Opinion | We shouldn’t prepare for a ‘normal’ semester

We shouldn’t be dreaming of a perfect fall semester when we’re struggling as it is.


Katie Goodale

Students walk on the T. Anne Cleary on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 on the last day of in-person learning before Spring Break, after which the university will move learning online due to growing concerns around COVID-19. The UI will be returning to mostly in-person learning in fall 2021.

Signe Nettum, Opinions Contributor

Believe me, I’m sick of writing about COVID-19 at this point. However, it is still running our lives. It will continue to run our lives, even when vaccinations are widely distributed and the majority of the U.S. is vaccinated — we need between 70 and 85 percent of the population to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

One of the many systems the virus has taken its toll on is schools. With the sudden drop of in-person learning in spring 2020 and the continuation of online learning in fall 2020, many students of all grades are falling behind in learning skills. Some are losing up to a full academic year.

To combat this phenomenon, schools — including the University of Iowa — are trying to implement hybrid learning, in which half of the class participates online and the other in-person for part of the week, then switching places. All the while, the class must still comply with COVID-19 regulations — wearing masks indoors, staying six feet away (when applicable inside), and having a limited number of students in a room.

A new law signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds that requires schools to offer an in-person option means the Iowa City Community School District must scrap its partial in-person plan, and force parents and students to choose between all in-person or all-virtual instruction.

While parents are pushing for in-person teaching as they grow more comfortable with the idea of sending their kids to school without vaccinations, teachers nationwide are struggling to take on the idea of instructing some students online in the same classes as students in the classroom.

The process of pushing in-person learning is happening as Iowa enters Phase 1B of vaccinations. Tier 1 includes those working within the K-12 school district — though that doesn’t include higher education professors. Tier 3 involves those who live in congregate settings — but college dormitories do not qualify as a congregate setting.

The UI recently issued a statement saying that it plans to move back to a traditional learning setting led by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Most college students will have to wait until April to receive a vaccine — and that is even if colleges require students to have the vaccine before the fall 2021 semester. Meanwhile, children under the age of 16 have yet to be listed on either Phase 1 or 2 of the vaccination process. Phase 2 is estimated to start in the summer of 2021 to prepare those who are returning to highly populated areas, such as high schools or college campuses, yet have not given those who are younger than 16 any protection against the virus.

Why are we preparing for a “normal” fall semester when the greater majority of the students will not be vaccinated? I am all for an in-person semester, but only if the necessary precautions are taken for everyone.

As it stands, we are not ready for a “normal” semester, and we need to plan for another hybrid semester.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.