The holiday gift of quarantining

DM, SUSD launch second semester online

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Illustration by Nora Khaled

STOPPING A SUPERIMPOSED SURGE: On Nov. 13, Superintendent Menzel sent a letter asking for all students who travel or partake in large gatherings during Thanksgiving break to quarantine for two weeks afterward. There is currently discussion about implementing a similar request for winter break, in the hopes of preventing a surge in COVID-19 cases similar to that seen after Thanksgiving. Board member-elect Dr. Hart-Wells says that using masks can help subdue surges in COVID-19 spread. “We have masks available to us now,” Dr. Hart-Wells said; “we don’t have to wait on a vaccine.”

Christopher Lessler, Staff writer

On the final day of Thanksgiving break, in-person learning students were expecting to return to school the following day and enjoy a partial return to normality. Meanwhile, Enhanced Distance Learning students were expecting to log onto their classes and see only a few cubes containing other classmates; most of the activity would be happening within a single room.

But instead, EDL was reinstated for all students, prompting the loss of a sense of normalcy.

And Thanksgiving break was to blame.

Therefore, DM and SUSD decided to plan in advance what would occur next semester—and they chose to keep students online for the first two weeks.

‘Following the science’

Initially, SUSD’s plan to mitigate the effects of Thanksgiving break was to request that students who travelled or took part in large gatherings move to EDL for two weeks.

“I thought it was a responsible action,” said board member-elect Dr. Hart-Wells. “I applaud that [Superintendent Menzel] did that.”

However, because DM switched to EDL after Thanksgiving, the quarantine was in effect extended to all students.

Now, the school and district have decided their next steps. The SUSD governing board will meet Jan. 5 to decide when and under what circumstances students will return to school.

Dr. Hart-Wells says that for all decisions that have to be made, she plans to be “following the science.”

To Dr. Hart-Wells, that means using SUSD’s COVID-19 dashboard to justify all relevant decisions. “I am a scientist by training, so I don’t make very many assumptions,” said Dr. Hart-Wells. “I let data tell me what to conclude.”

Therefore, data must be timely and accurate. “It’s very difficult to make prospective decisions based on old data,” Dr. Hart-Wells said, “when we are dealing with a virus in real time.”

Even with this data, making decisions regarding how to handle winter break might be somewhat difficult.

“The best case scenario” regarding winter break, said DM Assistant Principal Ms. Hardy, “would be that everybody has a very safe break, and they make responsible choices, and that everybody benefits.”

However, SUSD has decided not to depend on students acting safely.

“The hardest decision that I think is being made—and I think continues to be made—is whether or not to have school open,” Ms. Hardy said. “There are so many factors involved in that.”

Ms. Hardy noted that although the district makes most major decisions, DM does play an important advisory role.

CUBE OR CLASSROOM: Before Thanksgiving break, Wolf’s Print sent out a survey about (among other topics) school breaks and how, if at all, the school should handle the related safety concerns. Out of 194 respondents, 160 students stated that they would support a district directive to quarantine for those who travel or partake in large gatherings. However, 34 students stated that they would oppose such a directive, including Noah Kettner (12), who wrote, “[I] am fine with mask mandates but not the stay at home orders. [I] only have one year of high school left and want to spend all of it.”
‘So many different views’

Allison Meester (12), an EDL student, approves the school closure because of “the increase in not only cases but also deaths and the possible mutation, making it [COVID-19] easier to spread.”

Meester also forecasted a quarantine request for travelers and students who participate in large gatherings.

“I think they will consider it, and weigh out the positives and negatives, and eventually” decide to prescribe a quarantine, Meester said. However, she added that “the issue is that there are so many different views.”

Camden Kross (11) agreed that a post-winter break quarantine directive for select students would be beneficial.

“I mean, you walk through the halls and kids are bumping into each other—kids are a foot or two apart,” Kross said, “but I think for the most part, everyone is pretty good at wearing masks.”

However, Kross also said that he “would like to see that we go back in person,” after which DM announced a continuation of EDL.

Freshman Sydney Franks disagrees with quarantine requests for travelers. “I personally don’t think we should have to quarantine—because everyone at school is wearing masks,” Franks said, “and nobody has gotten COVID from someone sitting next to them.”

At school, Franks said, “I don’t think I felt unsafe in any way.”

“I personally don’t think that it [closing] was that fair to any of the kids who were in school,” Franks said.

Following the science is how we’ve gotten out of epidemics in the past around the world, and it’s how we’re going to get out of this one.”

— Dr. Hart-Wells

What the future might hold

In the near future, DM and SUSD must make major decisions regarding education in the age of COVID-19.

So far, SUSD has followed the lead of nearby districts, including Mesa Unified School District, that have already decided to conduct remote learning in high schools for two weeks after winter break.

But whatever decisions DM and SUSD might be tasked with making in the future, grounding them in fact will still be a priority.

“Following the science is how we’ve gotten out of epidemics in the past,” Dr. Hart-Wells said, “and it’s how we’re going to get out of this one.”