Mask neglect, unvaccinated students risk another shutdown
Walking the halls of Haldane High School in September for the first time in three months, I noticed striking differences from the beginning of school a year ago.
With hybrid learning discontinued, the halls are full of students. Last year, no more than half the student body was present in the building on any given school day. Julia Sniffen, the high school’s principal, visited one class for each grade to give a small talk, a tradition suspended last year due to the pandemic. Desks are closer together than before because all students are back to attending class in-person.
There are also some disappointing similarities.
All classes have assigned seating, in order to make contact tracing easier. Some classes bind you to the seat you choose on the first day and others have pre-planned seating. (Students have, as you would expect, expressed their displeasure with this.) In addition, masks must be worn within all school buildings. Although these measures are undoubtedly essential, the lack of enforcement with masks dents their effectiveness.
Students still wear them on their chins or with their noses uncovered, oblivious to the effect it may have on the rest of the year. A few teachers don’t bother to correct them, and in other cases some teachers need to ask the same groups of students multiple times to put their masks on, with only the threat of a zero grade for the day to discourage them.
Enforcement varies greatly from class to class. One student told me that his classmates generally seemed responsible; another said teachers would remind students once to wear their masks right before giving up and never asking again. In most of my classes, students and teachers are following the guidelines, with some exceptions. In one of my classes, only I and one other student wore masks correctly. Everyone else was either wearing the mask incorrectly or not at all, including the teacher.
The question must be asked: Have we learned our lesson as the delta variant drives up infections in Philipstown and Putnam County? While this year has the potential to be more productive, safe and fun for students, there must be stricter enforcement to avoid an outbreak, since many students are not vaccinated in the middle and high schools and none at the elementary level. Unlike at many schools, the middle and high school students comingle in the middle school building for some classes, such as art.
The state could also do more. As of Thursday (Sept. 16), only 54.5 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 15 in Putnam County had received at least one vaccine dose since becoming eligible to receive the two-dose Pfizer vaccine on May 12.
While it’s not clear how many middle and high school students at Haldane have been vaccinated, there seem to be three groups: students who are vaccinated, those who are not by personal choice and those who are not by parental choice. With the Food and Drug Administration’s recent full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 and over (adolescents 12 to 15 years old are still eligible for Pfizer under an emergency use authorization), why has the state not imposed a vaccine mandate for high school students?
The Los Angeles Unified School District, which is located in a county where 67.3 percent of its residents have received at least one dose (compared to 69.5 percent in Putnam) announced on Sept. 9 that all students 12 and older must receive their first Pfizer shot no later than Nov. 21 and their second dose by Dec. 19. Students must be fully vaccinated, with the second shot, by Jan. 10.
The combination of unvaccinated people and the more-infectious delta variant presents a real possibility that schools will have to shut down again.
I asked multiple Haldane students who have not been vaccinated about a mandate; nearly all opposed it, the exception being a classmate who said he would support it because it would pressure his parents into allowing him to get the vaccine.
Beato, a senior at Haldane High School, is a correspondent in The Current’s Student Journalism Program, which is funded by our members.