By Emma Drzala (V)
With my face shield in one hand and mask in the other, I stared at the campus in awe on the first day of school. I wondered how Pingry would be able to pull off full days with almost all the students, faculty, and staff in person. Everyone had witnessed the results of COVID-19 and seen how other schools wouldn’t dare to invite their students in for full days. However, as I entered the school, I was able to see how Pingry beat the odds and was capable of staying open. Seating areas were taken away, tents were put up outside, and not a single plexiglass divider was out of place. Countless meetings and emails were set up informing students about the importance of wearing our masks; we learned about every precaution the school was taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as Pingry sought to keep their students healthy. Pingry has been finding innovative ways to ensure its students’ safety, including a weekly coronavirus test and required face shields or goggles in hallways. We have been reminded of social distancing, and the repercussions if we don’t follow guidelines; within a few weeks, the freshman tent closed, the junior area was taken away, and the decision to have study halls during flex seems inevitable.
However, even with these extreme rules in place, Pingry is continuing the one thing that will diminish all the rest of the school’s efforts: athletics. As a member of the girl’s tennis team, I have experienced the risk of athletics firsthand: while all coaches are making an effort to enforce social distancing, it doesn’t prevent the contact on the field or court. Groups of kids still run together or touch the same ball, and it makes me question why specific protocols need to be followed during the school day if, from 3:45-5:15, everyone will be together without masks.
For some students, face shields impair learning, but it has been made clear that the whole student body will be punished if we do not wear them. Students are reprimanded for sitting together outside during lunch if they are not far enough apart. Yet, when they run six inches from each other during athletics, there is no consequence. If there are no repercussions for breaking social distancing rules during athletics, these exceptions should also be enforced during the day. So, if all students get tested for coronavirus each week and are allowed to interact during athletics, why are we not allowed to have three people at a table outside?
The problem goes behind just athletics at Pingry, but also outside of school. All athletic teams, including contact sports, continue to participate in games with other schools, who may have less strict COVID guidelines. While I am not making the case for lifted regulations, I believe Pingry needs to reassess its priorities. It can be as simple as keeping athletics within Pingry, instead of risking students’ safety by coming into contact with other schools. As the winter season draws near, Pingry needs to decide whether it wants to put more of an emphasis on sports or in-person learning.
As much as I have loved returning to tennis, and being with the team, these athletics increase the risk of an outbreak; Pingry is indeed playing with fire. Other schools have closed because of positive tests on athletics teams, and it is only a matter of time before Pingry experiences the same.