To return or not to return

Norwin students voice their opinions about reopening.


Julie Chenot

Additional seating was brought into the cafeteria to maintain social distancing during the high school’s three lunch periods.

Oliver Hinson, Writer

    On Feb. 15, 2021, Norwin’s K-4 students were given the option of full in-person learning. A week later, Norwin High School seniors were given the same choice. Now, it seems that the district wants to give the opportunity to all of its students.

     With COVID-19 cases trending downward in Westmoreland County and across western Pennsylvania, district officials determined that a staged reopening is possible. On Feb. 19, parents of students in grades 5-11 received a survey in which they were asked to pick a learning model for their child. Three options were given: 4 days of in-person instruction per week, a hybrid 2-day model, or a move to the Norwin Online Academy. A date for reopening has not yet been announced, and as of now, the highest priority is safety for all involved.

     “The District’s goal is to provide a safe, in-person learning environment for students and employees,” said superintendent Dr. Taylor in an e-blast on Feb. 19. “Therefore, we will be carefully analyzing and evaluating school district data along with COVID-19 transmission data from both Westmoreland County and the Norwin community.”

     The move caught some members of the community by surprise, and many are opposed to inviting larger numbers of students into schools, fearing that the social distancing we have seen all year may not be possible in the new setting. One of the leading voices of this opposition is Norwin graduate Isaac Anticole, who recently started a petition on to keep social distancing in Norwin schools. As someone who was there to witness the first wave of COVID-19 strike his school, and someone who still sees his family members having to put their lives at risk, he is vehement about his cause.

     “When I learned Norwin had accepted the fact that they were not going to social distance anymore, I had to take action,” said Anticole. “I wanted to do everything I could to keep my dad, sister, and girlfriend safe.”

     As a 2020 graduate and current student at the University of Pittsburgh, Anticole does not reside in North Huntington anymore, but he is heavily involved in his hometown’s affairs. He still knows hundreds of students at the school, and he feels connected to them, as well as the issues they face.

     “I feel sad for anyone else sharing a similar situation to me,” said Anticole. “I am friends with many people whose parents also teach at Norwin, and I know they must be feeling the same way.”

     Anticole is certainly familiar with taking action; he served on the student council during his time in high school, and he fought to keep several time-honored senior traditions when COVID-19 shut down his school for the first time, such as the prom and the senior celebration. Now, though, his role is much different, and so is his approach.

     “I wouldn’t say I’m a spokesperson, I feel I’m just another person expressing my frustrations,” said Anticole. “But since I did create the petition, I do feel a bit of responsibility to get results for everyone who signed it.”

     As for the petition itself, the title suggests that the main request is for more effective social distancing protocols, which the district has shown much interest in. When the seniors went back for full in-person instruction at the high school, the biggest change was additional seating in the cafeteria. With the addition of even more students, further changes will likely take place, as the district may use the suggested protocols from their first attempt at full in-person instruction. Even if these changes are implemented, though, Anticole argues that it will not be enough, and his petition urges that the only option is for the district to halt its ambitious reopening plan.

     “The solution is keeping students out of the school,” said Anticole. “Norwin does not possess the physical space to socially distance their entire student population.”

     Anticole and others around him now find themselves concerned about the future, as it appears that the district is headed towards letting students return to school. 

    One of the biggest forces working for a large reopening cause is the hundreds of students who want to return for 4 days of in-person instruction.     

    “With all this online stuff going on for me, I can’t do any work at home,” said sophomore Khai Davis. “I learn better in person than on a screen.”

     Davis isn’t the only one that was forced to make major adjustments to be able to learn effectively this year, and he definitely isn’t the only one who dislikes the various format changes Norwin went through this year. A lot of people feel that online learning took away from their overall experience.

     “I learn better in a classroom environment,” said junior Luke Passarelli. “I take AP Chemistry, and a big part of that class is in-person labs. Without that aspect, I feel like my learning was hindered.” 

     Of course, education is not the only thing that took a hit because of the pandemic. For hundreds of these students, going back to full in-person instruction means seeing a large percentage of their friends for the first time in nearly a year.

     “It will mean the world to me to be able to see all of my friends in school for the first time,” said sophomore Abrielle Brown. “I share many classes with them, and constantly wish that we were all in the same group, so it will be nice to get to experience school with them now.”

     For some students, COVID-19 is too big of a concern to move to the 4-day model; Westmoreland County is still in the “Moderate” category when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus. For others, though, that issue is not as pressing as the quality of their learning.

     “I’m willing to risk it for my education,” said Davis. “I understand where anyone comes from when they say that it’s dangerous, but I feel like the reward would be greater than the risk.”

     With that being said, the coronavirus is still a factor in the minds of these students. Many of these children, along with their families, took the proper precautions to ensure their safety, and some even received immunization.

     “Most members of my family have already been vaccinated,” said Passarelli. “Plus, in school, I will still stay within the guidelines for COVID-19 to the best of my ability.”

     As the vaccination numbers go up, and the case numbers go down, we may see successful reopening efforts by the district and others around it in the near future. Right now, the only thing we know for sure is that Norwin students will keep learning, and keep fighting for what the students believe in.

     “I do not know what the outcome of my decision to go back 4 days will be,” said Passarelli. “All I know is, in my opinion, it will be worth the risk to ensure a quality learning environment for myself.”