Social Distancing Editorial

Social+Distancing+Editorial

Abigail Kapoor, Staff Writer

Current juniors and seniors remember the lively Schreiber High School campus pre-COVID-19—groups of friends huddled around cafeteria tables in conversation, students packed into bleachers for a school-wide pep rally in the gym, and teachers conversing with their pupils in departmental offices. 

Compare this with our current state: there is  difficulty for students to seek extra help, conversations over lunch are stifled as people try to shout between spaced-out lunch desks, and our school spirit has become depressed as our assemblies have been reduced to live-streamed Zoom meetings.

When these social distancing rules were initially imposed, they were a necessary measure.  We returned to campus after half a year of exclusively remote instruction while the entire nation was still very much in the grip of a novel virus whose long-term health impacts, both for individuals and the public at large, still remained an open question.  

Today, we are facing new circumstances; with approximately 90 percent of Nassau County’s residents fully vaccinated, and national transmission rates down from a peak of 750,000 new cases per day a few months ago to only 40,000 per day today, it is a very different situation from the one that sparked the creation of rules we have lived with through much of the pandemic.  In light of this, many people are wondering whether it is time to return to normal, or to embrace a new normal.  

Governor Kathy Hochul’s Mar. 2 decision to lift New York State’s mask mandate has answered this question for us to an extent: those who no longer wish to wear masks—or never wanted to in the first place—can freely forgo their use in public schools, including Schreiber. 

This change leaves us with a pressing question: should Schreiber further lift the social distancing rules that have been in place since our return to campus in the fall of 2020?

Our answer is a qualified “yes.”  The fact is that the enforcement of Schreiber’s social distancing rules have generally been lenient.  Prohibitions barring students from offices have been maintained by some departments, but overlooked by others.  Even though the cafeteria and commons remain less lively than they were before the pandemic, students have increasingly been permitted to congregate in open violation of the policies.  Auditorium seating puts peers shoulder-to-shoulder, without anything to keep them apart.  The library quietly ended its social distancing policy a few months ago without sparking a catastrophe. 

But, as with any great change, we will want to ease into a new policy gradually, at least, at first.  Lifting a mask mandate is something of an experiment, and it should inspire a “wait and see” approach: it is possible that relaxing the rules will bring on a new spike.  It is likely that any rule change will be reversed at a later date, even if only as a temporary solution to new variants. 

But perhaps it is time to begin formally ending the practices of social distancing.  We could begin with the cafeteria first: get rid of the individual desks we have eaten at in solitude and reintroduce the old tables we once loved.  The benches could have spaces marked on them to help students remember to keep at least a few feet apart.  Spacing requirements in offices should also be lifted, especially as these rules have potentially impacted student success.  Eventually, as we depart from social distancing practices, pep rallies and school assemblies that are so vital to school spirit and community cohesion can be brought back. 

It may not immediately feel like the old normal that Schreiber’s juniors and seniors miss, but it is a step towards a new normal that feels familiar enough.