McLean students decide to stay virtual

As Highlanders return to school, an increasing number of students opt to remain home


Taylor Olson

SCARCELY POPULATED – Nate Van Nuys’ 3rd period Geometry class had just a few students present in the classroom on Thursday, March 18. About 44% of students have returned to the building, down from the 70% who previously said they would return.

Jack Shields and Scott Shields

Hybrid learning, a combination of in-person and online teaching, has been in effect at McLean since March 2. With many students, teachers and their families anxious to get back in the building, a limited return to in-person learning has been a welcome change of pace for many. Still, many who have returned to school can’t help but notice that the once crowded hallways of McLean High School are even more spacious than expected. 

Currently, only 44% of McLean students are opted into in-person learning, meaning less than one-quarter of McLean’s student population is at school on a given day. As students who are opted in still have the ability to choose to stay home on days that they are scheduled to be in-person, that number is likely even less most days. What is particularly interesting about this low turnout is that a large number of students who had opted into in-person learning earlier in the year switched their decision in the weeks leading up to March 2, choosing to stay in all virtual learning instead. 

According to Director of Student Services Paul Stansbery, about 70% of students were scheduled to come in person earlier in the year. Lingering concern about the safety of the building was a factor in the change in heart among many families.

Some of them still had concerns about the pandemic and were just waiting to see if the situation was better enough for them to feel comfortable coming to school,” Stansbery said.

For other families, the decision to opt out of in-person learning was due to the timing of the return to school.

“I think others have gotten used to being at home and did not want to change formats in the second half of the school year,” Stansbery said. “I think there are a variety of reasons, but these were the two I heard the most from families.”

For a lot of students, the latter reason was the biggest deterrent from returning to an in-person environment. 

“I didn’t agree with the timing honestly. To bring us back so late in the year and after so much has already been taken away because of COVID just didn’t make sense to me,” said senior Matt Duval, who had initially opted into hybrid learning but flipped his decision a week before the return to school.

Another concern students had was that the social aspect of school, which would have been one of the most attractive reasons to return to the building, wouldn’t be the same with all of the safety precautions in place at McLean. 

“With the school splitting us up based on last names and a lot of people not going back, I felt like I would never see my friends or really get to interact with people that much, which would have been the reason I went back in the first place,” Duval said.

The increasing number of opt-outs has led to some interesting classroom dynamics since the return to school began. Teachers have found themselves instructing classes with just a few students—or even just one—in the physical classroom.

Although this has presented an awkward situation for students and teachers who are back in the building, the McLean administration is already working with students on ways to improve the experience. Some ideas include allowing students to form study pods during Highlander Time rather than restricting them to staying in their 2nd period classes, allowing students to eat lunch in their cars and trying to find a way to eliminate the disparities between testing in-person and online. 

More details about these changes should be made available to students soon, and these improvements may also give reason for students to reconsider their opt-outs.

“If students wish to return to the building later, they can reach out to me. I have to make sure there is room for social distancing in their classes. If there is room, we schedule them to come in,” Stansbery said. “We continue to get requests for both virtual and in-person. I imagine this will continue to happen for a while.”