Editorial: At last, a new school year begins without a battle over safety protocols

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Katherine Lian

This year, students were able to come back to school without having to worry about various safety protocols.

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On the morning of September 8, Townsend Harris students approached the building hoping for a smooth first day of school. The flocks of Harrisites streamed in through the front doors, scanning the atrium for the board containing their official class before filing into the auditorium or cafeteria. With noticeably fewer masks and no health screening checks in sight, this was a different first day of school: a fairly normal one. 

Last September, following nearly 18 months of quarantine and remote learning, Harrisites finally returned to school fully in person. A long line snaked around the building as students anxiously refreshed their phone browsers to get their health screenings working. The mandatory questionnaire, a brief array of questions concerning COVID-19 symptoms, vaccine status, and possible exposure, was required for all individuals to enter the school building. As the year progressed, screenshots of health screenings on one’s camera roll became a defining staple of the year. Face coverings, worn by every individual when mandated and still most when made optional months later, just contributed to the surreal atmosphere of the post-COVID school system.

In March 2020, then-Mayor Bill De Blasio closed public schools for a session of remote learning that was supposed to last four weeks but slowly became indefinite as coronavirus cases rose at alarming rates. This four-week period upgraded to a shutdown of all NYC DOE schools for the school year. Educators were required to stick with online learning, a foreign form of teaching to which both faculty and students had to adjust. 

The following year (2020-2021) began with chaos. The DOE attempted to institute a hybrid learning system, balancing both in-person and online schooling that was introduced, but with little success. After it became clear that the teaching requirements would impact the THHS program, less than 10% of the student body signed up. 

When the 2021-2022 school year finally began in-person students were met with mandatory health screenings, vaccination status issues, social distancing measures, and mask guidelines. Questions also began to arise around PSAL and high-contact extracurricular activities like S!NG, programs that later instituted vaccine mandates for participating students under DOE policy. 

Earlier this month, students arrived at the start of the 2022-2023 academic year, and the primary concerns students had were schedule uncertainties, zero band changes, the possible addition of a 10th band, and PE Class outcries over the loss of team gym. In other words, regular school issues. 

The journey to finally leave COVID-19 behind us has not been particularly linear, and it’s clearly not over. Community members are still testing positive all too regularly. Lives are still being interrupted, and unfortunately, cut short across the country. However, for the time being, it is comforting to see a shift in discourse at the start of this school year. 

Students with frequent program changes and concerns about their PE classes might have felt this was a hectic start to the semester, but this kind of messiness is a welcome one compared to previous years and it’s very reassuring knowing that as a community, we are working towards overcoming these challenges and returning to some semblance of normalcy.

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