Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been more careful than most. It feels like I’m one of the few people left at school who wears an N95, and when I don’t, my friends joke that I’m not actually me. I couldn’t afford to get COVID; I wanted to keep my family safe and had too many things to do to lose time to being sick. But up until finals approached, there was no question in my mind that if a friend or I got COVID, we would take the time to stay home and keep everyone else safe, if for no other reason than that it was required by the school.
With finals season, whether an infected student will stay home has become an actual question. The new motto I’ve heard around the GDS building is “If you don’t get tested, you can’t have COVID.” In the week leading up to finals, I heard it everywhere I went. When I sat in class, I heard people having coughing fits in the hallway. Everyone in my classes looked at each other and laughed out of discomfort because we knew that chances were the person in the hall had COVID, but there was nothing we could do about it.
That’s what school culture had become. We’d feel bad for whoever it was because we knew there wasn’t anything they could do about the situation, either. No student who wants to maintain their grades can afford to miss the hectic end to the closest-to-normal school year since COVID. On May 26, halfway through the week before finals, I got COVID.
The only students who have taken finals at GDS before are the seniors, which is why GDS has put so much pressure on executing finals this year—students need the test-taking experience.
But the administration is so excited to see what it wants to see and take advantage of what it wants to be a normal year that they have lost sight of the fact that, while many things in life are returning to normal, this is not a normal school year. There have been spikes in cases in the GDS community throughout the school year. While the requirement to quarantine is reasonable and simply follows D.C.’s guidelines, any year when students are commonly required to quarantine at home is far from ordinary.
In GDS’ rigorous environment, stress is through the roof, and students were holding on for dear life as teachers piled assignments on while finals were about to begin.
Students don’t think they have any choice but to go to school even if they feel sick because the costs of going home and resting now seem to outweigh the benefits. If you push through feeling sick and go to school, some people might get a cold from you and have to stay home. But if you stay home, you have to miss finals preparation, and miss and make up finals, and you will probably fail.
On top of that, administrators were radio-silent for weeks about any support for students who miss finals prep or the exams themselves, making staying home with COVID seem even more daunting and risky. Their silence encouraged more students to go to school while they were contagious. So even students who are endlessly responsible about COVID are getting hurt by sick students who felt too much academic pressure to stay home.
Less than 24 hours before finals began, High School Principal Katie Gibson and High School Assistant Principal for Academics Khalid Bashir cracked the silence slightly and sent out an email addressing exam absences. “The HS administrative team will work with you to determine how to make up these exams by June 22 based on your child’s recovery time,” they wrote of students recovering from COVID.
Gibson and Bashir also wrote that if a student is out sick and isn’t able to finish their exams by June 10, they should not expect to get their late finals’ grades until school starts in the fall.
Students who miss finals preparation but recover in time to take some exams on their assigned dates are expected by the school to be as prepared as everyone else and are thrown into the deep end much more than students who never got sick or stayed at school while they were sick. But, on the other hand, students who miss finals have to take the time out of their summer to make the exams up, possibly cancelling summer plans.
Finals are already underway, but the school needs to be more mindful of COVID and how it is affecting what students are going through. GDS administrators aren’t paying enough attention to the COVID problem. They are turning a blind eye to COVID’s existence, hiding from responsibility and hoping for the best while fueling GDS’ latest COVID outbreak.