A Return to School is Necessary and Safe

Anna Duncan and Katie Holekamp

Two Seniors Weigh in on Burroughs’ Plan to bring Students back to School

As we approach the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 existing in America, it is time to take an in-depth look at what we have learned and what this means moving forward. Specifically, we must look at the growing information about safety within schools. In the early months of the pandemic when the country descended toward lockdown, so did schools. With so much uncertainty surrounding us, this seemed like a reasonable and all-around smart decision by school administrators and state governments. However, while students could study from the safety of their homes, healthcare workers still had to enter their jobs each day facing a new, unknown virus head-on. They were labeled essential. And so were workers in agriculture and food production, child care, and critical retail.

Now, we must label schools as essential. Although we at Burroughs are fortunate to have the resources to facilitate hybrid-style learning, including updated technology, a large campus, and dedicated teachers, it is simply not sufficient to support the type of education for which John Burroughs School is highly regarded. High schools have the vital task of educating the next generation of critical thinkers and problem-solvers, and this cannot be adequately accomplished without both students and teachers being in person.


At the start of 2021, many schools across STL re-opened all in-person: all of the parkway district, 90% of independent schools, all 68 STL city schools, and more. Now, Burroughs needs to be one of them. While we understand there are some lingering concerns about returning to all in-person learning, we hope that by presenting the following data, we can help to quell these fears. On January 26, the Centers for Disease Control published an important study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Their study was conducted within two large school districts, one in North Carolina and one in Wisconsin. What they found provides compelling evidence for bringing all students back to campus. In the first school district of over 8,500 students, there were only 5 cases of COVID-19 attributed to in-school transmission within the high school over a nine-week period. In a second large, rural school district with approximately 5,500 students, there were only 2 cases of COVID-19 attributed to in-school transmission within secondary schools. When compared to Burrough’s enrollment of 650 people, average class size of 13 people, and the school’s mitigation policies, it is easy to conclude that there would be little to no in-school transmission seen in the Burroughs community.

These studies were also done in areas where the positivity rate was 40%, almost 6 times higher than St. Louis’s rate of 7%. That means that in these communities, 40% of all COVID-19 tests were coming back positive. And yet, schools with thousands of students attending in person classes still had limited COVID cases. Additionally, in both school districts studied, there were NO cases of student to teacher transmission, and 0.0012% student to student rate of transmission.

In St. Louis alone, there are currently 119 schools that have returned to complete in-person learning. To our knowledge, within these schools there has been no student to student transmission or student to teacher transmission.

The CDC is now advocating for in-person learning because it has been proven to be safe. The CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, recently released a statement declaring that it is safe to reopen schools before teachers receive the vaccine. We must make returning to in-person learning an urgent priority because online learning has been shown to be a nationwide threat to student mental health. It is not only harmful to education but has caused an increase in anxiety, social isolation, and depression.

While we are not saying Burroughs should bring all students back onto campus all at once, we think that, starting now, steps should be taken toward this goal. So far during the pandemic, Burroughs has done a phenomenal job of keeping both students and teachers safe while on campus through strict quarantine regulations, daily screening, and social distancing rules. Supported by the data above, we can continue these practices and safely bring all students back to campus to resume the type of learning that will fully restore the Burroughs community we cherish.


NOTE: Since the writing of this article, Head of School Andy Abbott has announced the full return of the Class of 2021 to campus beginning on February 22nd and a staggered return of the other classes after Spring Break. For more information, please visit jburroughs.org.