Although Kingswood Oxford’s Pandemic Response Team has compiled a comprehensive list of on-campus protocols to ensure a healthy environment, the question of whether students are being responsible off-campus is a difficult one to answer. At the beginning of the academic year, students were asked to fill out a Health and Safety Pledge in which they vowed to keep themselves and the KO community safe from the spread of COVID-19 by taking personal responsibility, demonstrating honesty, caring beyond self, and adhering to state guidelines, among other things. Some students might have viewed this form as just another set of regulations to read and to agree to, giving little thought to the importance of the terms. However, most of the KO community saw the pledge as it was: a promise to be safe, smart, and wary during this difficult time. Nonetheless, these gaps in understanding present a problem that cannot necessarily be solved with the snap of a finger. That is, should students be held accountable for their actions off campus?
Despite the fact that KO, like many other schools, is not able to regulate what each student does or does not do after school hours, students should have respect for both themselves and for their community; they should keep a safe distance from others and adhere to the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. Hanging out with large groups of people in a concentrated area without social distancing and mask-wearing is condemned by the school; therefore, those involved in such gatherings should most certainly be held accountable through reduction in on-campus privileges or if the offence is egregious, suspension. Head of the Upper School Dan Gleason recently sent out an email saying that the “warning stage” of violating guidelines is over, and that people will be reported and face consequences if they violate them any further. It may seem like an empty threat, considering people have gotten used to violating the guidelines whether they realize or not, but hopefully students will begin to take these circumstances more seriously as consequences are doled out.
Students must also hold each other to the same safe-behavior standards and lead the way in preventing the spread of the virus on and off campus. This means that if you see your friends not following the rules, both on and off campus, you make them aware of what they are doing wrong and how they can fix it. This may seem like a lot to ask of people, but the safety of our community is the number one priority. In a recent letter that Head of School Tom Dillow sent out, he said:
“The Connecticut State COVID-19 guidelines for indoor private gatherings allows up to 25 people indoors and up to 100 people for private outdoor gatherings. We think that is too high. However, we are also not comfortable mandating a specific number to our families recognizing that a small gathering of five students could be done irresponsibly (indoors, no masks, no social distancing) while an outdoor gathering of 20 could be done quite responsibly (outdoors, masks, social distancing).”
Moreover, as Mr. Dillow said, we must be conscious of our actions, as we are fortunate to be together as a school in these difficult times. The only way we can keep people on-campus is if we all come together as a community, listen to the adults around us, and hold one another accountable for violating either the school’s or state’s COVID-19 guidelines including while off-campus.
It is understandable that people are still getting used to the new reality we are living in, and it is hard to say no to a party or hanging out with friends, but we have now been living in this world for six months. Our actions can have very real consequences, such as serious illness, especially for the older members of our community. In addition, no one is immune. Therefore, it’s about time we start recognizing the world’s one million deaths and do our best to make sure our campus stays as safe as possible.
Attending in-person classes at this time is a privilege, and what comes with this privilege is being mindful of how your actions could affect your peers, your teachers, your family, and your community. In order to be fully in-person for as long as possible, every member of the KO community must play their part in ensuring that they, as well as those around them, are being safe and not participating in activities that may pose a threat to the school’s ability to remain open. Additionally, it is imperative that every member of the KO community fill out the Ascend app honestly each day before arriving on campus because without it, on-campus learning would not be possible. Hold one another accountable by reminding your friends before school to take their temperature, and be truthful in all of the questions asked. If we as a student body are not collectively being honest, on-campus learning will not be possible.
This pandemic is an extremely serious issue that we’re facing worldwide. The US now has 211,000+ COVID-19 related deaths, a number that we need to remember the next time we want to take off our mask inside, hang out with a large group of friends, or go to a party. The KO community is a great one, and the health of our friends, family, and peers should be the top priority for everyone in it.