With the remainder of the spring semester officially canceled, many have started to wonder what the 2020-2021 school year will look like at Belmont Hill. US healthcare experts have warned of resurgences of the virus in the fall and in the future, with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying, “There will be coronavirus in the fall.” Furthermore, some experts, including Dr. Fauci, do not believe that American society can return to its pre-coronavirus state without the development of an effective vaccine, a process many believe may take twelve to eighteen months at a minimum. Even if a fall resurgence of COVID-19 does not reach current levels in terms of cases, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that it could be as, if not more, dangerous than the current wave as it would coincide with flu season.
Although Belmont Hill should remain hopeful that its students, faculty, and staff will be together on-campus next year, the school should also be prepared for the very real scenario in which students will have to learn online for the fall semester if a second cycle of coronavirus does happen. California State University, Fullerton has already announced that it will begin next school year online and will judge whether or not they will return to campus based on conditions at the time. Closer to home, Boston University has been preparing for a situation in which students do not return to campus until January 2021.
The most commonly proposed solution for school during a COVID-resurgence is to have a mix of on-campus and online learning. In this solution, students would learn at home with the same online tools we are currently using when there are spikes or increases in the number of coronavirus cases and would go to school otherwise. While on campus, students would still have to adhere to social-distancing protocols so that they do not aid the spread of the virus to their communities. These protocols, however, would be nearly impossible to implement at a school such as Belmont Hill unless there are drastic changes in the daily lives of students, faculty, and staff. For example, students would not be able to maintain six feet between one another in the Hamilton Chapel so schoolwide meetings would either have to be held virtually or not held at all. Some classrooms, especially those with Harkness tables and smaller ones such as the ones in the Morse and Eliot buildings, would be unusable unless class sizes are significantly reduced. Another proposed solution is that students could only come to campus on certain days of the week with their peers coming in on the other days. Furthermore, students would be unable to maintain six feet between one another in morning homerooms, hallways, milk and cookies, lunch, sports, club meetings, bus rides to and from campus, and more, making it virtually impossible to have classes on campus.
The potential of a second cycle also brings up other questions. For example, will students’ families receive a full or partial tuition refund if online classes continue, especially as the country is in the midst of an economic crisis? There’s also much uncertainty regarding the college process for current Fifth Formers, many of whom have not yet been able either to take the SAT or ACT or to visit college campuses.
While we should remain hopeful that we will be able to gather as a school come this fall, we should also be aware of the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 and its potential effects on the Belmont Hill community.