The school has been prudent in its decision making and wise in its restrictions concerning the safety of its students during the pandemic. But one unclear challenge coming into this academic year was the school’s handling of reported COVID-19 cases.
So far, there have been at least two cases reported. Those students have been isolated, their cohorts were temporarily made virtual, and their identities kept anonymous. However, as the school is not obligated to do so, it has not officially reported these cases to the student body or their parents. Sadly, I believe this is a significant blemish on the school’s otherwise near-perfect response to this year’s altered situation. While I understand protecting students’ identities, withholding this information is problematic for a number of reasons.
First, this information is necessary for everyone’s safety. There are many students who, if they had known about the reported cases, would have chosen to go virtual at least temporarily or would not have chosen to return to school if already virtual; I certainly would have considered going virtual.
While the school took one correct precaution in notifying students who had been in direct contact with students who have tested positive, I believe that this is not enough. While mask-wearing and physical distancing among students has been relatively successful, it certainly has not been absolute or perfect: hallways still occasionally get crowded, mask breaks are not foolproof, and desks often get rearranged so that the six feet separating them is reduced.
However, I am not trying to criticize how the school’s enforcement of precautions, as these glitches are understandable and partially expected; rather, I am trying to show that one case could potentially have infected many students outside of a single cohort or class. With an unprecedentedly high transmission rate, this is exactly why COVID-19 can be so dangerous. Given that the system, albeit well-designed, is not perfect, an announcement to people in the community of the presence of a case would not have only been warranted but expected.
Second and perhaps even more importantly, an official announcement of the first cases could have been beneficial to the community’s understanding of the new precautions. With an imminent threat of a recent case, I believe students would become more aware of wearing masks and of distancing from their classmates. It would create a consensus that the rules and standards we have agreed to are merited. The fact that these cases remained isolated is a testimony to the effectiveness of the school’s policies and shows the student body that the sacrifices we are making are necessary, but without any kind of official communication to the students, doubt and uncertainty clouds what could be clarity and confidence.
Third, it would prevent circulation of rumors. If the administration was more communicative, there would be less conflict than I see now. There would not be speculation of student identities, discussion of blame, or students upset with the school’s handling of the situation. Unfortunately, however, all of these things have happened as a result of the vagueness that still surrounds the situation.
The school has done an excellent job in its reopening plans and in enforcing the precautions meant to protect the student body, but in order for this response to be called perfect, students must know about cases present in the school.