Fear can be a powerful force. BVSD school administrators say it has driven some to forget that we are all part of the same community, trying to get through this international pandemic together.
Following the return of students to in-person learning in the fall, schools began to see an expected uptick in cases amongst students and staff. What they didn’t anticipate was the barrage of vicious attacks, insults and unrelenting hounding, as everyone, whipped into a frenzy of fear, clamored for additional details.
“They would get extremely angry at me because I couldn’t give them more information,” said a BVSD high school administrator, who we will call Ms. Doe. “I get a little emotional talking about it. It has been very stressful.”
Editor Note: We have taken the unusual step of making the administrators who spoke to us anonymous so that they could share their perspectives honestly, without worry of impacting school relationships.
In addition to her normal duties, Ms. Doe has been serving as her high school’s COVID-19 Coordinator, responsible for contact tracing and communication around the cases.
While BVSD and its schools would inform staff and families about confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19, the notices, understandably, often created more questions than answers.
“I had to field a lot of these emails and phone calls,” Doe said. “They would ask, ‘who was it in a class?’ ‘Can you let me know if it is someone they were eating lunch with or someone they were in the classroom with?’ It felt a little bit like a witch hunt to figure out who it is.”
While everyone is alerted, certain details are not shared to protect the identity of those with COVID, as required by law.
“ I had to keep telling them, ‘no, I can’t. I can’t because of HIPAA.’, Doe said. “Know that we are not trying to hide anything. We just need to support everyone involved.”
“I totally understand where they are coming from,” Doe added. “I think that is why I have so much empathy for the parents when they call,” said Doe. “My son got quarantined from school and when I got the phone call, as a mom, I went through the same emotions.”
“I absolutely understand it. The pandemic is scary,” said an elementary school principal (we will call Ms. Jones), who handled her share of worried parents last semester. “At school we do our best to keep our kids safe to the best of our ability. Our job is to care for each other. That is important to remember.”
She tries to remind community members to be compassionate.
“These people are still people and we need to care for them,” Jones said. “We must remember that someone may be really sick and we need to keep them in our thoughts and wish the best for them.”
“I have another family that has lost two parents to this disease,” Jones added. “You don’t know what families have gone through. You can’t always know and really, you don’t need to know it.”
One of Jones's most memorable situations last semester was near Halloween, when a quarantine threatened to keep some students from trick-or-treating. During a meeting with parents, she reminded everyone that those directly involved deserved to have their privacy respected.
“You would never want me to call your child out, if your child was sick. I would never do that – and therefore we wouldn’t want to do that to another family,” Jones shared.
Doe says some of her staff members equate being diagnosed with COVID-19 as having a scarlet letter.
“There is such guilt that they feel when they contracted COVID or being connected to a case. They are afraid that people are going to think that they did something wrong,” Doe said. “In every single case from a staff member, they’ve been smart. They are doing what they’re supposed to do. I have not had a case of a staff member testing positive, where they’ve said, ‘oh yeah, I went to a party, and we all had our masks off.”
“It should not be like you are a pariah or something, because you have caught this somewhere,” Jones said.
Both administrators say they have received hostile emails, questioning their motives – when everyone is just trying to do their best during difficult and ever evolving circumstances.
“As a district, we are all trying to do what is best for everyone on that spectrum and not everyone is going to agree with all the decisions, but we are getting that feedback,” Doe said. “Some of the emails we have received have been really, really nasty. They are super harsh towards our staff and our administration. Some of the emails have said, ‘well good, now the teachers got what they wanted.’”
She says that teachers were devastated when the school and eventually the district moved to remote learning again.
“They were wanting to be with the kids and being face-to-face with them, meant the world to them,” Doe said. “Our classes have been nearly faceless. For the teachers, they cannot wait to get back into class. That is why they went into teaching – for relationships.”
Doe says that her high school is a microcosm of what is happening in the world. Teachers and staff, of course, have differing opinions and situations. Just like everywhere else it has brought out the extremes and they are working through them, just like everyone else is.
“I’ve had to constantly remind community members, parents and each other that we are humans. Educators are human,” Doe said. “If we all understand that we are all struggling, then we can all see the bigger picture together and support each other in what everyone is going through.”
Doe says she sees reason for hope. The same crisis that has brought out some of the worst in people has also brought out the best too.
“Randomly parents are reaching out to say thank you so much,” Doe said. “Normally, in high schools, thanks are few and far between.”
Thanks to the generosity of her school community, the administrative team was able to create gift bags for each staff member, which were hand delivered to their homes – to raise their spirits during this difficult time.
Ultimately, she hopes that we can come together as a community.
“I know this is hard. We will get through it together,” Doe said.