aug. 3, his blue button-down uniform shirt and tie in place. He was happy to see his friends again and have face-to-face access to his teachers.

Did he feel safe?

“Not the first day but after, yes, I felt a bit safer,” Simon said. “All kids were following the rules.”

Those rules include masks worn indoors, socially distanced desks and only two kids per outdoor picnic table at either end for lunch.

Most American parents said it was unsafe to send their children back to school, with more than 80 percent favoring school conducted at least partly online, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School survey conducted by Ipsos. But many expressed displeasure at the quality of online instruction.

As summer winds down, the mixed feelings mirror the lack of consensus around the country on how to balance virus risks and schooling.

Some Scandinavian countries with far fewer cases than in the U.S. reopened schools with new safety protocols and have had no outbreaks connected to their operations. In Israel, schools that reopened when virus activity was low ended up shutting down a few weeks later when cases spiked.

In the U.S., some school districts plan a mix of in-person classes and online learning to help maintain social distancing. Other districts, including those in Miami, Houston and Los Angeles, are starting classes online only.

Ella Springer, 14, of Kenosha, Wisconsin, will start her sophomore year of high school at home after her school board rescinded an in-class option to open the fall semester. That could change as the year progresses.

“At first I was wanting to go back to school in person but I feel like, watching the numbers in Wisconsin, it makes more sense to go back virtual because it’s rising,” she said. “It’s pretty boring at home but what can you do? Last year the virtual was easier for me to slack off at home because it was a loose kind of thing, but I feel like this year will go a lot better since they’ve had the whole summer to prepare.”

Aiden Anderson, 11, in Orlando, Florida, will begin sixth grade at home for two weeks, then happily head out to school in a state that’s among the nation’s worst hot spots for the virus.

“I don’t like that there’s two weeks online,” he said. “At home it’s so easy to get distracted.”

In Littleton, Colorado, 8-year-old Will Asbury is going into third grade. School starts Aug. 24 and he’ll be there in person. There was a distance learning option but Will and his little sister, Luca, wanted to go.

“I’m going to feel good because I get to see my friends. Masks are a bummer but at least we get to play with our friends during recess and see them at lunch,” he said.

Of distance learning, 6-year-old Luca got right to the point: “I didn’t like it.”

She’s hoping for a unicorn mask to wear when she returns to the classroom.

Alec Blumberg is a high school freshman and his sister, Amelia, a high school senior in Great Neck, New York. Their school, for now, decided on full time, at-home learning to start in September with a possible staggered approach in person later on, allowing half the students in at a time.

“I really want to go back. It would be nice to interact with people and have a more separate life at school and home,” Alec said. “But if the school lays out a plan, will the kids follow it? I’m really not sure.”

Amelia, 17, said exactly how responsible students will be is what worries her the most, based on what she’s seen among peers.

“Some people aren’t as careful as others,” she said. “They aren’t following any type of safety measures, which really scares me. But I really want to go back. It’s the last year. We didn’t even get to say goodbye to any of our teachers when we left last year.”

School for Indianapolis, Indiana, seventh-grader Maria Beck started July 30. The 12-year-old is attending online full time. At first, her school district was going to offer some in-person instruction, then changed its mind. There’s been a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in her area.

“I’m a big extrovert,” Maria said of missing face-to-face school. “But so far, it’s been going very well. I do hope we get to go back some day.”

Her third-grade sister, 8-year-old Felicity, said she, too, is OK with distance learning. Among the things she misses most about real school? Lunch.

“I’d be scared that I’d get sick,” she said of returning to school, “but I’d be really happy that I’d be able to go back.”

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