This year, Northwest has dozens of new protocols regarding COVID-19. Many students feel frustrated with the heavy supervision that has been put in place to help keep us safe during COVID. I spoke with Sierra Maxwell to see what the thoughts behind our COVID protocols are and why we are being so cautious. Many other students were wondering how our protocols are different from other schools, so I decided to look into it.
While some rules may not be ideal, the school has thought about every small detail to keep us as safe as possible. The school’s thorough response to COVID safety and contact tracing has had a significant impact on our community. Although we have stayed relatively safe and have a highly vaccinated community, some of our rules are strict compared to other schools around the city. Things like leaving campus, lunch seating, free time, and wearing masks during sports all have different rules throughout the city. I talked with Sierra Maxwell, our school’s former health coordinator, to learn details behind these rules. The school has spent countless hours on these protocols. Northwest has been working on these rules with public health officials, and many rules were made through their guidance.
During lunch and free periods at Northwest, students can usually be wherever they want in the school and be with anyone. This freedom is something Northwest has prided itself on for years, allowing students to make connections in different grade levels and deeper connections in their own grade. These things create the close wound community we all know and love. Many schools in Seattle don’t have rules for students on who they sit with or where they sit at lunch, just that they must sit six feet apart.
Students have been showing frustration with the inability to leave campus during the school day. At Seattle Academy, a similar school to ours, students are allowed to leave campus during the day, with rules about timing and boundaries while still allowing precise contact tracing. Northwest students have been nostalgic for previous years when they were allowed to roam around Capitol Hill and get a unique Seattle experience. While talking with Sierra Maxwell, I got the details on why we have a closed campus right now, and there are two very important reasons. Our school is very adamant about having precise contact tracing for our community, to ensure no uncontrolled outbreaks. With the 8 COVID cases our school has had so far, there has been very minimal spreading, proving that our contact tracing protocols are working. Sierra spoke about the thinking behind keeping our campus closed, saying administration took into account that it would be hard to contact trace when students leave campus. Even if students sign out together, no one would know who else they had contact with. Another reason why the administration doesn’t want students leaving campus is because there is a higher risk of exposure if they go somewhere outside Northwest. Because the school has no control over what students do off campus, there is no supervision. Students could take their mask off or not be socially distanced and possibly transmit or get infected with COVID.
Sports are a huge part of the high school experience. At Northwest, indoor sports players are required to wear masks while they are playing, but outdoor sports players are only required to wear masks on the bench (or while inactive during practices and games). At many other schools such as SAAS, Seattle Prep, Bellevue school district, and most schools in the Emerald Sound sports league, they are not required to wear masks while they play both indoor and outdoor sports. The Washington State department of health says that masks are not required during play in sports, but each school has a choice about masking on the bench. Our school is staying on the more cautious side and as of now, requiring players to wear masks during games and practices. Some students have noticed that wearing masks while playing negatively affects their game, while others feel safer with them on.
Some think Northwest COVID protocols are too strict and are affecting their mental health poorly. “The school is trying to be as safe as possible,” says Sierra Maxwell. This means being firm with protocols. Mental health is one of the most important things on students’ minds. The impacts on mental health perhaps are not thought about enough when making decisions about physical safety. Northwest School families have been asking for more focus on mental health when it comes to school during COVID, and the administration is committed to that. After hearing specific things that students feel is affecting their mental health negatively, the school is looking into how they can modify those rules to cater to mental health. If you feel like rules are hindering your mental health over your physical health, the school is making changes to help. “The most voiced concern is not having freedom to choose where you spend your time and who you spend your time with,” says Sierra. Now that they have received concerned feedback from students, the school is working on ways of allowing students to have freedom on campus.
Contact tracing is a crucial step in the decision-making process about COVID protocols. It falls into the reasoning behind most of our schools’ COVID rules. Though our rules are still changing, this year at Northwest, students have a place to be almost every second of the day, leading to less freedom. During lunch and free periods, students have an assigned room that they must go to. For lunch, we sit with our classes most of the time, allowing those relationships to grow, but not many new ones are able to be formed. Having specific rooms to be in allows the school to know where we are always, allowing them to contact trace, but are there other ways for this to work?
Northwest has had 8 COVID cases in total this year, 5 student cases and 3 faculty. This may seem like a large amount for our small school, but many other schools in the Seattle area have it worse in terms of cases. Sierra thinks a big reason for this success is the intense contact tracing we have at Northwest. If a student or faculty member tests positive for COVID, contact tracing allows the school to know everyone that person has been in contact with. If the school does not know where a student was at some point, they would not know who could have been exposed to COVID, which could lead to an outbreak. With 6th graders now being vaccinated, rules may be able to loosen up a bit around the school. We can effectively stop a possible outbreak from happening by using all the protocols our school has thoroughly made.