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I can’t wait to return to the classroom, but right now it’s unwise and dangerous

Julen Navarrate is ‘plagued with the fear of returning home from school and infecting my family members’

Julen Navarrate
Julen Navarrate (Photo courtesy Julen Navarrate, illustration by Henry Keller)

SAN ANTONIOEditor’s note: This column was written by Julen Navarrate, a senior at Advanced Learning Academy at Fox Tech. KSAT is publishing the piece in an effort to elevate underrepresented voices in the community.

It’s been 24 weeks since I last saw my classmates.

I said goodbye for spring break not knowing the severity of the pandemic would escalate so rapidly, leading us to the new normal of online learning. Five months have passed 一 two months of online classes and three months of cleaning, drawing and anything else to keep myself engaged. Like many others, I have been reliving the same day over and over this summer, losing track of time only to be reminded of the date by the occasional telemedicine call for my grandma or limited time spent on Zoom meetings with my colleagues on the SAISD Student Coalition.

I want to see friends, play mariachi and get out of the house. And because I learn better in a classroom, I've thought about returning to in-person learning after Labor Day, when many schools in Bexar County will offer classes on campus again in line with state guidance.

I want to see change in my monotonous routine, but the photos from Georgia suggest that a return to normalcy isn’t possible right now. Knowing how the novel coronavirus has impacted my community, I think a decision to return back to school is unwise and dangerous for me and others in my situation who have the resources to learn from home.

Like many, I have to admit there was certainly a time when I believed this would all go away. I thought people were overreacting, ”It was just like the flu, no?” No. Initially, experts believed we would hit our peak in mid-April, but we have grievously experienced two waves since, the first in May and the second in July. I am afraid my participation in returning to school in person would add to the possibility of another spike as we reopen schools.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends waiting to reopen classrooms until the positivity rate of all COVID-19 tests has been at or below 5% for at least 14 days. At the time of me writing this in late-August, San Antonio’s positivity rate sits at 10%. It is still uncertain if we can manage this decrease in time to reopen schools the week after Labor Day and satisfy the WHO guidelines.

With that in mind, I know I have to be careful where I go as I live close to my grandparents, both of whom have existing health issues. This leaves me plagued with the fear of returning home from school and infecting my family members.

Above all, my greatest fear is that my mother, a nurse, brings home the virus from her job. My father, a 4th-grade teacher, and I would be vectors with the ability to transmit a strain of the virus in our schools, infecting others and worsening the situation via community spread.

Watching my mother, who works in labor and delivery, come home over the summer has been hard at times. In the early stages of the pandemic, most patients infected with the virus were kept at the main hospital, away from her unit. Now, with more and more people carrying the virus, potentially without symptoms, the risk in her department has shot up tremendously. With her increasing proximity to people who are COVID-positive, there have been several instances in which my mother has been exposed.

These are the realities I face personally, and I know each student has their own relationship to the virus. Many of my father's students are raised by their grandparents, an age group who, if infected, are most negatively impacted by the virus. Many students have had to work in order to help compensate for the job loss of another family member, many students still do not have adequate access to the internet at home, and many families depend on school for food and child care.

There are many factors that affect each family in their decision of whether to return to in-school learning. In returning to classrooms, though, we need to remember to put first those most at risk. This means remote learning for all who do not need to be at school to avoid overcrowding and allow low-income students to receive the things they need at school. So please, if you have the means to do so, stay out of school and stay home. If not for you, do it for those around you that worry about their families, and their friends. Just like I worry about mine.