Student Op-Ed: CHS Still Has Opportunity—and Obligation—to Educate Students About COVID


“By acknowledging that COVID-19 is going around again and recommending masking and getting your COVID booster, CHS can help keep their students and community safe.”

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Veronica Levesque is a student at Columbia High School, Class of 2024. The following Op-Ed was originally written for a section on persuasive writing for the English Language Arts class “Research & Debate.”


If you don’t personally know someone who currently has COVID-19, chances are you know someone else who does. We’re currently in one of our biggest COVID-19 waves since the beginning of the pandemic, and yet, we continually try to act as if COVID-19 is entirely an affliction of the past. 

One of the most important things a school does for its students is not just educate them, but keep them safe. Often, conversations about safety in school concerns matters such as gun control and school security. What’s not talked about as often is the threat that viruses pose to the safety of the student body. It’s ironic that not even a year out from a deadly pandemic, the collective health of students is barely discussed anymore; the school has said that in the event of an outbreak, only directly affected groups will be notified with public health guidance.

Columbia High School is a great example of a failed attempt at educating a student body on how to stay safe and healthy post-pandemic. The way we talk about COVID-19 and illness in general in school must be reformed. The contraction of serious preventable diseases should not be seen as something that comes with going to school.  

The school has stated that, as of 2024, they will be treating COVID-19-related absences like all other absences [see the Return to School Guidebook below]; however, Columbia’s attendance policy in itself is one example of the school failing to protect its students. By marking most illness-based absences as “verified” rather than fully excusing them (and thus counting these absences towards absence totals alongside cuts), Columbia is creating an environment in which students are subtly discouraged from staying home when they are sick; and with COVID-19, students can fall more ill than you may think.  

Despite what some may say, COVID-19 is not just a “bad cold.” If you’re unlucky, the disease can not just kill you, but affect cognitive function. As the CDC has warned us, “Some people, especially those who had severe COVID-19, experience multi-organ effects or autoimmune conditions with symptoms lasting weeks, months, or even years after COVID-19 illness. Multi-organ effects can involve many body systems, including the heart, lung, kidney, skin, and brain.”

These potential effects mean COVID-19 can affect a student’s school performance, and by extension, their ability to get into colleges, long after initial contraction. Neurological issues from COVID-19 aren’t as uncommon as you may think; the CDC found that 6.9 percent of adults have suffered from this neurological damage, colloquially known as “long COVID.”

The good news about COVID-19, though, is that it’s a preventable illness. Getting vaccinated is a proven way to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and to mitigate COVID-19 outbreaks, “even with limited protection against infection”. COVID-19 vaccines are no longer required to enter schools; whether or not this was the right decision for the safety of students, however, is debatable. 

Schools requiring vaccines to attend is nothing new. In New Jersey, children without medical exemptions are required to receive a variety of vaccines at different stages of their life in order to attend school. While there are arguments against a potential mandate, at the end of the day, schools don’t have to mandate vaccines for their voices to be effective; just encouraging and reminding students and parents that COVID-19 is still around and a risk could do wonders for the health of our community. 

According to the CDC, only 8 percent of children and 19 percent of adults are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations. It feels as if in our community’s effort to forget the horrors of the pandemic, we have cultivated perfect conditions for the same instance to occur again. By reminding students that an updated booster is something that should be received, our district has the potential to keep its student body safer and healthier. 

We should have learned a lesson from the pandemic; there are ways to prevent yourself from getting sick, even during the winter months and in largely packed schools. Getting vaccinated or staying home and masking while sick was a norm in our community during the height of the pandemic; but instead of internalizing these practices, many of us took them as steps towards the pandemic being over—a “do all this, and things will return to normal” list. 

By forgetting about COVID-19 and refusing to learn from our past, we are being negligent to the health of our community. The school has a large voice; by acknowledging that COVID-19 is going around again and recommending masking and getting your COVID booster, they can help keep their students and community safe.


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