Magazine News Volume 70, Issue 8

A (Mostly) Safe Return to School

By Kate Rider and Sebastian Squire

Graphic By Jackie Veliz

When students in the Acalanes Union High District began to go back to school in-person for hybrid instruction, the district mandated many specific policies in order to ensure that students would be safe at school. Some of the measures include daily COVID-19 prescreening, weekly testing for staff, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), physical distancing, and increased school cleaning and student hygiene, among other measures. The Page sought to find the degree to which students have followed these guidelines through schoolwide surveys and a combination of faculty and student interviews.

According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), all schools must ensure that students “wear face coverings at all times, while at school.” The department does leave certain exemptions to the rule, an example being those who cannot wear masks for medical reasons and students while eating and drinking, although they must be at least six feet apart. Finally, “In order to comply with this guidance, schools must exclude students from campus if they [do not wear a mask and] are not exempt from wearing a face covering under CDPH guidelines.” The school is to offer masks to those who forget and provide educational opportunities to those who are excluded from in-person instruction as a result of failing to wear masks. 

“I am glad I went back to school… and I think the risk of COVID-19 is low,” said Joseph Gillett, a Las Lomas junior and student who returned to school for in-person instruction. Gillett expressed positivity towards the mask situation, saying, “students and staff wear masks at all times except when eating or drinking at lunch. I have not seen anyone neglecting to wear a mask in the hallways or in a classroom.” While he commended the messaging from the school in regards to the protocols, Gillett did say that other guidelines were not as strictly followed: “I frequently see students failing to social distance and follow the arrows in the hallways.”

Coryell McDonough, a junior at Las Lomas, pointed out that following the yellow traffic arrows in the hallways is the safety protocol he believes is hardest to follow. “It’s… harder to encourage students to follow the arrows in the hallways and keep a distance,” McDonough said. “Sometimes I’m late to a class, or the only way to get to a class is to go the ‘wrong way.’ ” 

In a survey sent out by The Page, students were asked to give the school a “grade” in how safe they felt going back to school. The survey was anonymous unless the student left their name for The Page to contact them, so we could not reach out to the respondents for greater detail. Out of the 24 responses from students that had gone back to hybrid, six students gave the school an “A,” 15 students gave the school a “B” and two students gave the school a “C.”

When asked how they’d rate how well the the administration has done ensuring that all students, faculty and staff were following the safety protocol guidelines, two students responded that they thought the school had done “Very well,” 11 students responded with “Well,” nine students responded with “Fair” and one student said that they thought that the school had done “Very poor.” 

McDonough, one of the students that had left his name in the survey to be interviewed further, said, “I have not seen [any] students failing to wear a mask. Maybe during lunch, I’ve seen one or two people not wearing a mask even if they weren’t eating… Other than [one teacher], all staff have been wearing their masks.”

“I think overall, we have really high compliance with mask wearing. Really, the only times that I think we are needing to remind students about the rules is in that transition time around lunch,” said Las Lomas Principal Tiffany Benson. Benson also addressed student concerns about social distancing, by explaining that the density of students was lower than the 76 percent of students that were expected to return to hybrid (the number was closer to 50 percent split between two cohorts). Benson also pointed to changes the administration had made to facilitate better adherence to social distancing requirements: “We actually assigned specific campus supervisors and teachers on lunchtime supervision to specific areas that they will work every single day, so that they have more ownership of a single area.” Benson also talked about administration focusing on certain “high congestion areas” and tailoring its approach to one of reminding students to wear masks, as opposed to punishment, as there have been no cases of students maliciously failing to wear masks. In terms of communicating with students, Benson believes that the success seen so far lies in a “community wide approach,” where “whether you walk into this classroom or that classroom, you’re going to have the same protocols.”