Although Cambridge Public Schools (CPS) have chosen not to return to in-person learning this fall for most students, some school districts around the Boston area have invited students back to learn in the classroom. The return to school in the COVID-19 era is creating difficulties for administrators who are seeking to create a better learning environment while also ensuring the safety of their students. However, administrators are worried about whether or not safety measures in school buildings will be enough to open schools without the risk of an outbreak.
Recently, Dover-Sherborn High School and Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School both announced that they would begin the school year online. This announcement altered the schools’ original plan, which was to begin the school year in a hybrid—online and in-person—format. The alterations made by both of the schools came after police broke up parties violating state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions in both school districts. The Lincoln-Sudbury case has made national headlines as charges have been filed against the hosts of the party as well as the parents of the hosts.
Lincoln-Sudbury (L-S) has also been prevented by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) from beginning the abbreviated fall sports season in mid-September as many other high schools have returned to play. L-S athletes were required to wait until October before beginning to practice with their teams again.
The actions of teenagers at these schools have highlighted concerns that high schoolers cannot be trusted to comply with COVID-19 guidelines if and when they return to school. CPS have not yet made a plan for the return to school for high schoolers, but any plan would be reliant on the cooperation of students. Strict rules in the school building alone would not suffice. Students would have to act in a responsible manner during all hours of the day. Ms. Shannon Manning, a PE teacher at CRLS, says she not only does not trust the students to be responsible, but she also does not trust the teachers, “I think, for people who have not had COVID impact them so personally, it’s the ‘If I get COVID, I get COVID, I’m young, I’ll survive it’ attitude”. Ms. Manning’s belief that all people, not just students, should not be trusted to follow COVID-19 rules shows that returning to school in-person will be very difficult.
Currently, Massachusetts does not allow gatherings of over 25 people indoors and a maximum of 50 people for gatherings in outdoor spaces. Socially, this year will look very different from past years for high school students. Large indoor parties are no longer allowed, a rule that is clearly being enforced, and any outdoor gatherings must also conform to the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. In general, high school students have found safe ways to meet their friends in small groups over the past six months. Taking these precautions seriously could be even more important in order to return to school safely.
CRLS fall athletes have been allowed to return to play starting on September 21st. COVID-19 safety protocols must be followed during both practices and games. Beyond practice, however, where coaches are not there to remind athletes of the protocols, the athletes must police themselves. Alister Cutler ’21, a CRLS soccer player, believes that school can resume in-person learning if everyone is acting responsibly. He says, “In soccer, we started doing the right thing and it has worked pretty well. If we can apply the stuff we are doing in sports to school we can go back [to school]”.
Although individual students may take it upon themselves to be responsible, decisions will have to be made by administrators in every school district of whether or not to trust the students. Whatever the administrators decide, it will be met with both criticism and praise. That being said, when, or if, CPS returns to school this year, it can only work if everyone is onboard and willing to follow the rules to the fullest extent.