School Came Up Short Communicating with Students about Covid

by Gabi Admi ‘23

these past few years have been strange, even after returning to in-person instruction. At the beginning of the school year, sitting in a classroom with so many new restrictions felt odd. We had to stay 6 feet apart, keep masks on at all times, and ask permission to eat or drink outside the classroom. Yet as time went on, the school relaxed its stance on Covid-19 protocol.

When the Omicron variant arrived in January, the outbreak caused school closures and panic across the country. Though a large number of students and faculty were infected, especially at Sherwood, MCPS decided to keep most schools open. It was clear to students and parents during this time that underreporting occurred to keep the schools open. Not to mention, Superintendent Monifa McKnight backpedaled out of the initial plan to close schools if more than 5 percent of students and faculty were infected, causing confusion and concern.

From my experience, Sherwood also often didn’t do well handling communication about Covid-19 this year. I was told by teachers that students needed assigned seats so the school could contact and trace any cases. And yet there wasn’t communication between the administration and students when someone tested positive. This was confirmed for me when my cousin, who sat next to me in class, tested positive, and the school never contacted my parents or me. When my mom asked the school why they had not been contacted, she was told that they were only contacting students who came within three feet of the sick person. I measured the distance between our seats – it was definitely less than three feet. In general, safety protocols in classrooms lessened without students knowing if such changes were intentional or not.

Teachers also were left out of the loop, as I would often hear them talking about how they had no idea why some students were often absent. Once students returned to school, they would inform oblivious teachers that they had been out with Covid. All communications from the county and school said that quarantined students would be provided virtual opportunities to complete learning and assignments but if the teachers were not even notified of a student’s absence due to quarantine, that clearly wasn’t happening.

On May 7, there was another Covid-19 outbreak after prom when some students reportedly attended the event despite knowing they had tested positive for Covid-19. An email sent to all teachers and students regarding the situation strongly suggested that students test themselves for Covid. That was the extent of the communication from the school to students and parents, even as cases surged at Sherwood and throughout Montgomery County.

After more than two years of this pandemic, I would have expected Sherwood’s management of Covid-19 to improve over time. In particular, staff, students, and parents have made it clear to Sherwood administration that better, clearer, and more frequent communication would be appreciated. No one expects the administration to be able to truly “manage” the pandemic, but they do control how they communicate with the school community. Improvement is needed before the next school year begins.