Walpole Students Return to Full In-Person School

Danielle Dentremont, Editor-in-Chief

After 388 days since the initial COVID-19 lockdown, Walpole High School students returned to a full in-person schedule on April 5 for the first time since March 2020. Although the traffic on Common Street on Monday April 5 was a sign of normalcy, restrictions are still in place in order to protect students, teachers and staff from the virus as the world awaits herd immunity. 

The most significant changes from the hybrid to full in-person schedule are that both cohorts of students will attend school five days a week—with Wednesday being an early release—and the hybrid schedule is no longer an option for students. Additionally, lunches also will return to the cafeteria—with alterations. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Cohort B students will eat lunch spaced six feet apart during one of the four lunch time slots, depending on which class they are attending on a given day. Cohort A will follow the same protocol on Thursdays and Fridays as Cohort B eats lunch in the classroom in order to ensure that students are safely distributed six feet apart from others throughout the school during this brief reprieve from masks. With nearly all of the seniors back in school at the same time, juniors who were granted parking spots earlier in the year are no longer able to park in the high school lot, but they are able to park at the Walpole Police Station’s lot on South Street. 

Particularly for seniors, the return to school is exciting as senior events are approaching and college commitment season is upon us. However, students are still anxious as we seek normalcy. 

“While it is nice to be in school with our entire senior class, it does worry me that we have so many people in the school at once, very close together,” senior Brendan Mahoney said.  “I would just hate to go full remote again, especially right before graduation.” 

Although many people remain wary of this return to school, the science is evident that it is safe to make the return as long as COVID-19 protocols remain in place. The Centers for Disease Control states that “in-person learning in schools is not associated with substantial community transmission.” However, the CDC also advises individual communities to consider their communities’ respective levels of community transmission and risk of transmission. One way Massachusetts schools are evaluating these factors through are through pool testing—the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on a mixed or pooled sample of different students’ tests in order to detect the COVID-19 positivity rate in selected school districts. Currently, Walpole is not participating in pool testing, but Governor Baker has allocated funding for this testing to participating school districts through the rest of the year. 

Additionally, Massachusetts school systems have made great strides towards immunity. With all K-12 educators currently eligible for vaccination and the general population’s eligibility opening up on April 19, full in-person school in Massachusetts is much more viable than it was only a few months ago. 

“Massachusetts remains a national leader in vaccines and we continue to make progress. As of today, over 4 million spades have been administered and over 1.5 million people are fully vaccinated,” Governor Charlie Baker said on Twitter on April 6. 

Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reevaluated COVID-19 protocols in schools and recommends that, in high schools, students are spaced at least three feet apart at all times in spaces where mask use is universal. Although the CDC has concluded that schools are not super spreaders, they recommend that students are spaced six feet apart in communities where the level of transmission is high. 

“Given the crucial services schools offer and the benefits of in-person learning, it is critical for K12 schools to open and remain open for in-person instruction, as safely and as soon as possible,” the CDC said, on cdc.gov. “Schools should be the last settings to close because of COVID-19 and the first to reopen when they can do so safely. Working together, school leaders and community members can take actions to keep schools open for in-person learning by protecting students, teachers, and school staff where they live, work, learn and play.”

Currently, COVID-19 case numbers are on the rise in Walpole, particularly in the 19 and under age group, so now is no time to become inattentive to COVID-19 protocols. After a successful transition back to full in-person learning, spirits in Walpole High are high and many students agree that this return to quasi normalcy greatly improves the learning experience. 

“I think that whenever possible, having students in school is a huge advantage, and it allows for a learning environment that is more accessible to all students,” Mahoney said.