Forced normalcy in a COVID world

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Vidhi Patel, ’21

As strides in vaccinations are being made and states around the country are opening up again, the world is beginning to see hope of returning to a normal life. One such change towards pre-pandemic life is the District 87 decision to return to a regular eight-period schedule. 

Starting April 5, all Glenbard schools have returned to a normal eight-period schedule everyday. There is no longer a hybrid option for students, rather they must choose between going in-person everyday of the week or staying remote on Zoom for five days straight. The District 87 School Board came together to make this decision for all four Glenbard schools. They have been following the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recommendations in the past and are continuing to do so with the new in-person priority. John Mensik says, “When they recommended we have students back in school last November, we made the change. We also transitioned back to remote-only after Thanksgiving when they recommended we do so. Their current change in guidelines strongly encourages schools to shift back to a regular school day schedule. It would be in our best interest to continue to follow the guidelines given to us by the Health Department and Illinois State Board of Education.”

Earlier in March, the IDPH and ISBE revised the safety guidelines to emphasize the return of in-person instruction. The social distancing guidelines have now changed from six feet of space between students and staff to three feet at the least between students and vaccinated staff. This alteration allows GN to forego a hybrid option for its students and bring anyone who wants to come into the building back full time because there is more room for desks in classrooms. Although this change is promising and exciting for some students and staff, the new schedule poses many problems to the GN community. 

One concern many students and parents have with this updated routine is that the day now involves lunch for every in-person student. The block schedule worked well for the students because most students started or ended their day with their lunch periods, allowing them to come in late or leave the building early to go home and eat lunch. With an eight-period schedule, however, students will have to remove their masks and eat in a room with other maskless, unvaccinated students or wait until they go home at 2:30 to eat. This presents an obvious concern to many as it is much more likely to contract COVID-19. 

However, Dr. Mensik says, “I know it is a bit concerning as a parent thinking about taking a mask off to eat when you may only be 6 feet away from other students who are eating. Fortunately, many schools in our area such as the Wheaton High Schools and Lake Park have been running their normal 8-period schedule all year for their in-person students. They have told me that it works fine, and kids respect the 6-foot guidelines. Also, neither of them has had any reports of spread in their schools during lunch, which gives me confidence in the IDPS/ISBE guidelines.” 

Lunch will look very different from the pre-pandemic norms as the cafeteria tables have been removed and replaced with desks in order to keep every student six feet apart from one another without moving around and violating the social distancing rule. 

Yet another problem this decision creates is a forced change in everyone’s after-school schedules. With the school day ending at 12:25 at the latest for the entire year, students and staff planned their whole day around being done with school around noon. Students took earlier shifts at work to support themselves and their families financially during a global pandemic, but now they will have to change their hours and have less time for any extracurricular activities or homework. Teachers may need to adjust daycare or babysitting schedules on top of rescheduling their curriculum for the last few months of the year. Club advisors will need to restructure their meeting times and agendas for the clubs they run as well, moving them later in the day so they can still meet remotely. 

Students have expressed great concern with meeting with their clubs on top of the near-doubled workload they are expected to receive from having twice as many classes a day than usual. It is clear that the longer school day will force lots of adjustments in the daily lives of students and staff of District 87. Despite the daunting idea of completing more homework in less time, some students have found benefits to the increased class time per week. Annika Patel, ’21, says, “While being longer and more rigorous, I think the new schedule will be beneficial to me because it gives more time in class. My teachers can now spend class time reviewing for AP tests or teaching at a slower pace which will decrease the amount of time I have to study outside of school.”

For students opting to stay remote for the rest of the year, they will have to fight a daily battle against Zoom fatigue. Every student already experiences the exhaustion that comes with the Wednesday schedule of sitting on Zoom from 7:30 to 2:00 and now, many students will have to go through that everyday for a longer amount of time and less breaks in between classes. It is undeniable that Zoom classes can be incredibly draining for students and staff alike and substantially increasing the time spent on Zoom is likely to be damaging to students. Nicholas Exconde, ’21, says, “I feel that during online learning, my attention span is progressively getting worse. Even after school I feel both physically and mentally exhausted from being online for so long. In the foreseeable future, after spring break, I’ll probably be unable to even look at my screen for eight hours a day.”

This new development serves as a step back to normalcy for students and staff alike, but there is no doubt that it will create a number of challenges regardless of the decision students make. Everyone will have to work together to keep the school safe and follow COVID-19 guidelines and rules to make sure the environment is safe for everyone.