SHP Closes Campus, Moves Online in Response to Coronavirus

  • Maya Moffat ’23

On Thursday, March 12, Sacred Heart temporarily closed the cam- pus to all members of its community due to the spreading coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Despite attempts to encourage hand-washing and sanitation in the weeks leading up to the decision, the quick way in which the virus has spread became a big enough risk to the health of many that the issue could no longer be safely handled at school.

Although students themselves may be in a lower risk category, there are many other members of the school, such as the nuns at Oakwood that could be at risk. In an address to the community, SHP principal Dr. Whitcomb stated that “it is part of our responsibility to the community at large, to the RSCJ, to those in our community who have underlying medical conditions and may be vulnerable, and to make sure that we are protecting ourselves and spreading ourselves out.” Not only is remote learning intended to keep students and teachers healthy, but it is also an effort to protect the broader community. By closing the campus and practicing ‘social distancing’ we are trying to help ‘flatten the curve;’ which means slowing down the spread of the virus to allow doctors to have more time and resources in the interest of saving more lives.

Italy is experiencing the opposite of a flattened curve; they have over 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19. The exponential spike in Italy’s cases has put a significant strain on the country’s resources. Because of the shortage of materials and doctors, many citizens who have contracted the virus have no other option but to go without care and resources available to them. As a result, the death toll in Italy has soared. Sacred Heart made the decision to shift to virtual learning to avoid a situation similar to Italy’s in our community. But if our nation is not able to flatten the curve, our infrastructure may not be able to handle all of the cases.

We have been especially careful because COVID-19 is a new dis- ease. While talking to the school about the virus on SHP TV, AP Environmental Science teacher Mr. Mike Judge shed some light on the importance of how new the virus is. He states that “Our population does not have inbuilt immunity to this virus, in fact because it’s completely novel; meaning it has never been seen before in human populations, it means none of us have immunity that has built up due to previous exposure or vaccines like many do with various strains of the flu.” Since no one is yet immune it allows the virus to spread even faster; which adds another layer of danger that our administration has to take into consideration when making such a big change.

Because many other countries have suffered a high spike in cases and there a large number of lives at stake worldwide, SHP is taking the proper precautions. The administration has decided to shift to virtu- al instruction for a month; a longer period of time than most other schools in the surrounding areas. In a way, our school is helping to lead the change in protecting public health, making it one of our biggest priorities. In realizing the importance of making sure people stay healthy, Dr. Whitcomb states, “None of us made this decision lightly, or easily. This is unprecedented territory for all of us… and I want us all to be calm because we’re going to link arms and walk through this together.” Not only does the decision to go longer promote health in the community but also allows for continued learning in a less obstructed way.

According to Mr. Jake Moffat, co-chair of the English Department, the shift to virtual instruction through spring break “allows teachers the opportunity to create and offer a robust, cohesive curriculum rather than just attempting to get by for a couple weeks.” The school is making a good decision to preserve public health, but closing campus also means sacrificing a fair amount of school events and activities. For the next month, everything taking place on campus or events that are affiliated with the school have been canceled. Many special events and traditions including the Social Justice Teach In, sports, and simply the opportunity of seeing friends and teachers everyday have been canceled. Over the course of the year students have put lots of work into many of these activities including SJTI which was meant to take place the day after school was temporarily closed. The topic of this year’s SJTI is environmental justice. Luc Yansouni ‘20 who has been working on the Social Justice Teach In says that although the move to remote learning was disappointing, “social justice is all about protecting the vulnerable, and in a crisis like this one, the SJTI taking place could have endangered those most vulnerable to the virus. We are hoping that if we come back to school, that we will get the chance to have the teach-in, or some modified ver- sion of it.”

While for now the students will be learning from home, the plan is to be back at school as usual on April 14th, but this is not necessarily going to be the case due to the uncertainty around the spread of the coronavirus, Dr. Whitcomb says that “It’s possible that we will stay out for more than a month, but we won’t make that decision in the next week or so; we have to wait and see how things go in the state of California.” The possibility of staying closed after spring break could also mean losing more events that are very important to many such as prom, graduation and the rest of the spring sports seasons, but nothing is final. The loss of some of these events would be disappointing to many, but the pandemic that our world is currently facing presents a bigger problem. Luc Yansouni says that “The virus has infected over 200,000 people worldwide and will undoubtedly infect many more. Everyone is making sacrifices to limit the spreading as much as possible, and although it’s not fun to make those sacrifices, they’re saving lives.”

And by closing the campus for a month, SHP hopes to help in this goal of saving lives. While it is unfortunate how the coronavirus has affected many parts of school, the coronavirus will not stop Sacred Heart students from learning. Academics will be conducted virtually through Zoom. A new schedule has been produced that will be employed over the next few weeks, where each class is given a three hour time period once a week. It is not required or even encouraged to have students stare at a screen for three hours, but teachers are given the opportunity to figure out what to do with their class. Additionally there will be time given for office hours each week so to allow students to continue working with their teachers. Classes that were categorized as X, Y and W will continue.

SHP-TV and Student Leadership have already stepped up to help take the lead and support our community moving into a new period in Sacred Heart learning. Over the next month students and teachers especially will have to figure out the best ways to deal with the new system. And the first week or two will most likely be a challenge. But since it is in the best interests not only of the student’s learning but also everyone else connected to the school, it is important that we take the opportunity to teach and learn digitally so we can improve public health. By learning how to work through digital ways, SHP will keep its members and its community healthy by slowing down the spread of COVID-19, while at the same time upholding the school’s academic and learning values.

By Axel de Vernou

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