COVID-19 Impacts School Norms

Gabrielle Wolin, Staff Writer

The 2020-2021 school year, the world was flipped upside down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Morristown Beard School had to create new protocols to ensure the community’s health safety while on campus. There were various rules and guidelines that the community followed to allow for the best year possible while still following COVID-19 regulations put out by the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH). These new policies ranged from how students spent unstructured time, where and how they ate lunch, and how they approached athletics. While some of these policies have loosened this year, many rules are still enforced. 

Last year, there were plenty of new physical additions on campus to ensure the health and safety of the MBS community including plexiglass barriers on all desks, one-way hallways, and antimicrobial tape on doors and stair railings. In addition, COVID-19 tests were a weekly occurrence for students, faculty and staff who wanted to be on campus the following week. If the community had multiple unrelated cases, the entire school switched to virtual learning for two weeks. Faculty worked tirelessly to create engaging virtual classes such as 1-1 student discussions and breakout rooms. 

In addition, various social norms of MBS were impacted because of COVID-19. Social distancing and virtual learning prevented students from seeing each other in person, losing a vital social aspect to high school. Because having a strong community is a huge part of MBS values, the School made sure to incorporate weekly all school meetings into the schedule even though there could be no audience in Founders Hall until the spring where senior advisories rotated each week to be the socially distanced audience.

Aside from the community policies, there were policy changes to lunch and sports protocols. COVID-19 necessitated a change to lunch norms. Every student was required to eat in their advisory so that the only place they removed their mask was with the same group. This arrangement made contact tracing much easier to organize and follow. As the year progressed, the food pickup policy became more relaxed, with more options available in the spring.

Sports teams had similar protocols to advisory groups to help with contact tracing. For example, masks could only be removed during “intense physical activity” when each athlete was at least six feet apart and outdoors. Some sports, like girls’ volleyball, had to be postponed to late winter. These restrictions also impacted the winter swim team as they were unable to host swim meets. This didn’t, however, stop the team from competing. Instead, swim meets were held virtually. 

For the 2021-2022 school year, many of the more restrictive policies have either been relaxed or removed completely. Some things haven’t changed, such as mask requirements while indoors, but now all members of the community, regardless of vaccination status, can remove masks when outdoors. Additionally, the six-foot social distancing policy was changed to three-feet, both indoor and outdoor, the plexiglass in each classroom has been removed, and the hourly disinfecting in classrooms by students before class is no longer required (wipes are provided for those who want to). Gone are the one-way hallway arrows, antimicrobial tape, temperature tests and weekly COVID testing for the entire community (only student athletes and coaches are required). Most of the student areas have reopened, and the fluidity of the past schedule with five classes during the day and the end of the day collaborative period has resumed. Now, students have more community time during the day to connect with peers outside of their advisory. 

Due to the less strict social distancing guidelines, contact tracing has resulted in far fewer students having to quarantine themselves. Easy access to the COVID-19 vaccines with their full FDA approval (Pfizer BioNTech for those 16+) in addition to those with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) has played a role in creating these more relaxed guidelines. Those who have been vaccinated do not have to quarantine even if they are considered a close contact. 

As it was last year, the school has been stressing the importance of following these policies both in and out of school. Overall, this year has looked a lot more like pre-COVID years due to the health and safety guidelines put out by the School, NJDOH and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). As of publication, there has been no community spread on campus since the start of the pandemic. More of these rules will potentially dissipate as the year progresses so the community can truly return to the full Morristown Beard School experience pre-COVID. For now, the community will continue to follow these policies to keep the Morristown Beard School campus as safe as possible during this time.