In-Person Learning or Virtual Instruction?

Melanie Wang and Nathan Kim

Since the beginning of the pandemic, students’ lives have changed greatly. The introduction and implementation of virtual classes is a prime example, and a hot button issue for many as FCPS approaches it’s one-year anniversary of all in-person instruction being cancelled due to COVID-19.

During Summer 2020, FCPS sent students and parents a survey asking them to choose a preference for either all virtual instruction, or a hybrid of virtual and in-person. In August, an increase in coronavirus cases led to FCPS closure for 100% virtual.

Some school counties have implemented a hybrid school schedule consisting of a combination of in-person and online learning, but Fairfax County decided to go with an all online path. This has been met with some controversy, and remains a topic for debate. Students continue to be divided on the subject.

With that in mind, we present the case for both sides.


Students have had the option to continue virtual or move to hybrid, however with recent spikes in COVID-19 cases they should reconsider their return. 

At home students will be guaranteed safety from the virus. According to the Fairfax county COVID-19 health metrics core indicators, FCPS is at the highest risks with 631 new cases in the past 14 days. 14% of RC-PTR tests have been positive within the past 14 days and are in the category of high risk. According to the FCPS Daily class charts, the staff have the most cases. Without distribution of the vaccine, students who return to hybrid-learning have a higher risk of getting the disease. 

Remaining with virtual learning will benefit students personally. Students will have a more flexible sleep schedule because they don’t have to drive or get ready for in-person learning. During virtual school, students could wake up 10 minutes before class rather than in-person when they might wake up 1 hour earlier.  

There is also no guarantee of how long hybrid learning will remain; if a student or staff contracts the virus, most likely the school will have to switch back to all virtual. It is easier to remain in virtual learning rather than facing the hassle of switching back and forth. 

School before March 2020 was mask free, social distance free, and virus free. If students return to school this February there will be fewer people, strict guidelines, and social distancing. School will not feel socially the same as students will be split on different days based on last name. A-K would attend school Tuesday and Wednesday while L-Z would attend Thursday and Friday. Those who look forward to returning to class with their friends who have last names on opposite sides of the alphabet will not be able to attend together. Even if the students have classes with their friends, the classroom setting will be socially distanced with masks to ensure safety. School won’t feel the same because of the safety measures. Additionally, Lunch time won’t be close with best friends like how lunch was before. 

The FCPS website explains, “We will follow strict safety and health protocols to minimize health risks for students and staff,” and “(a)s additional grade levels return to school, we will employ concurrent instruction for in person students, a model in which students receive two days of teacher-led instruction in the school building and two days of teacher-led instruction at home.” 

Overall, remaining virtual learning this school year is the right choice due to the high risk spike in FCPS cases and the added changes to in school learning conditions. 


For almost a year the students at Fairfax County Public Schools have been in virtual classes and it is clear that they are not sufficient, and that a return to in-person learning is the best course. Online learning is worse than in person because the learning experience is worse, social relationships are limited, and health hazards occur frequently.

When one thinks of school, they think of how much they will learn, but in virtual classes the feeling just isn’t the same. Many students feel that there just isn’t the same connection as a real lesson in a real school. It can be easy to lose focus or follow the lesson, leaving many students confused, and forcing them to study a new topic on their own, without teacher support. The teaching method of briefly explaining what’s happening and then assigning work to do with due dates to reach also doesn’t feel like it teaches students anything. Some classes also are not suited to a virtual classroom. For example chemistry is a class that feels substantially different in a virtual space with the lack of fun labs. Overall, the virtual learning situation leaves students feeling like they’re not learning.

Next, every social interaction feels limited. Because we are forced to learn through computer screens, the whole concept of student relationships is broken to pieces. No one is really interacting with each other and a working relationship with our teachers just feels little and/or non-existent. Teachers sometimes alter their teaching methods to cater to students learning needs based off their relationships with them. In online classes they can only guess to some extent. As I’ve heard some teachers say, it’s hard to gauge understanding or develop relationships without seeing and being in the same room as students. Forming key relationships with other students is also harder to do because of the disconnection to real interactions.

Finally, there are the staggering health hazards. These are impacts on both mental health and physical health. Staring at screens for long times causes eye strain, and leaves students feeling tired. With a virtual learning space, many student’s sleep schedules have either improved or gotten worse, indicating further inequities. The amount of assignments and classes can leave students feeling more stressed than if they were in an in-person school, as well, and having multiple platforms for assignments can lead to students missing work which will further hurt their mental health. With all the stress and work piling up, and with fewer people to talk to, this can lead to students experiencing feelings of loneliness, disconnect, and possibly depression.

FCPS and the school board recently made the decision to return to school on a limited basis. The county will implement the concurrent model that had been previously drawn up and discussed. Students who have selected a preference for in-person instruction are scheduled to return in waves, depending on grade level, starting in mid-February and extending through mid-March.