"It's One For the Books" by Brynne Barnard-Bahn

EDITORIAL: Eating, drinking COVID-19 restrictions in Matthews Library stand up to scrutiny

The Matthews Library has long functioned as a place of refuge for Country Day middle and high schoolers, but when COVID-19 guidelines prevented students from eating, drinking and congregating inside, many found the once inviting facility to be anything but that.

So, when Country Day lifted the indoor mask mandate and social distancing requirements, many excitedly anticipated the library’s return to the once buzzing center of student activity. When that dream failed to materialize, many became upset, but few took the time to ask why.

However, the library is one of few places on campus shared between the middle and high school, so the administration, not the librarians, opted for strict COVID-19 regulations. Since the start of 2022, the middle school and high school have witnessed at least 15 confirmed student COVID-19 cases, and not all are confined to the winter months.

In fact, the school experienced a surge in the month of April that appears to be
continuing into May. Thus, due to its physically confining and socially combining nature, the library faces unique challenges, challenges that administrators solve by increasing regulations.

It’s not just the library that poses this challenge. Other shared spaces, including the Academic Resource Center or even classrooms — such as English and
Spanish teacher Diego Panasiti’s — that house students in many grade levels, share the same issue.

We just propose that if the rules are implemented in the library for precaution against COVID-19, they should be regulated in all areas used by lower, middle and high school students and faculty.

“The main reason for this was safety,” said Brooke Wells, Head of High School.

“When we loosened up other restrictions after spring break, we wanted to be careful. The rules from the beginning of the year were modified, though.”

Still, what are these controversial rules?

Well, students must be 3-feet apart, and food and drinks, including water, are prohibited. These rules are relaxed at specific times, such as during the Sophomore Symposium.

Throughout the year, the library has also increased the number of people who were originally allowed based on available seats, Wells said.

For many students, these rules cause endless frustration.

Senior Max Wu is one of many high school students who disagree with the restrictions.

“It’s one of the few places on campus where students can seek refuge whenever they want if it’s freezing or burning outside,” Wu said. “It doesn’t make sense that masks are optional, but we still can’t have more than four to a table.”

However, these circumstances are actually not the first time faculty restricted the number of students to a table.

In fact, librarian Joanne Melinson began her job as head librarian with the removal of the previous regulation.

“A long time ago, far before COVID-19, when I was the library assistant, there was a rule that only four could be at one table,” she said. “But I didn’t think we needed that rule, so I quickly changed it.”

The librarians’ main reason for banning food in the library comes from student behavior a few years ago: they found pizza slices hidden in the library’s bookshelves and plastic water bottles scattered throughout the stacks.

Eating in the library is a privilege that must be earned, and since that incident,
the library no longer allowed full meals in the library — only snacks.

Juniors meet in the library for college counseling meetings during lunch, and since no food or drinks are allowed, students eat for 15 minutes before the start of the meeting at 12:30 p.m.

Director of College Counseling Jane Bauman said this change is beneficial.

“It worked out well — students get to eat first and then come to the meeting,” she said.

“Because the meetings are shorter, there’s a lot less repetition, so it’s more efficient. And, students are more focused after eating.”

Despite the previous issues with disposing water bottles, the library anticipates eventually reallowing water.

“Since COVID-19, it seems like almost everybody has their own refillable water bottle, which is nice because it means they’ll be more inclined to take it with them,” Melinson said. “Once the COVID-19 rules lighten up, the intention is to go back to the same.”

So, as with the majority of recent changes in our community, this issue too tracks back to COVID-19.

Even so, the Matthews Library is and should be a hub of student activity.

Community is not about the ability to eat and drink indoors or the act of sitting with six people as opposed to four; rather, community is about socializing. It is about sharing experiences and being open to learning from others. Especially for students wanting a quiet environment to study or those living with high at-risk family members, the library has been and will continue to be a safe hub for everyone to use — especially in the rain or cold.

— By Staff

Originally published in the May 24 edition of The Octagon

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