On Jan. 12, Santa Fe Public Schools announced all schools would be going remote this week due to an increase of COVID-19 cases following the surge of the omicron variant, but many were skeptical of how long the timeline would be. It sure felt like déjà vu!

It felt like a similar scene to 2020, when students were told their spring break would be extended by a week as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed. Students remained online for the next year and a half. Now the district is officially heading back to in-person learning Monday, which I appreciate. But I still think sending students home caused more harm than good, and could have been prevented a week after the winter break, as I’m sure some students have already fallen behind in their classes.

Many students did not succeed with the online format, as cheating increased and motivation declined. I can say this with such certainty because I, too, fell victim to the extensive effects of online school. I finished my freshman year of high school in 2020 as an A-plus student ready to succeed in the year that followed, but my mentality quickly changed to “as long as I pass” as remote school began to drag on for what felt like an eternity. Sitting in front of a computer for hours on end truly felt more draining with each passing day.

I’m sure thousands of students across the country can relate to me. Attendance seemed to decrease significantly, participation plummeted and the number of students dropping out also likely grew. A look at my official transcripts shows my class size at Santa Fe High dropped from 425 students last year to 375 this year, and I’m not sure all those students transferred. It was easy to fall behind in online school when no one is there to remind you to stay focused.

As much as I would like to say that I’ve only struggled academically through the pandemic, my mental health took a hit, too. It was hard enough not being able to attend school in person, which is my biggest social outlet, but for months I was also stuck at home with little opportunity to leave, as my parents feared I would contract the virus, or worse, spread it to other higher-risk family members.

I fell into feelings of isolation and sadness that led me to also feeling physically tired: I had a harder time waking up in the morning; I had muscle aches; and I felt I could fall asleep at any given moment. It was really hard finding motivation to do many of the tasks I had to complete throughout the day.

I was not the only one who struggled mentally as depression rates increased throughout the country. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, the percentage of adolescents who screened positive for depression went from 5 percent pre-pandemic to 6.2 percent. Suicide risk increased by a point also, to 7.1 percent. The increases may seem small, but they translate to thousands of kids.

Quarantine was not a happy period for students and educators all over the world, which is why it was so frustrating that the district decided to return to online school. It was like we got in a time machine and traveled back to 2020. It was absolutely infuriating from a student’s perspective, and Santa Fe Public Schools could have easily found better preventive measures against the spread of the virus long before the decision to return online had to be made.

The district could have closed schools for a week directly after winter break, a time when many families traveled for the holidays. This solution would have allowed students to quarantine for the five-day period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowing students to no longer be contagious and possibly also allowing students who were sick to show symptoms and make the decision to stay home.

Another solution could have included a hybrid model, where students attended school in person four days a week and remained online Wednesdays, allowing janitorial staff the opportunity to disinfect and clean the school.

I understand the decision to close schools wasn’t based solely on the rising coronavirus cases. It was the lack of teachers to staff classes and a shortage of other necessary individuals such as janitorial, kitchen and transportation staff, according to the district. However, I believe a quick decision was made without considering the repercussions on students.

All week I feared similar effects to those of the previous two school years would occur once again at a similar rate, if not at a higher measure if schools continued in the online format. We can hope 2022 will be the last year that school districts are forced to make a decision about taking school remote.

Valeria Ramirez is a junior at Santa Fe High School, she can be reached at ramirezvaleria2105@gmail.com.

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