School should reinstate remote option for sick students


Ava Lipsky, Staff Writer

The school’s decision to remove the Zoom school option has had a negative impact on our community.

At the height of the pandemic, any student who tested positive was mandated to attend classes on Zoom. The school installed microphones and cameras in classrooms to make remote learning more convenient, productive, and accessible. However, removing this option at the start of this year — even for students quarantining with COVID — has worsened the spread of sickness and increased anxiety among students. 

In September, a cold-like illness swept through the student body. Many students, including myself, suffered from a sore throat, stuffy nose, and a cough. I did not want to miss any class material so I came to school with a bag of cough drops. Many students talked about feeling unwell, but refused to stay home. Even kids who threw up and had fevers the night before showed up to school the next day. 

One junior in my class said they did not feel well and didn’t want to come to school, but couldn’t stay home because missing school would be too stressful. Another friend of mine attended school after a fever the night before because she didn’t want to miss the review session for her upcoming math test or the lab in her science class. The spread of illnesses will only worsen in the upcoming colder months if the school does not make a change. Health officials predict a bad flu season this year, increasing fears of a “twindemic” this winter.

After someone tests positive for COVID, the CDC recommends quarantining for five days to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others. One of my friends who contracted the virus tested negative on her second day of quarantine and felt completely fine. She complained about not being able to Zoom into class and felt that she should not have to miss out on a week of class unnecessarily. 

Those who contract COVID or those who need to recover from other mild illnesses should be allowed to access their classes remotely. This would alleviate the stress of missing class, prompting students to test themselves for COVID when needed and allowing them to recover quicker and safer while keeping up with academics.

Missing just a few days of classes can set students behind, compounding the already taxing experience of being sick. My friend had to make up a math, physics, and French test the week she returned. Not being at school is stressful, but returning after being out is even worse because there is so much to catch up on. The problem is especially pronounced for upperclassmen — juniors do not want to fall behind on their hefty workload and seniors have to worry about mid-semester grades that appear on their college applications. One senior told me he couldn’t miss school because his mid-semester grades were his last chance to raise his GPA.

Given that difficulty, it is not surprising for students to minimize their symptoms and come to school sick. Students might not test for COVID when they have symptoms because they do not want to miss five days of school. Even though the community is fully vaccinated, these decisions put people at a greater risk of contracting this highly transmissible virus. Even for illnesses less transmissive and dangerous than COVID, such as the flu, fear of missing class incentivizes students to force themselves into attending school when they are sick. It hurts both their wellbeing and others’ by spreading illness.

Some parents also worry about their children missing school. This pressure can be an additional stressor for students who are debating whether or not they should attend school sick. Some of my friends talked about feeling ill and not wanting to be at school, but being forced to come by their parents. Some parents even support the idea of their child not testing for COVID if they have symptoms because they do not want their child to be quarantined at home. Emails from the school advise against this, but many parents end up ignoring this advice because they worry their child will fall behind.

Considering these reasons, the removal of Zoom school was a poor decision by the administration. It has led to greater amounts of sickness and increased anxiety. Without an online option, students must choose between school or their health — many prioritize the former. 

The technology for Zoom school is already installed in each classroom, so it would not be a burden to allow sick students to listen from home. While Zoom may hinder class productivity as teachers take a few minutes to log online, the benefits outweigh the costs. It is still extremely valuable for sick students to listen in on a class. With remote learning, students can directly hear the teachers’ explanations and comprehend the material. It is a far more effective method of learning than a packet of notes from a classmate that may or may not be complete, with little context. If it is difficult for teachers to call on in-person students alongside online ones, students on Zoom can compromise — they can participate by actively listening, rather than speaking. 

No teacher who is sick would have to come to school to teach their class; a substitute would teach the curriculum for them. However, there are no substitute students.  Teachers also have less incentive to come to school while sick because they have more control over their class schedule and lack the pressures of a GPA. They do not have to worry about preparing for upcoming assessments or understanding course material in an extremely timely manner — students do. Any attempt by school administration to compel teachers to attend school when they are sick would be met with stiff resistance, and rightfully so. Yet, the school does not explicitly mandate that students forgo health for class, and many adults in the community advise otherwise. The pressures of a fast-paced academic environment and the lack of an online option give us little choice but to come to school while sick.

Instead of “work from home” or “WFH,” Horace Mann students “WFSWS” — “work from school while sick.” Maybe the school is afraid “school from home” will become as prevalent as “work from home,” compromising a “back to normal” for in-person instruction. Fortunately, I know how awesome and enriching the HM in-person experience is. Most, if not all, students prefer in-person instruction since they can participate in class and socialize with friends. There is a slim chance for students faking sickness to stay home, and that low possibility should not hinder us from allowing sick students to Zoom in. I see no reason for the administration to shrink from this challenge and make HM the secure and healthful environment we strive to be.