"Guideline Debate" by Lilah Shorey

EDITORIAL: Keep COVID-19 guidelines consistent!

It used to be impossible to imagine high school at Country Day without the traditions that define it, such as the  Ancil Hoffman Park trip, where high school students play a game of capture the flag in teams of red and black.

However, everything has changed with COVID-19; it has severely limited how much the school can allow. 

Following the rules of the Sacramento County Public Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control should be the first priority to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The fact the school is being cautious and placing limitations to avoid the spread of coronavirus is excellent — except some of these limitations and COVID-19 guidelines are not being applied consistently. 

For instance, consider  the school’s policy on transportation for field trips, students getting to and from school and teams traveling to sporting events.

The county recommends that field trips be postponed until COVID-19 cases decrease, which is understandable. Kellie Whited, a member of the school’s COVID-19 policy board, said that these guidelines are subject to change with COVID-19 case counts.

“We would like nothing more than to lighten all of the restrictions, but we’re trying to do this very thoughtfully,” she said. Currently, the school, in line with the county, prohibits field trips.

But what exactly constitutes a field trip?

High school students walked to a nearby park on Oct. 5 and had picnics with their advisories. Since there was no transportation required, this did not fall under the field trip guideline, said Head of High School Brooke Wells.

This distinction about transportation is not mentioned in the 2021-22 COVID-19 Policies and Procedures document, which outlines the school’s plans for the year. No guidelines forbidding shared transportation for students exist in either the SCPH K-12 rules, the K-12 guidelines set by the California Department of Public Health or the CDC’s rules.

 In fact, all three bodies advise that the use of school buses or other shuttles is not unsafe as long as the windows are kept open and occupants are masked.

The school follows those guidelines with the morning and afternoon shuttle service — which has lower, middle and high schoolers together and operates twice daily. In the event of a positive COVID-19 case, contract tracing of shuttle occupants would have to be done across all three sections. Since middle and lower schoolers cannot be vaccinated, the relative risk is greater for the lower levels than for high schoolers.

Carpools are permissible and even encouraged to lessen traffic congestion on Latham Drive, yet they pose the likelihood of mixing households, grades and even schools.

High schoolers also are allowed to  travel together in vans for away sporting events, such as soccer games. This transportation could last as long as two hours, but is on average around thirty minutes. 

The county guidelines, in their only discussion of transportation, say that members of multiple households traveling in one vehicle must wear masks in reference to away sports games, which the soccer team follows. 

Putting all of these guidelines on transportation together leads to a patchy, inconsistent picture. Does the COVID-19 safety of a particular vehicle change with the purpose of the trip it’s being used for?

Even students traveling to an indoor gym, playing a team that doesn’t wear masks, has been considered safe.

The school has already started to relax the restrictions around field trips — something we applaud. 

For example, students in the middle school went to the American River on Oct. 19. Instead of using school transportation, parents dropped students off at the location and picked them up afterwards. 

Obviously, the rules would be different for indoor events where masking would be harder to enforce. However, Ancil Hoffman is essentially an outdoor sporting event, which would be safe.

All pieces of it are individually allowed — transportation to sports  games for several hours at a stretch and shuttles to and from school that take at least twenty minutes, outdoor and indoor sporting events and trips to the park. 

Why are they suddenly unsafe when put together? It’s clear that the school, the county, the state and the federal government consider the individual parts of field trips safe; the school should be consistent with its own guidelines and allow this field trip.

Alternate solutions such as students driving themselves or being dropped off at the park would also make sense. 

To be clear, the fact that the administration is being cautious about the coronavirus is absolutely a positive. It’s important to be careful and avoid the spread of COVID-19. 

But when decisions are made to do so, those decisions must be considered in the totality of circumstances. We must consider the county, state and federal guidelines and apply them equally for measures big and small. Whatever the safest decision is, it should be consistent.

-By Staff

Originally published in the Oct. 26 edition of the Octagon.

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