When it comes to large gatherings during the pandemic, students are divided over the school’s approach
High schools have often had to decide their role in dictating student behavior. Should they punish students for serving or consuming alcohol? Should they mandate that students include each other in gatherings outside of school? Should they keep watch over students who are using drugs? COVID-19 has added a new layer to this dilemma: should schools regulate large gatherings off campus?
If ESD does receive evidence of a gathering that is not in line with the school’s values or violates the law, they would get involved—speaking with the parents who own the property where the gathering occurred and with the students. But these conversations would be more oriented toward education rather than punishment. The school does have the authority to punish students who violate county health guidelines; however, Head of Upper School Henry Heil believes that this type of punishment would fundamentally change the school’s culture and signify that the school does not trust its students.
“Theoretically, we could say if we find out you’re playing on a club sports team or we find out you’ve been at a gathering, we’ll dismiss you from school,” Heil said. “We could do that, but the school has never done that. That would be a pretty big leap for us to make, and it would be culturally way out of line from where we are as an institution.”
According to a Nov. 9 poll of 141 upper school students, 30 percent believe the school should play a larger role in regulating student gatherings during COVID-19.
“[The school] should take a much bigger stance against [parties during COVID-19] because it hasn’t really seemed to be much of an issue and they haven’t seemed to—like they know about it—but they haven’t really done anything about it,” senior Stella Foreman said. “I feel like there should be punishment for it because it’s a different time, and you’re putting other people at school at risk.”
Rather than strictly regulating whether students can gather in large groups, the administration has focused more on educating students—through emails and announcements at lunch—on what responsible decisions look like during the pandemic.
“At the end of the day, the school absolutely could [punish students for gathering], but the school chooses not to because the school wants to educate the students here, send them out and give them trust to use that education responsibly and make good decisions,” Heil said.
In addition to trying to be proactive in addressing how students behave off campus during the pandemic, the school has always had a philosophy of instilling values in students in the classroom with the hope that those values will translate to all aspects of life.
“Getting up and talking at lunch, am I expecting that’s going to solve every problem? No, of course not, but I want people to hear my voice, and I want people to know where we stand and what we care about,” Heil said. “But when I go into my classroom every day, and I have 20 students there in front of me, you better believe that what I’m trying to do is obviously teach them government, but I’m also trying to teach them about life, and I’m trying to teach them about values and I’m trying to teach them about what’s important…We have opportunities every single day as a school to help people get better, and if we don’t do that, that’s a problem.”
Seventy percent of students do not believe the school should be more strict when it comes to monitoring gatherings during the pandemic.
“I don’t think when it comes to COVID, [the school] necessarily needs to step in more,” senior Kelly James* said. “I think the protocols at school are really safe, and I think they are going to work pretty well, and they’ve proven to work so far, so I don’t think that preventing large gatherings is really going to do anything. Also, you have to remember that we’re high schoolers, and when you tell students not to do something, they’re still going to do it if they want to do it.”
The pandemic has caused disagreement between students over how they should behave outside of school with regards to safety guidelines. Sixty-seven percent of students believe there is a division in the school between students who go to large gatherings and students who continue to social distance.
“Students are super divided about it,” Foreman said. “There’s about half [of] people, maybe a little bit more [than] half of people, who are really frustrated with people who are [gathering], and [they’re] like, ‘We’re doing the right thing, so can y’all please do the right thing so this can be over?’ And then [there are] students who are like, ‘I don’t really care. I’m going to do what I want to do.’”
Heil believes that the only way to work through these differences is face-to-face discussions.
“Whoever’s having their differences needs to sit down and talk about it,” Heil said. “It may be uncomfortable—who wants to sit down and talk about this stuff? This is uncomfortable stuff; it’s much easier to talk about it with people who you agree with, whatever your position is. But until you’re willing to sit down and understand where people are coming from, then it’s never going to get resolved.”