- Trump's leadership in the White House has left students in a lose-lose situation.
- Either schools will do virtual learning with the risk of students falling behind, or they can reinstate in-person learning and face the obvious health risks.
- Joe Biden is much better equipped to handle a crisis like this.
- Rachel Palermo is a J.D. candidate at Notre Dame Law School.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Back-to-school season used to be one of the most exciting times of year. This year, it's a complete disaster. Classrooms around the country are either empty, or they are unsafe. And the worst part is that it didn't have to be this way.
Pick your poison
When the pandemic first caused schools to go virtual in the spring, our nation's leaders should have sprung into action. They had a responsibility to the American people to take the virus seriously. But they failed to act. Instead, the Trump administration has repeatedly tried to spread the dangerous message that the crisis is overblown.
Last week, Trump recklessly held an indoor rally in Nevada in blatant defiance of state regulations and public health guidance. And earlier, news broke that Donald Trump admitted in March to intentionally downplaying the virus, even though he was aware that the virus is "deadly" and more threatening than the seasonal flu. Since Trump first started lying about the threat, nearly 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
Trump's only concern seems to be the optics of his re-election campaign, putting the safety of students in the crosshairs. Students have been thrust into a lose-lose situation. Either schools can choose to convert to virtual learning and let students fall behind academically, or they can return to in-person classes while risking their communities' health. Either way, students are the ones who lose.
Virtual learning isn't working, and it's widening the gap between students based on factors like socioeconomic status and race. Parents are expected to work full-time jobs on top of re-learning algebra they haven't seen since the '90s. And students with family members at home during the day are the lucky ones — many students don't have parents who have the ability to work remotely.
Additionally, some students have even struggled through virtual learning without having internet access at home. Just recently, a photo went viral of two students who resorted to sitting outside of a Taco Bell to connect to their online classes.
On the other hand, I've seen firsthand that in-person learning during the pandemic isn't the solution either. Since we returned to the University of Notre Dame for classes on campus less than a month ago, 654 members of our community have already tested positive for COVID-19.
After an immediate spike less than two weeks into classes, the school had to temporarily revert to virtual learning to get the virus under control. Notre Dame is doing everything it can to keep us safe, but there's no way to contain the virus when it is relentlessly spreading from coast to coast. Notre Dame's not alone — take a look at other colleges and universities across the country. From the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to the University of Alabama, infection rates skyrocketed once students returned to campus, and the outcomes could be deadly.
On top of the impact on our learning this year, the pandemic is going to harm our career trajectories for years to come. Trump's mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis has cost millions of Americans their jobs, forced small businesses to close, and destroyed our economy.
Students have already felt the economic impacts of COVID-19 after losing their internships and summer jobs. For those of us who worked virtually this summer, missing out on critical in-person professional experiences and networking opportunities is bound to stagnate our growth when we begin our careers.
We can fix this at the ballot box
The coronavirus touched my own family this spring. My great-uncle checked into a hospital after experiencing coronavirus symptoms in March, and he never saw a member of our family again. He passed away several weeks later — a solitary and painful death. My story isn't unique – people around the world have suffered loss from the virus. By failing to act, the Trump administration told us that those lives weren't worth saving. I had a semblance of hope that Trump would see the death toll and respond by taking action, but instead he dismissed our losses, saying, "It is what it is."
When a crisis happens, the most important part of being a leader is having a plan. But Trump failed to have a plan in the early days of the pandemic, and he still doesn't have one now. Back-to-school season is a nightmare this year because we are suffering the consequences of Trump's failure to protect the American people.
Students deserve steady leadership to address this crisis. We need a President who will put his constituents first by creating a plan informed by science. We need a leader who will believe that my great-uncle's life was one that was worth saving.
From the early days of the pandemic, Joe Biden immediately created a roadmap to steer our nation out of this crisis. He put forth a plan for reopening schools safely — something Trump should have done long ago. Under the leadership of the Biden-Harris administration, schools won't be forced into the same no-win situation next time around. We will finally have leaders who will take concrete steps to ridding us of this virus once and for all.
Joe Biden leads with purpose. He listens to the advice of public health experts. Biden has the empathy to understand the pain that students are going though, and he will restore the soul of our nation. Students need Joe Biden in the White House.
Rachel Palermo is a J.D. candidate at Notre Dame Law School. She previously served as the Assistant Press Secretary & Director of Women's Media at the Democratic National Committee.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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