Parkview High School’s Response to GCPS Being In Person Post Omicron

Photo+Courtesy+of+South+China+Morning+Post.+

Photo Courtesy of South China Morning Post.

After GCPS decided to remain in person after the Omicron outbreak during winter break, students and teachers from Parkview High School have mixed feelings about continuing in-person learning due to the rapid transmission of the Omicron variant. 

The Omicron variant was first diagnosed in California at the end of November by the World Health Organization after a traveler returned from South Africa. However, Georgia’s first confirmed case of Omicron was diagnosed on December 5th. Towards the end of December, there was a surge of confirmed cases within Georgia as the Omicron variant has increased transmissibility and the ability to evade immunity granted from vaccinations. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Omicron has been shattering COVID records, as more than 100,000 individuals in the state have a confirmed case. 

Governor Brian Kemp has taken a more hands-off approach to the surge of COVID cases, calling for increased monitoring, rather than mandating. Unfortunately, this approach may have caused a vulnerability within Georgia’s healthcare system. According to Georgia DPH, 54% of Georgia residents are fully vaccinated; however, vaccination rates with only a single dose among minors are 16.7% of ages 5-9, 38% of ages 10-14, and 52.7% of ages 15-19. These numbers illustrate the lack of enforcement Georgia has taken concerning COVID safety.

Due to the rapid spread of the Omicron strain among Georgia residents, many students and teachers have reported having had COVID during winter break or post-winter break. As a result, there has been a severe shortage of teachers within the GCPS district, and a continuing shortage of substitute teachers. Parkview High School had a confirmed number of 34 teachers out the first day back from Winter Break. Senait Pirani, a senior at Parkview High School, reported that a Precalculus class doubled up with her Advanced Math class, which caused a tight fit to the point where students had to sit on the floor of the classroom. Parkview Science teacher, Carol Potter, believed that doubling up on classes could be “disruptive” to students, as it can take away their focus from the lesson or violate the social distancing guidelines. 

Many students share feelings of apprehension due to the lack of preventative measures GCPS has taken with the Omicron outbreak. Students created a petition which amassed over 2,786 signatures to urge GCPS to move to virtual learning for three weeks. The petition details students’ concerns about the importance of their health. Micheal Hall, the creator of the petition, stated, “I feel that I am compromising my wellbeing simply not to receive too many absences, lose my GPA, fall behind on school work, and much more, but these should not be the criteria that determine health or sickness and life or death.” The petition also mentions that Gwinnett County is the largest county in the state, contributing to a significant increase in cases across the elementary, middle, and high school communities. 

Many other districts in Georgia, such as Forsyth County, Atlanta Public Schools, and Dekalb County, decided to transition to virtual learning for a couple of days. Atlanta Public Schools started their second semester virtually on Tuesday, January 4th, and continued to be virtual until Friday, January 7th. Their reasoning to begin with virtual learning was to monitor the COVID positivity rates among their employees and students. They wanted to allow the students and teachers to follow the CDC recommended quarantine and isolation period before they begin in-person learning on January 10th. In comparison, the Gwinnett School Board felt safe and ready to return to school based on their available staffing information. 

As many students feel transitioning to virtual learning might be a useful preventative measure for Parkview High School, others feel that in-person learning might be ideal. Many teachers consider virtual learning inconvenient, as there are numerous technical issues and not much student engagement. It could also be an inconvenience for many parents, as they have to figure out how to ensure their children are taken care of while at work. 

In-person learning has proven to be more effective in improving students’ academic performance. GCPS has recently begun an accountability program called the Results-Based Evaluation System (RBES) to monitor a school’s progress over the years and evaluate what can be improved. There has been a significant decrease in Parkview students’ achievements during the 2020-2021 school year, correlating with the hybrid learning environment. There could have been several contributing factors that apply to this decrease, such as lack of student motivation, lack of access to technology for virtual students, difficulty balancing in-person and virtual learning for teachers, etc. 

While in-person learning greatly improves students’ academic performance, it also proves beneficial to students’ mental health by allowing them to socialize. According to a study done by the CDC in 2021, “Virtual instruction might present more risks than in-person instruction related to child and parental mental and emotional health and some health-supporting behaviors.” With the isolating environment of virtual learning, many students did not go outside as much and were not very physically active. They did not spend much time with their friends as they did not have the same routine of social interaction anymore. Parkview senior, Amani Barmare, recalls her time during virtual learning last year. “I was burnt out from school, and I felt I didn’t have anything else to do besides school. I just stared at a lot of letters on Zoom with no engagement.” said Barmare. In-person learning allows students to have a buffer from learning all day since they can have classroom engagement and friendly interactions. 

As Parkview is approaching three weeks into the second semester, they have implemented more regulations to maintain COVID safety. They mandated masks to be worn on campus and urged students to get vaccinated. Parkview recently hosted a vaccination clinic for students and staff members to have easy access to vaccines. They are continuously monitoring the COVID positivity rates and analyzing the staff and student attendance. In case staff absences impact the school’s operations, a move to virtual learning may be imminent.