On Feb. 25, the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) made a controversial announcement that secondary schools would remain remote for the rest of the school year. That decision sparked a wave of parent and student protests, including a large demonstration at a March 1 school board meeting in Redmond.
As March unfolded and the political pressure mounted on school districts to offer in-person instruction, and after Governor Jay Inslee ordered all secondary schools to offer a hybrid model by April 19, LWSD reversed its decision. The district will now give students the option of in-person hybrid learning starting April 19.
But the protests, as loud as they were, masked very divergent feelings among the Eastlake High School student body on returning to campus. Even as the district shifted its position towards reopening, many students’ opinions did not shift.
Riya Kalra, 15, a sophomore at Eastlake, chose to stick with remote learning, citing the relative consistency of the online model as her main reason.
“It’s a little bit frustrating. A lot of people are saying that remote learning is so stressful for so many students, so we have to go back in person, but I think what they don’t realize is that this flip-flopping, where they’re changing it, is more stressful than anything else,” said Kalra, who has no interest in changing course less than two months before the end of the school year.
Eastlake sophomore Kanika Nallaseth, 16, also decided to stay remote due to safety concerns. Even with safety guidelines such as mask-wearing in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, she thinks some students may not follow the rules and put everyone else at risk.
“We’ve seen, once people have a holiday, the cases just go up. We have the option of choosing, which is good, but for people who don’t really need to, I don’t think it’s totally necessary to go back,” Nallaseth said.
Some students, however, felt very strongly about going back to in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year, even if lasts less than two months.
During the March protests, many demonstrators had expressed concern over students’ socio-emotional wellbeing and mental health.
Laurence Ro, 18, an Eastlake senior, shares that concern, and believes the risks to youth mental health outweighs those from COVID-19.
“If they made us wear hazmat suits to school, I would wear a hazmat suit to school, just to have in-person learning rather than staying in my home,” said Ro. “This isn’t just about COVID, isn’t just about raw numbers of cases. It’s also about a lot of other things [including mental health and suicide] that are affecting a much wider range.”
When the district announced that students will return to campus in April, Ro celebrated the news. But he also thinks many of his fellow classmates will not be ready, because they got so used to the convenience of remote learning.
“We have become complacent and lazy; too comfortable, waking up late and logging into online classes from the comfort of our homes,” Ro said. “To be asked to go to school like normal would pose a challenge to a number of students.”
Rohan Kurup, 16, takes a more middle-of-the-road view. He indeed enjoys waking up later in the morning for school, as well as the short commute to his desk. But he does regret not being able to get a traditional high school experience for his entire sophomore year at Eastlake.
When LWSD offered the choice of hybrid instruction, Kurup decided to try it. The district’s initial plan was to split the hybrid students into two groups, with each group coming to campus two days a week. Kurup preferred this arrangement, because he wanted more time to ease into the rhythm of a regular school schedule again.
Then on March 29, LWSD announced a new plan to bring all hybrid students to campus 4-days per week. Kurup said he will stick by his decision to go in-person, but 4 days was more than what he signed up for.
“I am glad we are getting back to normal but I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to attend school from home anymore. It feels a lot more accessible and less stressful here and two in-person days is all I really wanted,” Kurup said.