CBS News is chronicling what has changed for the lives of Americans in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In one of the biggest school districts in the country, some students are so satisfied with virtual learning that they see no benefit in returning to in-person learning until the threat of contracting COVID-19 has abated or a vaccine is widely available.
“I’m very, very lucky to have some really, really awesome teachers,” said Houston high school senior Jennifer Hamad. “I don’t think if my teachers were on the moon that would change.”
And Hamad, who is the speaker of the Houston Independent School District Student Congress, fears that “sending students back to school right now, prematurely, creates more disruption and is more disruptive and dangerous to students’ lives than it is beneficial.”
The Houston Independent School District (HISD) is allowing families to choose whether to keep students learning at home or in-person.
Hamad and the student congress don’t think that the district has done enough to keep students, teachers, and faculty safe for in-person learning.
“It’s unethical to make people fit into that environment,” she said. “You’re needlessly putting lives at risk by making people do in-person instruction.”
Hamad and the student congress oppose an in-person option at this point because they say it “exploits” disadvantaged families who don’t have the luxury of keeping children at home.
The student congress is putting pressure on the district to consult the group in any decisions about returning to school, which it tried to do this summer by soliciting student opinions through an online survey.
Hamad thinks that area leaders are weighing too many factors in determining when and how to reopen schools and expressed concern that leaders may be prioritizing economic incentives. This, she said, could endanger the health of students and teachers.
“I think everyone can do a better job, be it district leaders, state leaders, federal leaders — everyone,” she said.
Hamad’s engagement and desire to effect change has only grown during the pandemic.
“What I’ve learned from this situation [is that] we do live in a very imperfect world and we need to be aware as a generation,” she said. “Be inquisitive and curious and not just sit in complacency and accept what you see on the news, or accept what political leaders, or your district leaders, might tell you.”
Ultimately, she believes the pandemic will have a lasting impact on students living through the crisis, that they will be galvanized by it.
“I don’t think our generation should be remembered by the coronavirus […] Rather we should be remembered by what we made of it. How we adapted. How we learned. How we grew. How we triumphed in the face of adversity,” Hamad said. “This will only make us stronger.”
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