The End of First Semester: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
By: Clare Gillis
Beginning in the days leading up to winter break and plaguing the town for weeks following the holidays, West Hartford recently endured the most widespread COVID outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic. With an unprecedented amount of absences, Conard had to make numerous adaptations during such an onslaught of cases within the school. All throughout the break as cases rose and regulations became more strict, many citizens wondered whether West Hartford Public Schools (WHPS) would even be able to reopen, or if they would follow in surrounding states footsteps and have to go fully remote for a brief period of time following the break. Despite the numerous challenges, WHPS returned fully in person despite the many challenges and implemented multiple changes for the period leading up to midterms.
Immediately following the outbreak, many freedoms that Conard students previously possessed were temporarily removed. The fall seemed like a miracle, with full student sections and high in person attendance in all classes, and it seemed like we were leaving the harsh restrictions that began in 2020 in the past. Returning from the winter break, the state of the pandemic had once again fought its way to the forefront of the school districts problems. Beginning with the capping of attendance for athletics, many students were outraged upon learning that there would now be a random lottery system that decided who got to attend games. Only happening once in the fall, this became the temporary norm for athletics and was only recently removed on February 1st. Despite it being a step up from previous seasons, it still was a step backwards as many students were unable to attend games despite their best efforts and many students felt it unfair that they were suddenly unable to support their peers despite being able to sit within six feet of each other within classes and attend sports practices business as usual.
The issue of these discrepancies continued, as inconsistencies within the state, district, and even the CDC lead to feelings of confusion. Many students and parents were confused by the protocols being put in place for outside of school events such as faculty meetings going online, and sporting events becoming limited capacity, when that seemed to be the only changes. For a good portion of the outbreak online attendance did not count, and students in quarantine watched as their absences racked up into the sixties and even seventies. Along with this, the CDC changed the recommended quarantine time from 10 to 5 days with a mask on around others, but there was widespread confusion around whether the quarantine was supposed to begin when symptoms were first experienced vs. the date of the covid diagnosis, and even with all of this discrepancy, the five day quarantine was not implemented by West Hartford until well after it was announced by the CDC.
All of this uncertainty and perceived unfairness led to a rocky reentrance to the school environment. With students online in nearly every class, all of this confusion and all of the differences in online teaching as compared to last year lead to serious complications for many students in quarantine with covid.
As someone who has covid, the difference between online schooling this year as compared to last years with the hybrid model was extremely noticeable. Despite the large number of students in online schooling due to the coronavirus, there was a limited number of students actually streaming in to each individual class, causing difficulty when it came to teachers being able to split their time and cater to online kids. With such a small population online, I felt it was much easier for kids streaming in to become confused as the teacher was more focused on the in person kids. The stark differences between online and in person schooling during this period were extremely prevalent during these few weeks, leading to concern leading up to midterms.
The district and state has worked to fix many of these problems over time, allowing online attendance to count, full attendance at sporting events, and lowering the quarantine to five days. Also adding an appeals process to midterm results for kids who’s learning was largely affected by this outbreak, West Hartford has worked hard to leave this setback in the past and move forward as the second semester begins.