Schools Returning To Full Capacity Results In a Ticking Time Bomb For Going Back To Square One

Maggie Vann, reporter

      Last week, I returned to school after having my wisdom teeth removed to find that in my history class, I was sitting elbow-to-elbow with a classmate on either side of me… in the midst of a pandemic. At the beginning of Jan. 2021, MCPS School Board made the decision to return back to full student capacity. 

     Catching COVID-19 is personally not on my bucket list, yet I’m going to school every day with around 1,200 students and 100 faculty members in a building with halls that make it impossible to not touch anyone, let alone stay 6 feet apart. Although the new four-day school week and three-period days may make it easier for students and teachers to learn and teach, it will most likely result in a huge increase in COVID-19 cases. 

Photo by Maggie Vann

     The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals wear masks and stay six feet apart from each other. However, Hellgate High School reports that each classroom is only supposed to have desks 3ft apart, although many classes have students seated so close that they’re almost touching each other. 

     On top of this, most classes are often packed full, with around twenty people. Another concern of mine originates around the ideas of the “yellow lines”, which are supposed to be in place to keep students from leaving trash in the halls at lunch. With these lines in place, up to 1,200 students are being trapped in the dining area, administration does, however, ask upperclassmen to leave for lunch. This is like walking around in Disneyworld, there are so many students! 

     I am very grateful for being able to see all of my fellow students because it motivates me to go to school and be active in participating in class conversations. It is also comforting that, according to Missoula County Public Schools, schools are filtering in clean air 4-6 times per hour with the use of ventilation and filtration. This has been proven to lower the number of dirty particles in the air, which could hold traces of the coronavirus. Rapid testing for the virus has also become available at schools because of an executive order President Joe Biden released within his first two days in office. 

     In my opinion, returning back to school in-person is a huge priority for me because it is easier for me to comprehend and take in information, but keeping my friends and family safe is more important. The CDC states that the most positive cases are in individuals from 0-17 and 18-24 years old. This concerns me because many times teens won’t show symptoms of the virus and a lot of teens also disregard it and still attend parties in large groups without masks.   

Data from
graph by Maggie Vann

     The chart above portrays the number of COVID-19 cases in MCPS High Schools weekly. As you can see, the COVID-19 cases aren’t spiking as of 1/29/21, but they also aren’t really improving from 10/9/20, when schools were still practicing the hybrid model with A and B days and only half the student population. 

     So why have schools decided to advance to a four day school week and full student population if COVID-19 cases don’t seem to be improving? It may be because they have more access to air filters and the overall cases in Missoula County are also down.

     As I walk around the halls in Hellgate High School, I think to myself, “How many people am I brushing past that have contracted COVID-19?”. When MCPS made the decision to switch to an advanced schedule, I was somewhat alarmed. As the weeks go on and more and more people have contact with each other, how will it affect the virus rates? My only hope is that this doesn’t undo everything Hellgate has done as a school to prevent COVID-19 cases, and that it doesn’t result in going back to square one-online school. As a student, there is nothing more for me to do, except wash my hands, wear a mask, and maintain as much distance as possible in the crowded halls of Hellgate.