Redwood must adapt safer protocols to avoid zooming back to distance learning

A key component to any child’s success comes from their educational opportunities, and, in Marin County, these are plentiful for students. They have the privilege to attend in-person school, allowing for fewer distractions, increased concentration and more personalized learning experiences that combat falling behind in school. After almost a whole year of distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools in the U.S., including Redwood, have reopened full-time at 100 percent capacity for the 2021-2022 school year. While this in-person experience grants us many opportunities, it also enables many risks surrounding exposure to COVID-19.

Illustration by Cat Agarwall

Currently, students are required to wear a mask covering their mouth and nose inside and receive a rapid COVID-19 test if they are sent home sick. If the test comes back positive, the student is required to be quarantined, and an email is sent out to the student’s classes to inform the classmates. However, exposure to COVID-19 occurs out of the classroom, considering students socialize with their peers in the hallways, at break and during lunch. During these times students frequently neglect the use of masks, even inside. It does not make sense to only notify the students in the classes of the COVID-19 positive student. Instead, everyone in the school should be notified. The Redwood community must create a more efficient and informative COVID-19 protocol and work together to prevent our school from shutting down once again, especially amidst the rising Delta variant.

Redwood has experienced several COVID-19 outbreaks since returning to full-time in-person school. When there is a possible outbreak, word begins to spread around the student body. Students constantly ask their peers if they know who got COVID-19, wondering whether they were in contact with the infected individual.
However, there are ways to navigate these students’ concerns and worries. Revealing more information about an outbreak will help others take action to prevent families and individuals from contracting the virus. According to the October 2021 Bark survey, 39 percent of students said they want to be informed about a possible COVID-19 outbreak and agreed that the student’s name should be exposed when tested positive. If Redwood’s administration wants to provide a safe and secure learning environment for students, they need to be more open about COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), explained the consequences of COVID-19 outbreaks during the school year in an article published by the New York Times.
“If schools do not notify, it actually can make disease control more difficult,” Dr. Jha said. “It is not like no one will know. Word will get out through a rumor mill. You don’t scare people by telling them what is going on. You scare them by hiding information.”

However, many argue that providing more information about the COVID-19 positive student could be considered a violation of privacy. Federal laws, namely The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), ensure the protection of students’ privacy throughout their high school years. Due to FERPA, Redwood cannot expose the individual’s name who contracts COVID-19. But if students aren’t allowed to know who gets COVID-19, the entire school should at least be informed when someone at Redwood has the virus.

Redwood must create new mandates in order to help create a better COVID-19 protocol. Keeping the Redwood community informed is a big step the school can take to help prevent COVID-19 cases from increasing. Through communication and honesty, Redwood will have a better chance at continuing in-person school for the entire school year.