Thoughts on Returning Back to School: Phase 1

Sequoyah’s COVID-19 Health and Safety working group, headed by Brian Eagan, Director of Field Studies, has put together a plan for when Sequoyah’s high school can return to campus. This plan, which complies with Pasadena Public Health Department, LA Department of Public Health, California Department of Public Health, and CDC metrics and regulations, includes many variations of reopening. Eagen explained them to us for this article. 

The first part of going back to school would be Phase 1, also known as the Social Connections or Cohort scenario.  In this scenario, students will be in stable cohorts with their advisory and will not be mixing with any other advisory cohorts. Right now, it is modeled that 9th grade advisories would be on campus Mondays, 10th grade on Tuesdays, 11th grade on Thursdays, and 12th grade on Fridays. Eagan explained that while academics would still be online, “when you have your grade level day, students have the option to come to campus and do their Zoom lessons in the morning, from a classroom or outside space.” He continued by noting that “in the afternoon when [students] usually do office hours and advisory, it’s an opportunity to put away our devices and actually have some in person face-to-face time with each other.” This face-to-face time can include many activities such as going to the Arroyo or playing socially distant games on the lawn. For safety reasons, students will be asked to use an app called Covid Ready to track any symptoms or exposures every morning. Eagan stated that the app will then “give you a green light to come to campus, or it will indicate that you should stay home.” He explained other safety measures the school will be taking, including “temperature checks when people arrive,… wearing masks at all times except for when we are eating, physical distancing 6-feet or more, [and] regular handwashing.  He also noted that “we have installed additional handwashing stations on campus so that it is really easy for people to wash their hands a lot.” 

When students were asked if they prefer in-person or online school, about 90% of the students that answered said that they prefer in-person school. Next, students were asked on a scale of 1-10 how likely they would be to go back, with 1 being “definitely not going back” and 10 being “definitely going back.” 50% of the students answered 5 and under while 33.5% answered above a 5. From the data we have collected, we see that under the late-October conditions, most students would not want to return to school. Students were also asked to explain their answers; the consensus was that it was too soon to return back to school, that cases were currently the highest they had ever been, and that students were not sure if they would feel safe. 

When asked about their comfort in returning to school when given the green light, many students had differing views. Will Maples, an 11th grader, stated that he wouldn’t feel comfortable returning to school because “nothing has calmed down,” but “it’s definitely a possibility when cases start to go down.” Maples also added that “we should be more concerned about the safety of students and not jump back into things as soon as they start calming down.” 

10th grader Leah Haveson agreed with Maples about ensuring safety of the students and also went on to say that she believes it is “unrealistic to think that kids are going to stay apart.” 

On the other hand, 9th grader Tingri Monahan had no oppositions to the plan and would feel safe returning under the proposed plan. Monahan would like to return to campus when it is safe to do so because she believes “it’s important for students to get some form of social activity.” 

12th grader Julian Suh-Toma offered a middle ground by stating that although he would “feel comfortable returning to school under the proposed plan, [he doesn’t] think it’s a good idea.” He elaborated, saying that doing “Zoom from [his] room versus Room 6 [on campus] will feel hardly different” and although seeing his advisory is important, he “would not want to drive all the way to school and…back for an experience that, to me, feels insignificantly different than what’s happening right now.”