Full-time schedule jeopardizes student and teacher safety

…and you should be angry.


Cael Baumgarten, Copy Editor

Eager to inconvenience its students just one last time before the next academic year, the Olathe School District has decided that all Olathe schools shall endure a 7:45 to 3:00 schedule. I’m sure you’re used to this; if the 2020-21 school year has proven anything, it’s that the higher ups are willing to do whatever it takes to disrupt your already disrupted life. First, we were to sit in front of computers for 7+ hours a day; the irony is only lost on the freshmen who haven’t read Fahrenheit 451 yet. Then, mercifully, we began a hybrid schedule, only for it to be taken away just a few weeks later. Worry not, because hybrid came right back for the second semester. During those two months, there was stability. Historians will refer to this as the “Era of Tranquility.” But alas, all good things must come to an end and nothing gold can stay, and you should be angry.
For those of you who are counting at home, that’s four sudden and drastic changes to the schedule in about five months. Students’ lives are designed around that schedule, yet the district tinkers with the schedule every chance they get as though there aren’t consequences. There are. And so, I write this to all of those at the board meeting that voted for a return to the full time schedule: We, the students, are not test subjects. We are not hypotheticals. The student body is not just a measurement. We aren’t just numbers in the equation for you to play with to crap out statistics. We are humans. All 10,000 plus of us. And we are all collectively affected by your decisions. So I hope you thought deeply before making this decision. I hope you considered the possibility of COVID-19 making its way into the halls of the schools and lungs of the students and teachers. I hope you thought about the mental health of the students that were already crumbling under the weight of three hour school days during this pandemic. And I hope that it was worth it.
I’m not arguing that a full-time schedule is inherently problematic. My issue comes with the timing of the decision. There are less than three months left of this school year. By August, the majority of the population will be vaccinated – or at the absolute minimum, the teachers will be – and a new school year will begin from scratch; the schedule wouldn’t suddenly shift again, forcing both students, parents, and teachers to adapt to an entirely new structure. If the school board could cut its losses and endure just 75 more days of hybrid learning, then the 2021-2022 school year would be a safer, less disruptive, and ultimately welcomed fresh start to everybody attending an Olathe school. Instead, we’ve been served a rushed and foolhardy attempt to pretend that everything is normal, when it’s just not, and efforts to make the school day seem so are equally as dangerous as they are depressing.
We are to eat lunch individually, primarily silently, all facing the same direction as staff watches us to ensure we don’t start socializing too much, like we’re animals, or prisoners. During this time, we are subjected to early 2010s radio jams that all promote getting up, moving and dancing, and general social stimulation, like we’re being taunted. All of these precautions (sans Pitbull’s “Timber”) are necessary, but they wouldn’t have to exist in the first place if the full time schedule could hold its horses until vaccinations are more readily available. The United States recently surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 related deaths, yet we are led to believe that four more hours inside the building is a greater priority. Imagine if every person living in the state of Wyoming was suddenly wiped out. Imagine then that the district acted as though it was nothing. That hypothetical isn’t far from the truth; wait a few more months and we can discuss the possibility of Vermont, too.
Superintendent of the Olathe School District John Allison wrote in his letter to the Olathe families that the decision was made in light of “declining community numbers, internal numbers including low absence rates, declining COVID-19 numbers in our school, and limited spread within our buildings.” Is anyone else getting deja vu? Back in March and April of 2020 in, the midst of the lockdowns, infection rates were declining precisely because of the lockdowns. When everybody noticed that numbers were down, it was decided that the lockdowns were no longer necessary. And when the lockdowns ended, the infection rates skyrocketed once more and hundreds of thousands of people died less than a year later. The board of education seeks to repeat history; the current schedule has been working as intended. Indeed, as the superintendent notes, transmission is down within the buildings and community case numbers are declining. It’s clear how effective the district’s previous methods were at limiting infection, yet the board now wants to undo what has led to “declining community numbers.”
I can think of no better way to absolutely obliterate those positive statistics than to shove thousands of contagious students into one building for seven hours a day five days a week. The olatheschools.org website declares that “the Olathe Public Schools remain committed to doing everything we can as a district to protect the health of student and staff for a safe return to in-person instruction and learning.” Perhaps this was true in September, but it is astonishing how quickly the district went from full remote learning to not even caring about social distancing. There are 20+ students in many classrooms. If the district were to adhere to CDC guidelines, every student would need six feet of space from all other students; most classes have desks arranged to place students maybe three feet apart at best, and with both halves of the school population now in the building at the same time, hallways are unadulterated contagion zones.
Parents need their younger children back in school until 3 p.m. so that they can go to work without having to worry about hiring a babysitter or somebody to pick their child up from school early. This is one of the primary reasons for the change, and so the middle schools will return to a full time schedule just as the high schools do. But why can’t the middle schools open up fully without the high schools? The public education system is a massive behemoth that can barely regulate schools individually, but an exception should be made; action is worth taking to keep tens of thousands of students and hundreds of teachers safe from a virus that has already killed so many.
Olathe East senior Teagan Townsend created a petition to protest the district’s decision that has received over 1,000 signatures in less than a week, demonstrating just how many students and teachers are outraged. I encourage you all to sign. We should not let a handful of angry parents decide our fates. Our voices should be heard.
I hope it was worth it. I hope that appeasing parents that want their kids to play sports for just two extra months is worth endangering the health of an entire community. I hope that dragging the high schools into this, and ten thousand more students with them, is worth perpetuating the most terrifying thing to happen to this generation. But I doubt that it was.