| ‘This is life or death.’ Trinity School Faculty discuss possible return to campus
Courtesy of the Trinity School
As the unnerving day of Sept. 8 nears, Trinity students, families, teachers, and administrators face a vastly unpredictable school year.
Only weeks ago, the Trinity administration, led by Head of School Mr. John Allman, announced a hybrid reopening plan for the start of the academic year. Under a rotating schedule, Upper School students will have one week of in-person learning followed by three weeks of online classes, and Middle Schoolers will rotate between two weeks of in-person and remote learning. To welcome back more than a thousand students, staff, and employees in the fall, Trinity’s Campus Reopening Task Force, co-chaired by Assistant Head of School for Academics Ms. Alexis Mulvihill and Associate Head of School for Advancement Mr. Myles Amend, has exerted time and resources into accommodating their staff during a time of uncertainty.
“The reopening task force has done incredible work; they’ve really sacrificed their summer,” said Mr. Ed Schmidt, Upper School English teacher. “I think we should all acknowledge that and thank them.”
Over the past few months, the Campus Reopening Task Force has researched school reopenings across the world in order to develop the safest plan for Trinity faculty and students. The current strategy to “gradually bring students back on campus,” as Mr. Allman detailed in a recent email, has received mixed reactions from faculty.
Assessing a wide variety of factors, certain teachers said they feel comfortable returning to school. For Ms. Amanda Siegel-Mevorah, Middle School History teacher, her close proximity to school and her age allow her to avoid significant risks such as public transit.
“I felt like enough of the immediate elements in my life would be controlled and safe enough such that I can go in,” she said.
Notwithstanding the Reopening Task Force’s rigorous social distancing guidelines and other precautions, in-person learning poses inevitable risks. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit aiming to use relevant data to inform health policy, one in four teachers has a health condition that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
“I am going to be exposed to plenty of people in school,” said Mr. Dane Isenberg, Upper School Math teacher. “Because of that, I can see myself not returning to school for the sake of my own health and the health of my loved ones.”
Mr. Schmidt is among many teachers who share stronger concerns about returning. While he was initially confident that he would return to school, the immediate closure of schools across the country shortly after they had welcomed students back on campus alarmed him. On August 17, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was forced to revert to remote learning after more than 177 students had tested positive for COVID-19 within the first week of classes.
“I am concerned about my health; I am vulnerable at my age. I am not seventeen,” Mr. Schmidt said. “I think we are all concerned about health issues. This is life or death!”
While Trinity’s schedule splits time between remote and in-person learning for students, some Trinity faculty are able to spend as much time on campus as they see fit. For teachers like Ms. Siegel, who teaches history to sixth and eighth graders, they could choose to be on campus every week, increasing their exposure to the virus. Mr. Schmidt believes that most teachers, however, would opt to return to school for only three out of every four weeks, while some may not return at all.
“[Returning] is not required,” said Mr. Schmidt. “We do not have to give a reason. If we feel uncomfortable, we just have to say we cannot come.”
Some teachers have created improvised plans to “toggle back and forth with grades,” Mr. Schmidt said, but their decisions ultimately are based on how safe they feel. Considering that the plan allows teachers to spend more time on campus than students, Mr. Schmidt said, “Seemingly, the schedule keeps the least vulnerable people, the students, safer than it does for the more vulnerable people, the teachers.” He did add, however, that Trinity has extended an “extraordinary amount of faith and trust in us.”
Conversely, if many faculty opt to teach remotely, those on campus may shoulder greater responsibilities. While faculty roles outside of the classroom are not well-defined yet, and will likely be adaptive to observed needs as the year progresses, teachers may be obligated to oversee critical tasks such as ensuring students follow strict guidelines.
Calling it a “huge work imbalance,” Mr. Isenberg said that concern on this issue is “ubiquitous, and has been presented by many faculty members.”
For many teachers, focusing on the silver linings of the current climate has uplifted their spirits.
“This will be a challenge, but I think with the community’s support, we can do it!” he said. Luckily, Sr. Ruiz said that he has his “plant babies” to ease him and assuage the stressful circumstances.
The upcoming academic year is brimmed with contingencies and uncertainties. “We’re truly flying into unknown territory,” said Mr. Schmidt. “I’m sure many teachers will feel more comfortable returning when the curve flattens and there are more developments for treatments that minimize symptoms.”
There is no guessing how the year will play out, or how the school and teachers will address certain changes, but teachers like Sr. Ruiz vow that “this will be an exciting year … [and] we need to feel grateful about it.”