CLEVELAND — With new concerns over COVID variants and debates about vaccines and masks, we wanted to hear from students heading back to class and their parents.
We sat down with some of the people we interviewed last year for our Safely Back To School special report to catch up and see how they feel this year.
“I feel like nothing has changed from last year as to how we operate as a family union right now,” said parent Brian Glazen. “While we’re protected and his older sister is protected, he has no additional shield,” he added as he pointed to his 11-year-old son Elliot sitting next to him.
“What was it like last year having to wear your masks?” we asked.
“I feel like it didn’t bother me,” said student Mason Miller.
‘This is my son” said Glazen. “He missed the school last year, the entire year. He can’t afford to lose more in-person, social time and teacher time. So, (Elliot) should wear a mask.”
“I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t like it at the same time,” said student Charlotte Speyer.
“It doesn’t really affect me too much, in general,” said Elliot. “I feel like it might get a little hot.”
“Should teachers have to wear masks?" we asked.
“Without a mask, it’s just another barrier that isn’t there. So, I think yes, teachers need to be wearing masks,” said Mason.
“Let’s talk about variants,” we said during our roundtable discussion.
“It’s scary to think about that with the number of unvaccinated population that we have that those variants can and will keep catching on,” said Miller.
“As (Elliot) walks into a school building this year, what is your major concern?” we asked Glazen.
“My hope is that the teachers have the ability to not wear a mask so the students can be socialized with a teacher and see the expressions on their face but keep the students far enough away,” he said. “And that’s a big piece of this, too. I want him to have the real teaching experience again.”
“What do you worry about?" we asked Charlotte.
“I worry a little bit about the social distancing,” she told us.
“Was there social distancing when you went back?” we asked.
“There are a lot of kids in school and it’s just a bit harder…in the hallways to social distance,” she told us.
“I’m hopeful that the people in charge are going to do what’s needed to keep all of us safe,” Mason told us.
We also talked with a second group of people for this year’s report: three parents who only have kids that are not eligible for the vaccine and one student who can’t get his shot yet.
“What are your concerns going into this school year?” we asked the new group.
“(My kids) do a lot better learning in person,” said parent Sarah Factor. “So, for me it’s important that they can be at school learning in-person, but doing it in a way that’s safe for them, safe for the community at large.”
“If they are not wearing masks, and there is an exposure, then you’re talking about how many people being quarantined?” asked parent Jessica Price Smith. “At what point is it the whole class? At what point is there a disruption to the school year?”
“I’m kind of afraid that I may get COVID, but I’m going to try my best to keep my masks on,” said Factor’s son Jaden.
“There’s a big debate about masks. Should they wear them? Should they not? What’s your perspective?” we asked.
“I feel that if there’s a chance of it working, it’s better to use it than to not,” parent Eric Eichhorn said.
“What I really think is wearing a mask, it’s helping others not getting my germs on them,” said Jaden. “And when other people wear a mask, they help me.”
“As a student who is not yet eligible for the vaccine, how do you feel about other kids being eligible and then you’re not?” we asked Jaden.
“I feel that sometimes it could be, ‘You’re vaccinated. I’m not. You can’t do this,’” Jaden replied.
“I’m okay taking our time and doing it right and listening to the experts,” said Eichhorn.
“For me, I have these children who can’t be vaccinated and so, I think taking precautions like wearing masks, getting vaccinated yourself if you’re eligible to are important ways to keep these children who aren’t able to, to keep them safe,” said Factor.
“We’ve got this data that says we know it’s safe for this group. Let’s make sure it’s safe for the younger people. That gives me comfort,” said Price Smith.
“Somehow this became political. Whether you wear a mask, whether you get a vaccine. What are your thoughts?” we asked the group.
“This is a public health issue. It’s not a political issue,” said Factor.
“I find it frustrating. I feel that science should be what people are following,” Eichhorn told us.
“Do you worry that parents will send kids to school with COVID?” we wanted to know.
“It is hard because you want to trust other parents, but there are people who believe that this isn't a big deal,” said Price Smith.
“I know that one kid could feel totally fine and have COVID. Another kid could have a fever and not have COVID. And that could be a danger for me,” said Jaden. “I don’t want COVID.”