Point/Counterpoint: Does the 5% rule make sense?

Alex Wolfson

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Jillian Ward

More stories from Jillian Ward

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Anti by Alex Wolfson

After an almost entirely virtual 2020-21 school year, MCPS committed to a full in-person school for this year, promising to close only if ordered to do so by the state of Maryland. Unfortunately, MCPS has seemingly backed out of this with the 5 percent rule.

This rule establishes that if 5 percent or more of students and staff at a particular school get COVID, then the county can decide whether to close the school for two weeks. Right now most of MCPS, including WJ, is over 5 percent. Closing a school seems rather drastic, especially considering the threshold is only 5 percent, meaning 95 percent of the remaining students and staff are healthy and able to go to school, or in WJ’s case 93 percent are still healthy.

To put this into perspective, consider a class of 30 students. If just two students in the class have COVID (6.6 percent), then the other 28 students must also stay home. If 150 out of WJ’s nearly 3,000 students have COVID, then the healthy 2,850 students have to endure virtual school. This is nonsensical.

On top of the illogical 5 percent rule, MCPS has imposed a number of other rather arbitrary and seemingly contradictory policies. MCPS suspended all clubs and extracurricular activity, sans athletics, meaning this newspaper cannot hold press after school once a month. Press is similar to a regular class but instead of 30 plus students being in a room there are only 10 to 15 working on computers. So if it’s safe to hold regular classes of 30 students, why are smaller groups of students barred from meeting at lunch or after school?

Ask any teacher or student the difference between virtual and in-person learning and you’ll get the same answer. Virtual learning is less effective and much easier. Cheating cannot be prevented, less class time leads to curricula being cut out, and teachers and students alike cannot see one another to connect. It has been shown that learning outcomes suffer as a result of virtual schooling, especially for underserved students.

Sending everyone home wouldn’t even likely help the situation. Afterall over winter break is when cases rose dramatically.

MCPS is pushing the panic button. Students and teachers have been vaccinated in large numbers, and many have received the booster. Vaccines not only protect against infection but also protect against hospitalization. The science has shown that vaccines and masks work. MCPS needs to acknowledge this and understand that if 2 out of 30 students have COVID in a class, the 28 others should be allowed to have in-person learning.

Pro by Jillian Ward

Something we all can say with certainty is that WJ is finally on top. We are ahead of the pack, but at what cost? With 200 active cases as of January 5, WJ has the most Covid cases of all schools in MCPS. Yet, WJ still sent students to school this morning.

I sit in my bedroom with my immunocompromised mother downstairs, not attending school today in order to keep her safe. I also sit here waiting for the county to do the right thing and put the safety and health of students and staff over all else. 

Winter Break has resulted in quite the uptick of Covid cases throughout our county. In one day of “school”, WJ had transitioned from the “yellow” zone to the now “red” zone. Now, I say “school” because the dysfunctional environment that students are being sent to every day is not an effective place to learn. 

Students are having study hall periods in the media center and student commons to accommodate teachers out with Covid. The same substitutes are being seen by students multiple times throughout the day, giving lessons that are being taught by way of written instruction from teachers who are unable to be present due to Covid (important to note that 35 staff members are currently out).

Despite many teachers receiving N-95s, they aren’t being worn as much as they should be. And, only teachers are being given these masks. Rapid testing kits that were supposed to be handed out to students have also yet to be distributed at the rate promised.

The school can’t keep up with this. The pressure on the WJ administration to handle a situation that is out of their hands is absolutely and entirely unfair. The honor system of reporting cases via a Google form for no reason other than that adds authenticity is not good enough to keep the students and staff of WJ safe and healthy. Our numbers are probably even higher than what we are aware of due to this system. 

How could every positive student be reporting their case when they may not even know they have the virus? Why are we waiting until the worst possible scenario to go on a 14-day virtual break? Why is it that students must walk into a building every day where learning isn’t properly happening? Is it going to take students and staff dying to send us home?

With the threshold being 5%, that would imply that the other 95% of the students and staff are Covid-free. The other percentage may not be affected by the virus itself, but 100% of the school is impacted by the loss of staff, anxiety within themselves or peers around them, stress and the poor learning environment. 

The only conversations being had are those about Covid and when school is being closed. No student can focus to the best of their abilities when so much of their thinking is being focused on safety. 

Despite concerns that arise with virtual learning, there needs to be a point in time where people realize that safety and health is just as important as one’s education; in fact, they coincide. A 14-day period of virtual learning to help the school be more prepared to handle cases, have a better contact tracing system, a better understanding of the Omicron variant and how to protect against it and two weeks of instruction that isn’t overtaken by conversations of safety and anxiety is what needs to happen. Putting us online for 14 days will not be detrimental to a student’s overall ability to learn. After the 14 day break, if the numbers have not improved the school should offer a hybrid education, which they have done before.

WJ is more overcrowded and largely over capacity than other high schools in the county, which impacts the ability to have proper air ventilation due to how many people are in the building. Even without the impacts of Covid, the school is unsafe. But with it, the environment is unacceptable to force students and staff into every day. There is no safety guarantee and there is only so much that can be done within the building to help solve this rapidly increasing problem of safety and health. This is in the county’s hands. If this so-called threshold has been broken, why is it taking the county so long to do the right thing?

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