Across the country, different school districts have taken radically different approaches to reopening in the 2021 school year. The Logan-Hocking school district in southeastern Ohio, which kept schools open most of last year, began this school year without an indoor mask requirement for vaccinated students. About one month in, 150 students and staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 1,000 had been quarantined.
Over the past two years, “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal has been checking in from time to time with the school board’s president, Dr. Scott Anzalone, who is also a family physician. After the school district adjusted its mask policy to require masks indoors for all students, Ryssdal spoke with Megan Anzalone, Dr. Anzalone’s wife, an art teacher at Logan High School. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: Tell me where we have tracked you down. You’re still in school, right?
Megan Anzalone: I am still at school. Yep. Our final bell just rang about 10 minutes ago.
Ryssdal: How was the day today for you?
Anzalone: It was fine. Things seem to be settling in, a little bit.
Ryssdal: Tell me more about “settling in,” because that kind of implies a little bit of disruption.
Anzalone: It’s been a rough start. We actually had, I would say, an incredibly successful year, last school year. We had no student-to-student transmissions in the high school the whole year, last year. But this year, we decided to try going back to school without masks and allowing the students to determine if they should wear [them] or not. The recommendation was, if you’ve not been vaccinated, you will wear a mask, but, of course, that didn’t really happen. And so we have had just a lot of kids getting sick, and a lot of kids getting quarantined.
Ryssdal: What does that mean for you, as a person whose job it is to, in effect, manage the classroom? And make sure the kids are on track and doing what they’re supposed to be doing? So, how are you doing that now, with kids in and out in quarantine?
Anzalone: Well, all of the teachers are required to have lessons posted on Google Classroom, which is the platform that we use. And then the students who are quarantined are allowed to come in on Google Meet, if they so choose, but most of them are just trying to keep up with work at home. So, we have to follow the kids in the classroom, we have to supply lessons for the kids that are home. When the kids get back, we have to catch them up on the important stuff that they missed, so it’s pretty rough. It’s been a bit of an organizational nightmare for everybody, from the administration all the way down to the kids.
Ryssdal: I’m sure. So as you try to plan your lessons, that’s out the window, right? It’s just not possible that you’re able to do that?
Anzalone: No, I mean, we’re still plugging away here, just like we would any other year, but it’s just — it’s just so different. So many kids are behind and, you know, it gets difficult to get caught up and I know that’s increasing stress in their life. So we went back to full masks for everybody in the buildings. But in all honesty, Hocking County is being hit right now harder than we have since the pandemic started.
Ryssdal: Yeah, when you go home at the end of the day — your husband’s on the school board, as we’ve told listeners before — what’s the dinner table conversation like?
Anzalone: Oh my goodness, we’re both pretty stressed right now. His office is getting slammed and we’re getting slammed here. So, yeah, we sometimes turn the news off, to be perfectly honest.
Ryssdal: I hear you. I totally get that. So, for the kids. What is not happening for them because of all this? I mean, I don’t know how long you’ve been teaching, but I imagine it’s been a while. What are they missing?
Anzalone: Well, I’m just seeing increased stress levels in them. They are frustrated. Our whole football team got quarantined at one point. The cheerleaders got quarantined, the volleyball players got quarantined. So they are experiencing anxiety, stress and trying to keep caught up, the loss of their activities, and it’s very, very frustrating for them just to not be back to normal. I think we all left the school at the end of last spring thinking, ‘We made it. It was a hard year, but we did it. When we come back, it’s all going to be better,’ and it’s not. It’s not better at all, and so I think that that has been very challenging for all of us.
Ryssdal: Are you tired?
Anzalone: Oh, yeah. Oh my goodness, so tired.