Education and Health: An Unfathomable Daily Balance
by Mackenzie P.
Duxbury High School, like many other high school communities across the nation, has been given the incredibly challenging task of keeping kids in school and keeping kids safe. Since the start of the 2020-21 school year in September, pandemic protocols have been in place for the safety of DHS students, staff, and—by extension—the overall Duxbury community. These include the mandatory wearing of a mask above the nose and mouth, one-way hallways to decrease traffic, social distancing, and cleaning regimens. However, the development of initial protocols began much earlier than the fall. The first protocols created, done so under the influence of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, were drafted in late June. These protocols have been revised since then, most recently on December 8th to accommodate the CDC’s adjustment of necessary days in quarantine for close contacts.
DHS is not always the authority figure responsible for certain revisions. While bringing back high needs students in-person to school four days a week was a local decision, the shortened number of necessary days in quarantine for close contacts was enforced by the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Mr. Jim Donovan, principal of Duxbury High School, urges the importance of hand washing, mask wearing, and physically distancing—especially in “unstructured areas.”
Despite protocols such as plexi-glass in the cafeteria, Mr. Donovan said, “Lunch is a spot where we have a lot of exposure to risk because kids aren’t wearing their masks.” More and more students are choosing the gym for their lunch spot due to the room’s lack of plexi-glass “where [students] can have more social conversations with each other” Mr. Donovan added. In the gym, “[staff members] are constantly having to walk around and tell people you’ve got to spread out, and that is frustrating for kids and it’s frustrating for everyone involved because having lunch behind plexiglass is not a normal experience.” While staff members work to enforce distancing regulations, student’s safety is very much reliant upon their own choices as to whether or not they will hold themselves and their peers accountable for proper spacing. “Some people are willing to tolerate more risk to have a more social experience,” said Mr. Donovan in regards to those who prefer the gym to the cafeteria.
Other riskier situations include more instances “where the environment is least controlled” according to Mr. Donovan, such as driving to and from school and sports practices when students could be driving other kids, as well as walking into the building from the student parking lot.
“I worry about things like kids carpooling to practice,” Mr. Donovan added. “While I hope that kids are wearing masks in those situations, I’m not sure people are. And that increases our collective risk.”
He urges the student body to “be vigilant at all times.”
This is not an uncommon concern. Mr. Dennis, a DHS history teacher, agreed that the uncertainty of not knowing students’ behavior outside of school can be worrisome, a concept which was echoed by junior Ava R. Ava does feel very safe in the building, but not knowing where students have been and how they approach daily life with the coronavirus would be what she feels is the most risky aspect of in-person learning. “If I were to think of something that would make me most worried, it would be not knowing when everyone comes to school, where they’ve been before…” she said. “You don’t know who they’ve been in contact with, where they’ve been, what sports they play, or anything. There are so many unknown factors.”
However, Mr. Donovan feels that “largely our student body has been incredible at being responsive to the moment, and recognizing and understanding… what they have to do to keep themselves safe and to keep others safe.” In a similar way, Ava R. believes students have been doing an overall very good job with following the rules because kids genuinely do want to stay in school, especially after knowing what all remote learning feels like from last spring. “No one wants to leave school, and if we’re all at home, there are no sports,” she said, pointing out athletic competition as another motivation to be in-person.
As of noon on Thursday, January 7th, 20 members of the DHS community had tested positive since January 1st according to an important Covid-19 update from Superintendent John Antonucci. However, this sudden influx of cases did not prompt the high school to go remote temporarily. In regards to the decision to stay open, Mr. Donovan said, “Largely schools have a responsibility to be open and educate our students when we are able to do so. We felt we were able to do so this week.” In regards to what would cause a periodic shutdown of in-person learning, he informed that there is not a certain number of positive cases which would cause this. “If the town was in red for a couple of weeks, I don’t think one event would shut us down,” Mr. Donovan said, “but there are factors that could.”
Duxbury High School is constantly working to evolve in order to better keep school open and keep school safe. One significant aspect of navigating education in a Covid-world has been communication.
“We’ve changed how to provide notice to individuals and how to provide notice to parents broadly,” Mr. Donovan said, “not because they didn’t work but because we realized we could do a better job.”
Through this all, students are evolving as well.
“The resiliency of the spirit of our kids has been incredible for me to watch—it’s been humbling,” said Mr. Donovan.
The perseverance through changes and creative ways to navigate through pandemic-centraled daily life has proved inspiring.
“Those are things that don’t fit into a gradebook or GPA, but they’re skills and opportunities for us to grow as a community and as individuals,” Mr. Donovan said. A huge thank you was also extended to the Duxbury High School teachers, as the principal acknowledged “nothing has been as complicated as the last ten months have been for our teachers, and they have been incredible” with their “drive to support their students….I love them dearly.”