To Our Community Members and School Officials:
I write this letter anonymously as a member of our Northampton County Public Schools community to express deep concern over the management of the COVID-19 crisis in our schools. The negligence shown by our School Board, central office personnel, and administration is disturbing to many, and has clearly formed a pattern since school began in late August. Unfortunately, this is no longer solely the concern of our school officials; as cases begin to appear that are probable to have originated in Northampton High School, they will undoubtedly spread into our community.
While a severe outbreak is not necessarily likely at this stage, the failure to seriously consider this possibility could result in dire consequences. Our diverse, enriched community does not deserve and cannot handle a severe outbreak. Many do not have the financial resources to stop working, others have at-risk family members who may die as a result of infection, and others may simply not want to be exposed to a community with a high count of cases.
There are several points in which this crisis has been mismanaged. Beginning early this month, a directive from school district officials instructed schoolteachers and administrators to offer a four day a
week enrollment plan.
Students began the year on a two day a week hybrid schedule to limit exposure and time in school, and it is concerning that as cases rise across the country and death rates increase, our schools have decided to welcome back more students for more in-person hours than when we started. Those who chose to start school in person did so for a reason: online classes do not work for everyone, and many students would be willing to attest to the socioemotional toll they can take. An outbreak could cause at least two weeks out of the school environment and would be detrimental to those students.
The point that drove me to write this letter was the distribution of a letter to students and parents confirming that two individuals on the in-person hybrid plan tested positive for COVID-19. Health and school officials were made aware of this as it happened, however that was almost two weeks ago. It is not acceptable for almost two weeks to pass before the student body is made aware of COVID cases in their school. What is on the line is not a couple of young, healthy teenagers that would not experience long term effects; it is the older age teachers at school, the mothers, fathers and grandparents that students and staff go home to, and it is our community that has just begun to recover. Cornell University Law School defines civil negligence as “A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” This is not beyond the bounds of that definition.
Additionally, earlier this week an email was sent to teachers regarding the possibility of school closure and what must be done to prepare for that. This shows knowledge by our administrative officials of the potential severity of these circumstances, yet it still took several more days for students to be notified. There are solutions to these problems, and quite frankly it is not the job of a high school student to find them. Our educational leaders should be competent enough to have already done this work, and this shows they simply are not. On the next page, I have spelled out just a couple of ways we could ensure our schools are safe for students and staff to be present.
- Regular checks on indoor ventilation systems to ensure air is properly filtered, which is listed by the CDC as an effective measure to reduce risk of transmission,
- Consistent messaging on what to do if a student tests positive, including,
- Immediate notification of student body, possibly via an automated system such as the COVIDWISE contact tracing app.
○ Availability of rapid tests on campus in the event of a student developing symptoms or showing up to school with symptoms.
- Daily sanitization measures that cover every classroom.
- Teachers in the beginning of the year were given anti-bacterial sanitizer that does not kill coronaviruses, another example of how this crisis has been mismanaged.
- Consistent socioemotional support for students and teachers worried about how this crisis has affected them and their family,
- Ensuring our schools remain a pillar of our community trusted by all,
○ Acknowledging the difficulty this crisis has brought to many,
- Consideration for emergency budgeting to purchase necessary supplies, hire necessary personnel, and ensure every precaution listed by the CDC is followed,
- Regular, consistent, easy-to-read and, if necessary, translated updates on the situation in our schools for parents, students, and community members,
- Possibly online for easy access,
○ Including up to date information on our county’s fight against COVID,
○ Updated numbers of cases in our schools,
○ Tips to remain healthy,
○ Support for online and hybrid students,
- The creation of a regulatory body made up of students, teachers, administrators, school board members, and health officials that meets weekly via Zoom or Google Meet to,
- Ensure all parties have an equal say in future regulations,
○ Coordinate on every level to create consistent and clear messaging
○ Allow student body leaders to stay informed about what administration is doing for them.
I urge every member of our school community to consider what is on the line. A single death as a result of this negligence would not only be a tragedy, but a legal liability. While I wouldn’t like to speculate, I am not confident in our school district’s monetary allocations to court costs as a result of a negligence suit or any other form of legal action.
Please remember that this community is not just the adults who make decisions. It is the kids inside the school, too. They are what this is all about, and their protection along with the staff whom we all share close bonds with, is of utmost importance. It is everyone’s job to make that happen, and if this sort of negligence continues, it will be a priority of the student body to protest in every legal way currently attainable.