Why Do These Covid-19 Rules Exist?


Courtesy of Amy Ma ’23

While some of Groton’s Covid-19 rules seem to make perfect sense, the rationale behind other rules might not be easily understandable. In an attempt to find the answers to these questions, the Circle Voice interviewed Dean of Students Michael O’Donnell and the Assistant Head of School Megan Harlan with questions submitted by students. The first question is answered by Ms. Harlan, and the remaining questions are answered by Mr. O’Donnell. 

Why is singing not allowed anymore?

A group of physicians have advised that singing on campus is a high-risk Covid-19 activity and therefore it is not advisable to offer singing at this point in time.

Why can’t fifth formers go back to the schoolhouse after 7:15PM after the health check, given that seniors are allowed to? 

For now, during periods of time when the building is not supervised, we are trying to keep the density down as much as possible. Also, the sixth form is in a unique position because, by virtue of being prefects, they have to be scattered and therefore have a different need in the evenings. And so, for fifth form, part of the reason we organized their dorms by form in the first place is that, even though they are hunkered down, they can still be with many other students from the same form.

Why are dormmates required to wear masks in dorms when they dine together in quarters unmasked?

If I am going to walk into a dorm and be on duty, for my own health and my family’s health, I need to know that I am walking into a space where people haven’t been unmasked. All along, we have stated that if you are in common space that other people enter other than just those from your dorm, such as custodians and members of B&G, those people must have an expectation that the air that they are breathing is clean. When you are sitting in the dining hall, however, I’m not sitting in close quarters to you. But in a common room, I have to be in close quarters. Ultimately, it’s an acknowledgement that even dormitories are shared mostly — but not exclusively — by students. Dorm affiliates and other adults have to be in and out, which is why we must retain wearing masks in those common spaces. We have already added ventilation and improved airflow — wearing masks is just another layer of risk mitigation.

Why are day students allowed to attend classes with other students but not allowed to go into dorms fully-masked?

This is a place where we need to pick and choose between necessary and unnecessary access. Even though I have high confidence that day students are being responsible, classroom settings are still more controlled than dormitories. The other piece is our overall approach to mitigate and reduce the risk of spread by reducing the density in any area. By introducing more people into the dorm, you are naturally increasing the density of that space. Also, if there is a positive case, we need to be able to trace who has interacted with who, which is much harder when day students are going into other students’ dorms.

Why are day-students allowed to come onto campus if they can potentially spread Covid-19?

The school from very early on said that we aren’t going to tell day students that they can’t be a part of in-person learning, but we have to rethink what that looks like. We wanted to steer a middle course, where day students can be a part of in person learning — this, however, requires limits on the level of interaction in close quarters, such as dorms. 

Why are the doors of classrooms locked after 2:00PM on Saturday?

That only happened last week, but that issue was that classrooms were getting trashed; it was not the case on weekends before that. In the winter, we get that there is less space where people can be. We get that having places to study is important, but we also recognize that having people take care of those spaces is important. And as long as that’s happening, we can continue to allow access to classrooms.

Why are there two separate afternoon activities?

At a general level, it allows us to offer the same kinds of opportunities without overloading the facilities. If we have six days a week for both Varsity and JV basketball, and if we are also trying to limit density, we would have practice times that extend way past what they are right now. Furthermore, one of the nice things it allows is that students are not limited to one particular activity. The reality is that, if we aren’t competing twice per week, there would be five to six days of practice a week without any competition. Being able to change gears on different days of the week both satisfies some logistical challenges and provides more variety to students’ experiences. 

Can the task force please host a Zoom webinar to allow students to ask questions to them directly?

This is a small place. People know where my office is. They know where Ms. Leggat’s office is and where Ms. Harlan’s or Mr. Gracey’s or Mr. Anderson’s offices are. So if people have questions, I would just encourage them to come in anytime to talk. In fact, some students have already done so, which I have greatly appreciated.