COVID-19 restrictions have proven challenging for some students to adhere to in recent weeks, creating a unique dynamic in which small groups of students flaunting rules hinder social privileges for all students on campus.
Several students have already been sent home for COVID-19 violations, while others have asked for more clarity on what specific infractions could lead to repercussions.
In a campus-wide email sent on October 7, Dean of Students Samuel Bicknell outlined scenarios that could potentially result in students being sent home for several weeks of online learning. It was the first explicit communication of these consequences that the administration provided, and, prior to Emerging 2.0, the only concrete rule stated was that two dorm room or squad violations would lead to separation from campus.
“I had no idea until the email. I was kind of shocked to see that two COVID violations for being in someone else’s room would mean getting sent home straight away,” Elsa Marrian ’21 said.
Every student signed the Community Health Pledge before arriving on campus this fall, agreeing to adhere to a set of rules meant to keep the Deerfield community healthy. Deerfield administrators were unsure of what common violations to expect, according to Mr. Bicknell.
“We’ve been really intentional to keep this separate from normal disciplinary responses,” Mr. Bicknell said. “The last thing we want is to have students separated from campus.” COVID-19 violations only appear on DAInfo — they do not go on transcripts and are not reportable to colleges.
“We have to… recognize that our response mechanisms are imprecise and blunt right now,” Assistant Head of School for Student Life Amie Creagh noted.
Mr. Bicknell explained that separated students will be allowed to return after two to three weeks – a time period that includes the onboarding process necessary for a safe return.
If campus compliance with restrictions was widespread, administrators said students would be able to enter into the “Emerging 2.0” phase on October 5, which granted new freedoms including unmasked, non-distanced hangout time in others’ rooms of the same squad and senior access to the library during study hours. However, after many COVID-19 violations that occurred over the weekend, the administration decided that the community was not ready to make the transition.
In an email explaining their decision, Ms. Creagh highlighted the lack of social distancing within gatherings, including a “spontaneous dance that occurred on the tables” in the dining hall tent and a “group of 30+ students” under the library tent.
“I think they exaggerated some of the things said in the email, but I agree we weren’t really setting a great example,” said a student that participated in the gatherings, who preferred not to be named. “We were all just really excited to go into 2.0 that we jumped the gun a little, and it was our fault that we didn’t.”
Disappointment was widespread among students when they learned the move to Emerging 2.0 was put off until last week. Some students expressed frustration that everyone was held responsible for mistakes that had not necessarily been their own.
“It’s unfair to the people who aren’t breaking the rules and are still being punished for it,” Marrian said. “I’d hope that the people who are breaking the rules and keeping everyone in the first stage of Emerging feel bad about it, because they’re making everybody else suffer with them.”
Ms. Creagh explained that the administration does not want to hold all students accountable for the mistakes of a few, but it has been difficult to know for sure who was following the rules and who was not. While faculty have been asked to report all infractions, the administrators recognized that some violations will always remain unreported.
“My role is simply to report if I see Covid violations,” Math teacher Lara Du said. “I’m not trying to get that student in trouble, but if they are a repeat offender, it’s a danger for those around them.”
In some cases, students reported their own peers. On October 6, multiple students received COVID-19 violations for posting TikTok videos that depicted them breaking Deerfield’s rules by not wearing masks or being in someone else’s room. Since the videos were on a private account, many assumed they were brought to the administration by another student that followed the account.
“It feels like there’s a snitch culture that’s developing, and that’s just not a good environment for kids,” one of the students that posted a video said.
Some students said they felt that it was important for the health and safety of everyone on campus to report these incidents, while others felt that it was toxic, especially when it came at the possible expense of everyone’s chances for entering Emerging 2.0.
“If something comes across our desk, we need to respond to it, and I think it’s a good reminder to students to be really careful what they post on social media,” Mr. Bicknell said.
This next phase of reopening enabled those in the same squad to go into each others’ rooms unmasked and without distancing. It also brought a hot breakfast option, allowed students to order take-out, expanded campus boundaries to include the small loop, and gave seniors access to the library and Athletics complex during study hours.
In coming weeks, the Deerfield community can look forward to the reopening of the Greer and juniors being granted access to the library as well.