A sophomore in New York on how COVID took over.

Whether schools should be open has been a heated debate since the onset of COVID-19. For much of the first year and a half of the pandemic, schools in Blue States or in particular cities remained fully or partially closed. But then things changed, partly because of the widespread availability of vaccines for staff and students, and partly because of school closings contributing to Democrats’ political losses. Then came the omicron.

This latest highly contagious variant has caused widespread outages of teachers, support staff and students, making it difficult for even the new school normal (masked, with occasional class quarantines) to persist. And so, whether schools are open or closed has once again become a struggle for public health, education, and the future of child welfare in America.

For a high school student, however, the matter is much more practical. COVID “has completely taken over every function of daily school life,” a sophomore wrote in a Reddit post last week, titled “I’m a New York City Public High School student. The situation is out of control. The post quickly went viral for its level of detail about what school really is right now. (The student has requested to remain anonymous, so we’ll call him Josh, based on his Reddit ID. But we’ve confirmed his identity.) In the post, he describes how his week after winter break was turned upside down. by teacher absences, as in the case of the city reached an all-time high. The school day is filled with empty classrooms and extra study periods in which students gather in an auditorium where there is “functionally no learning going on.” (After the second study hall in a row, Josh and some of his peers realized that the “health conditions were safer outside the auditorium” and left.)

We spoke to Josh on Saturday about how omicron made a difference in his high school, what he wants administrators to do right now, and what it’s like to have peers testing positive during the day. school itself. Our conversation has been condensed and edited slightly for clarity.

Slate: What do you hope people get out of reading your Reddit post?

Josh: One of the intentions was to — I wouldn’t say laugh, but just to recognize a certain level of absurdity in the way this school is run right now. I think the most important thing is that when people think about the issue of school closures, they really only think about the health aspect. It’s a black-and-white discussion – people say either ‘you’re endangering the health of students’ or ‘it’s just stupid to close schools’. It seems there is little nuance. But just with the large number of cases, it is impossible for there to be any real learning conditions in school.

In the post, and in your tone at the moment, you sound pretty light-hearted. Are you worried about COVID?

I think some students have a sense of fear about COVID, in general. For me personally, I have had COVID recently, so I guess in some ways I’m immune to it.

I don’t want to be light. I think it’s serious, but I can’t help it because I think there is just a certain sense of absurdity. I know a student who had six free periods in the study room yesterday, and they only had three classes. And in their classes, 50 percent of the students were out. And so for them, it’s fair, why did they come to school? Why are they risking their health, are they at risk of potentially contracting COVID when they might just choose not to go to school or schools might not be open?

How well was your high school experience during the pandemic and how has it changed since March 2020?

All. In third grade, I was on Zoom all year round. This year, I would say that other than wearing masks, before last week, COVID was almost imperceptible. Even wearing masks seems normal at this point. You do a health check every day. When you enter school, you must show that you have not had COVID. But other than that, it felt like no one had ever had COVID. Maybe once a month a student contracted COVID. But now it’s been a big, big deal.

What are conversations with your peers like right now?

Before the break, I rarely heard of COVID. Now almost every conversation starts with talking about how absurd we think we are in school. I would say in the hallway when I see people I know, the first question you ask yourself is, how many study rooms did you have? How many things related to COVID did you have today? Everything seems to revolve around that, especially this week.

One of the most striking things about your Reddit post is how kids test themselves in school and get positive results in school. Can you tell me what it is?

There were two moments that I wrote about. One was in the fourth period a student tested positive in the auditorium. I didn’t have a fourth period study room at the time, but I heard from many, many students who said that people tested positive or shared their positivity in front of the auditorium, which is just, for me, it’s very concerning.

Then in the hallway and the stairs, a student asked if their low line was a positive test. It was very shocking because I thought everyone would know that a weak line is a positive test. Interestingly enough, this student eventually tested negative, but got a false positive test. It’s another layer. How well do rapid tests work? What is their reputation? So I think it’s just shocking and scary in general.

I often have this feeling that I had to become a mini epidemiologist in my own life, to understand what is going on with the cases and the tests and everything around me. And I get that feeling from you too.

I try, but I am busy. I read a lot of pre-election 2020 news. Honestly, I toned down in what I read about COVID. I think I have to start trying to be a bit more of an epidemiologist again because I had no idea that they approved boosters for students aged 12-15 on Monday. I have learnt at school. So I have to work a bit on this.

If you had the power right now to do whatever you want with opening school, closing school, setting up Zoom school, creating snow days or COVID days where you have nothing to do, what would be your proposal?

My suggestion would be to close the school for a week. As for the school itself, I think the teachers are doing their best to enforce health and try to give students learning materials. But with just the number of people who are absent and the number of children who are out, they are given a game that is just simply unmanageable.

It looks like if the cases continue to rise, it will just get worse. Not even in terms of health issues. No one gets really seriously ill. Just in terms of learning loss.

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