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The following is a copy of a letter submitted to the Nantucket School Committee by members of the Student Committee for Reopening.
As the Nantucket Public School system has begun to make plans for the fall, a few high school students were gathered together to form a Student Committee on Reopening in order to give the student perspective on various issues facing the school system. We are members of that committee, and we feel it is our duty to speak up about what we have seen, as we believe that the current plan does not adequately provide for the safety of students or faculty.
We understand how difficult this must be for the administration. The position they have been put in is entirely unfair, and we know they are doing their very best and trying to make the decisions they believe are the best ones for the school system and the community as a whole. In fact, we agree with the administration on many things, including that a hybrid model is the correct choice for Nantucket. We have seen how similar comments from teachers have been misinterpreted as calls for all-remote education, when that was not what they were saying at all, and want to be as plain as possible that we believe hybrid learning is the best choice for our island. However, we feel that the current plan does not take into account many key issues that could prove dangerous should an outbreak occur on the island.
One issue that the current plan fails to address is arrival in the mornings. We were told that students would be expected to stand in circles placed six feet apart outside of the main entrance to the High School, but this presents several major problems. First, we doubt there will be enough space for hundreds of students to maintain proper distancing. Second, many kids rely on being able to arrive at school early to complete homework, get needed assistance, or simply because of their parent’s schedules. Will they be expected to sit in these circles for half an hour or more while waiting for the doors to open? Third, if it ever rains, it will not be feasible to keep students standing outside in the pouring rain with their computers, phones, and textbooks. Presumably, they will have to be allowed into the school early, but there is certainly not enough space to socially distance over two hundred kids in the lobby. Finally, this system of entry will result in hundreds of people crowding the doors to get into the school building all at exactly the same time. It is not reasonable to expect they will all stay six, three, or even one foot apart during this period. Everyone will be pushing against each other and jostling to get inside, allowing COVID to spread easily.
We understand that COVID spreads better with prolonged exposure, but it is also true that COVID can spread from direct bodily contact almost instantly, and this style of entry will doubtless create such contact. So, too, will having everyone transition from class to class at the same time. When receiving our tour of the building, we found it difficult to maintain a modicum of social distance with only eight of us moving from room to room. With over two hundred, it will be impossible. The same holds for dismissal at the end of the day, which seems, currently, to be entirely unregulated. It also must be stressed that school will not be the only point of contact for many students. Recently, Nantucket has seen direct concrete proof that some students will attend large scale, unsafe parties with no social distancing and no masks regardless of what the district says. People will contract COVID from such gatherings, and it is dangerous and unfair to then force all other students into repeated close physical contact with them.
Also unregulated in the current plan are after school clubs, aside from sports teams. We were told that regulating clubs will be left up to the individual teachers in charge of the clubs, which not only places an unfair burden on teachers already trying to deal with the difficulties of hybrid learning, but also assumes all teachers will diligently discern and enforce all necessary regulations without any external guidance whatsoever.
Several questions we presented to administrators during meetings of the Committee went entirely unanswered. At present, freshmen do not know what classes they will be taking in the fall, no students have schedules, and there is no definite answer about how the school will handle teachers that do not have their own classrooms, or exactly how hybrid learning is going to work. When combined, this suggests that the school has not decided how to handle several key components of hybrid learning, up to and including what hybrid learning will actually mean. It isn’t even clear yet whether attending class while remote would be mandatory and whether students would be held accountable for not doing so and not completing remote work, which was the single thing the Student Committee stressed above all others as a necessity for the fall, and the thing almost every student on the Committee cited as the biggest flaw with Spring’s remote learning.
We may not have the decision making power of administrators or a union like teachers, but we represent the vast majority of people who will actually be in the building during the fall, affected by the plans being made. If there is an outbreak of COVID at school, it is students who will be most likely to contract it, students who will be blamed for it, students who will sacrifice their education because of it, and students who will have been ignored most during this process.
We want an education, and we are willing to put in the work necessary in order to get it, but the current plan simply fails to address safety concerns in many areas.
JohnCarl McGrady, Camie Strojny and Gillian Antonietti, members of the Student Committee on Reopening