The first two weeks of the 2020-2021 year have come to an unceremonious end, and with them have come a new understanding of how school is going to function in a time like ours. Zoom calls have become a staple for every student, good when you realize you can stay at home, bad when you figure out that snow days are now rendered obsolete. Many Central students used these calls for three days each week, only showing up to school for two, which is the outline for “Phase Two” of Hamilton County’s COVID-19 learning plan.
After the first two-week period of Phase Two, the county made an interesting decision; our next period will be in Phase Three, meaning all non-virtual students will return to classrooms. See an explanation of the plan here.
The choice was immediately met with controversy, and it left me to wonder how Central’s staff and students have reacted to the transition.
Senior in-person student Quiana Redman agrees with the decision. “I am happy that we are back on Phase 3,” she stated. “For me, it’s better to learn on in-person than it is online… I feel a little bit safe because they’re enhancing the rules and requirements for [students] to go to school, so it’s not like they’re just letting you do whatever you want to do.”
Demetrio Dominguez, a junior attending in person, is also welcoming to the change. “I’m glad to be back with everyone. I do feel safe because of the spacing of everyone and the fact that we haven’t shut down at all.”
Another student that spoke on her acceptance was virtual-learning Junior Carmen Breitenbach. “I think it’s good we’re transitioning to Phase 3 because it means we’re making progress.” However, she also admitted light concerns about returning: “If I was at school, I wouldn’t feel completely safe with everyone coming back five days a week.”
The questioned teacher, English teacher Kevin Parsons, had more of a mixed response. “I think our numbers are small enough that we will be able to avoid any major outbreaks even at Phase 3,” he replied. “I do have to admit that I am frustrated that we are continuing with extracurricular activities… to risk student lives so that we can continue to have sports just looks like willful ignorance and makes me really question the priorities in Hamilton County Schools.”
The only subject to voice staunch anxiety about the choice was virtual-learning Senior Natalie Adams. “I feel that Hamilton County moving to Phase 3 is very risky and unsafe,” she vocalized. “COVID[-19] is still a very active virus, even if the numbers are going down.”
Despite the general optimism, four of the five participants added that they expect a shutdown for Central and/or a phase regression for Hamilton County. Adams expects the county to revert to Phase One; Breitenbach and Dominguez believes more outbreaks will follow the first period of Phase Three. Parsons predicts an occasional return to Phase Two for the county, but he does not think Central will have any upsurge exclusive to itself.
Nevertheless, it will be intriguing to observe what happens across Chattanooga as a whole. All the students and teachers that I know seem to be patiently waiting until September 11 to see what comes next, and I will be right alongside them.