By Samuel Licón Kligman

A year ago, I was enjoying those fading moments of summer before the start of a new school year. I was, like most of my friends, anxious and excited about the prospect of returning to my education at Coronado High School.

On the one hand, I was anxious because I was entering the unknown of a new school year; on the other hand, I was excited because I fundamentally love school and nothing energizes me more than engaging with my fellow students and teachers in the breeding ground of knowledge: the classroom.

However, a lot has changed in a year and to look at that previous anxiety as anything comparable to the anxiety that teachers, students, and parents face now would be a grand miscalculation.

Samuel Licón Kligman

I love school, but nobody should have to risk their safety, nor the safety of the community, by returning to in-person classes when a safe and viable option is available for all students: digital learning.

School districts play an important role in any community. They not only provide students with academic enlightenment, but they also support communities through after-school programs, free or reduced-price meals, and mental health outreach programs.

However, schools are notoriously known as “petri dishes” and breeding grounds for not only knowledge, but sickness as well. But the threat this time is not students bringing home the common cold, the threat is them bringing home a virus that has killed one in every 2,000 Americans, according to John Hopkins University.

COVID-19 poses a severe threat to anyone involved in the educational process. For children and adolescents, COVID-19 not solely presents itself in short-term adverse symptoms, but poses a greater long-term threat.

One study, conducted by Fondazione Policlinico Universitario Agostino Gemelli IRCCS in Rome found that 87 percent of people who contract COVID-19 take two months or longer to fully recover. For children with COVID-19, that means possibly missing two months of school. Furthermore, the virus’ long-term effects do not only include educational detriment, but dastardly physical detriment as well.

According to Michael Zandi, a neurologist at University College London, patients who suffered from COVID-19 had prolonged occurrences of organ damage, heart arrhythmia, hypertension, brain fog, and shortness of breath, among other symptoms.

While more research must be conducted in order to identify the true severity and prevalence of such symptoms, the fact remains that no student should have to enter the unknown and risk their life to obtain their right to an education, especially those with an underlying condition, such as myself.

As someone who has had asthma all his life, I face the possibility of being severely harmed by COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain chronic conditions exacerbate the harm of the virus. Those conditions include cancer, obesity and heart disease. Other conditions that possibly exacerbate the virus’ harm include asthma, cystic fibrosis, pregnancy, smoking, and high blood pressure. Each individual member of my family alone suffers from one or more of these conditions, and we are not unique.

I understand what will be lost with digital learning. I understand that for many students, myself included, digital learning hinders the engagement one finds in the classroom. I understand that cancelling or postponing sport seasons and extracurriculars jeopardizes one’s aspirations of attaining a scholarship.

Personally, I have everything to lose and nothing to gain, besides my life, by resorting to remote learning. However, returning to in-person scholastic activities without proper communal health considerations would simply be reckless.

That is why I commend the El Paso Independent School District’s plan to utilize digital learning until the caseload in our community has been considerably reduced. This is the right move and all school districts should follow.

When students and parents face the inevitable question of whether it is time to return to in-person school or remain at home to learn, they must assess not only the risk they pose to themselves, but the risk such a return would pose to the community, especially those who are most vulnerable.

It also should not be lost on them that COVID-19 disproportionately harms people of color,  according to the CDC.

Individuals should not only assess their health, but their financial situation as well. Those with greater means to treat the virus should think of those who do not possess such means.

As a community, we cannot go back until it is safe for everyone. If we return to school, we will be filling up classroom desks and ICU beds alike.

Samuel Licón Kligman is a junior at Coronado High School.