While Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS) has extended its period of “virtual learning” until early October, private schools in North Carolina — including Cardinal Gibbons (CGHS), a Catholic school in Raleigh — have already begun welcoming students back on campus. But despite efforts to put in place precautionary measures and socially distance students, CGHS has already seen the rise of multiple Covid-19 cases amongst students, signalling a warning for what might be to come as public schools begin reopening for “mixed” N.C. Plan-B cohorts.
“I think the main reason for the clusters were people hanging out and partying constantly while not at school,” one CGHS junior stated. “…every day I’d see a new Instagram post of a huge group of friends hanging out together with no masks or not socially distanced, and it’d frustrate me, because they’re the reason the COVID situation in the US is getting worse and worse each day. I don’t think many students are taking it seriously at school either, as I’ve heard that the halls get really crowded and when a teacher isn’t looking, students will not socially distance themselves and take off their masks. The reason I chose to do online was that I knew what the students at Gibbons are like; I knew they’d continue to party and hang out amidst a global pandemic. I just think if they were more educated about the whole situation they’d handle it better, but they’re obviously not.”
Multiple students across schools in North Carolina have echoed the same sentiment. While schools including Gibbons have taken precautionary measures, including daily temperature checks, requiring face masks, and mandating social distance requirements, several have argued that such policies — while effective at school — do not keep track of students when out of school, where the spread of Covid has proliferated thanks to Covid “parties” — in which large masses of people intentionally try to contract Covid in order to develop a false sense of herd immunity — as well as continued gatherings where protections against Covid are put to the back burner.
Similar situations erupted on N.C. university campuses in early August as well. Some of the first warning shots were fired at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), where reopening plans came to a screeching halt after multiple Covid clusters plagued campus dorms. In an now-viral editorial targeted towards the UNC-CH administration, student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel proclaimed that most students had “seen this coming”: “… University leadership should have expected students, many of whom are now living on their own for the first time, to be reckless. Reports of parties throughout the weekend come as no surprise. Though these students are not faultless, it was the University’s responsibility to disincentivize such gatherings by reconsidering its plans to operate in-person earlier on.”
The CGHS junior interviewed agreed with such a stance, arguing that while Gibbons faculty could do their best to create a controlled environment within school walls, controlling students off-campus is a different task altogether.
“I personally think the Gibbons administration did a pretty good job with taking precautions. They installed thermal scanners at the entrance with facial recognition technology so when you enter the school, it’ll automatically take your temperature and your name, so you don’t have to take any further action. They also implemented a hybrid schedule where half of the students come to school for 2 days at a time and the other half comes the next 2 days. They also split each half into 3 sections so it would limit the number of students transitioning from class to class — however, to my knowledge, this system seems not to be working,” she said. “ I’ve also heard that they installed a lot of no-touch technology throughout the school, such as automatic sinks, hand sanitizer stations, etc. The admin has also been very clear and quick with communication regarding the precautions being taken and the corona cases at school. I just wish they would control the students a bit better and have consequences for not following the rules.”
Duke University, in particular, was praised for its approach to limiting unwarranted, high-risk student activity. Students who returned to Duke’s campus this fall have been subject to tight regulations spanning beyond merely mask-wearing requirements and daily temperature checks; the University implemented a massive testing plan with frequent check-ups on all students, has reduced dorm capacities by 50%, and requires that students on-campus sign the Duke Compact, a pledge making sure that students do not engage in risky behaviors that could lead to the formation of clusters. While high schools in North Carolina might not have the same resources or pooled expertise of universities such as Duke, the CGHS student interviewed asserted that there are lessons to be learnt from cases such as Gibbons’.
“Admin should have recognized the red flags immediately and reacted from the start (closing the school). I think they were too focused on pleasing the students and parents rather than the safety and well-being of students. When every other school is closing, it’d make sense to close your own school as well, no matter what precautions are being taken. Even in Zoom meetings, I’ll see people on camera with their friends hanging out and not socially distancing at all. Once the school is forced to close, the students will finally realize the gravity of the situation.”
The student from CGHS featured has requested that The GH Falcon maintain her anonymity.