Editorial: GMHS should not begin Hybrid phase-in next week

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Weekly Word: Each week, the Lasso Editorial Board will comment on an issue that is relevant to the students of George Mason High School. We strive to present a student-oriented opinion about topics big and small that matter to the student body.

Editorial Board

In this week’s “Wednesday Lookahead,” Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan announced that grades 6-12 will likely start phasing into a hybrid learning structure in the next few weeks, starting with grades 6 and 12 returning to the school on Tuesday, January 26. The announcement came just two days after most FCCPS faculty and staff received the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which requires two doses administered four weeks apart in order to provide 95% immunity. 

Dr. Noonan should not go through with the plan outlined in Wednesday’s announcement. Bringing all GMHS students back into the building should be delayed until the COVID-19 metrics in our region more clearly demonstrate low community risk, and until faculty and staff have achieved immunity from COVID-19 (roughly a week after their second vaccine dose).

The Wednesday Lookahead cites the lowered percent positivity rate in our region in the past few days. But other metrics, such as cases per 100,000 people, remain at the highest risk level. The regional Composite of Burden and Trend, which is put together by the Virginia Department of Health using eight data points, remains “at substantial transmission.” Such data provides very little assurance to students and their families regarding safety as they consider the prospect of returning to in-person class. 

Additionally, we have no idea how the new COVID-19 variants, for example B.1.1.7 from the United Kingdom, may affect the region in the coming weeks. The increased transmissibility of these variants is frightening, and could possibly make classrooms full of students much more dangerous. Bringing all students back just as we start to learn about these new variants could potentially be dangerous for the whole community. 

While students have the choice to stay home when hybrid learning begins, teachers and staff have limited options. In a matter of weeks, most teachers will be fully immune—if delaying reopening can keep teachers safe and ensure that their vaccinations will diminish the chance of COVID-19 spread in classrooms, we should do it. 

We understand the urgency of bringing students back to school. To put it in no uncertain terms, for most of us, virtual learning is stressful, frustrating, and exhausting. But all of us returning to school with so much uncertainty and worry about COVID-19 community transmission, and with the very real possibility of exposures and outbreaks in our school, is no better.

Dr. Noonan should reconsider the plan outlined on Wednesday, and continue to tell the community to hunker down, stay safe, and wait to return to full hybrid learning until it’s more safe for everyone in the school system.