Opinion: The Case for Continuity

Christopher M. Coulter, Guest Writer

The Hilltopper has invited guest writer and SGA President Christopher M. Coulter to share his thoughts on Options A and B for Phase 2 of the school year.

As the school year is rounding the final corner and exams are looming overhead, the administration is considering a very dramatic shift for the fourth quarter. Starting this summer, I had the honor of being a student liaison for the MHRD Reopening Committee, and we meet monthly regarding the status of our two schools with respect to COVID-19 and functionality.

At the meeting that transpired Thursday, February 25th, the MHRD Administrative Team proposed a new plan for the conclusion of the year: extending the instructional time for students. Although in theory there are benefits to implementing a longer school day, there are a series of flaws that would be detrimental to both the health and academics of the student population of our schools.

The primary stimulus for this initiative to change is an abundance of correspondence coming from various stakeholders in the district regarding the Phase 2 process. However, changing the schedule for our district is much more arduous than those in the surrounding vicinity. At Morris Hills, we host three different programs that allow for students from all over the tri-county area to come to our school for their high school tenure. Because of this, we must consider the logistics of amending our schedule to the longer day.

Due to the fact that we have students with commutes upwards of 45 minutes, lunches would have to take place in the cafeteria. Today, we are not in a place of herd immunity where these increased interactions would be safe. Right here in Morris County, we see more than 150 cases every day being reported. With many of the Morris Hills Community not being able to have access to the vaccine for many weeks, I do not believe we should consider this aspect of the ordinary day yet.

Many of us have felt the mental impacts that quarantine has inflicted, and the chance to see your friends and laugh the way we used to sounds enticing. However, I regret to say that this would not be the case. In order to abide by the safety standards, we would split the population of students in the school into two parts. One half would spend about twenty minutes in a study hall while the other half eats their lunch. Then, there is a brief cleaning period and the groups would reverse roles. While in lunch, each student would be isolated to their own table and would eat their lunch swiftly. 

I fear that many students would feel uncomfortable inside the cafeteria amidst this biological crisis, and would be apt to stay home full time. Today, we already see an issue of attendance. As a hybrid student, I see what the attendance is like first hand on Thursdays and Fridays. Officially, we have about 55% of the student body in hybrid instruction. Unofficially, I estimate we have actually closer to 20% of the student body in the building any given day due to many students staying home while identifying as a hybrid student. Increasing the risk of transmission could discourage in-school learning even further, and we could see an even more dramatic drop in attendance.

Alternatively, the other choice that many know as “Option B” would resemble much of what we have today. There would continue to be 55 minute blocks and no lunch block. However, the hybrid model would be dissolved. Any student that chooses to go into school would be obligated to enter the building five days a week. This plan works on the contingency that a vast majority of students would commit to staying home for fully virtual learning. Of course in cases of COVID-19 exposure and potential risk, any student that feels that entering school would be irresponsible would be encouraged to stay home for the day, series of days, or fourteen day quarantine, if necessary. For those instances, contacting the school nurses’ office would be compulsory.

Of the two proposed strategies for the final quarter of this school year, I am inclined to support Option B. If we increase the school day to 75 minute blocks, students could potentially be sitting in front of a screen for up to seven hours a day. Not only is this poor for the eyes, but a dramatic shift such as this one could harm test performance and much of the time would be wasted due to damaged attention spans from the quarantine we all experienced a year ago. I do not feel any adjustments to the schedule are necessary. As we have it now, students are learning and have the opportunity to reach out to teachers for help in their respective office hours. Students can feel safe in the hallways because only half the hybrid school population is present any given day. Compromising this with a sudden change so late in the year could have detrimental consequences, and I feel that a continuity of education is of the utmost importance and would be most beneficial for our student body. I advise that any changes should be considered for the 2021-2022 school year as opposed to the present.

My friends, I know many of you know me as your Student Government President, but these opinions are reflective of solely my own disposition, and I am aware that many do not share my enthusiasm for continuing the way we are. I know that a great deal of our school community may still feel confused about what all this means, and I encourage those of you to reach out to me. As your student leader, I want to properly represent what all of the student body feels, not just myself. For that reason, I ask that anyone with questions, comments, thoughts, or further inquiries contact me at [email protected]. Thank you, and remember that though we may be parted, we are still one family, and we are still Morris Hills Strong.