by Zac Gordon, Staff Writer, November 2021

Nobles has the technology to facilitate students Zooming into classes, so why do they not allow it? Since the beginning of the academic year, the school’s Zoom policy has been adapted so that  a student is allowed to Zoom into classes only under very limited circumstances. Some students disagree with this policy, reasoning that it is too stressful to be out for any number of days and deal with catching up on all the in-class material they missed. Others agree with the administration’s hard line. 

There are several stipulations that are considered to determine the eligibility of a student for Zoom privileges, with the intention of encouraging students to be present on-campus. However, if a student’s COVID-19 results are pending, or if a student tested positive for COVID-19, they are permitted to join their classes virtually. With the option of Zoom, students who are ill with COVID-19 are not penalized for missing class. Nonetheless, if a student is feeling under the weather, Nobles not only encourages them to stay home but also does not offer the ability to virtually attend school.

As we enter peak flu season, I wonder if this policy is the best. As what has been dubbed as the ‘Nobles Plague’ spread like wildfire, many students found themselves recuperating out of school for one or two days. It is never fun to miss school, but to come back with piles of homework and incomplete classwork can feel really overwhelming. Joey Duggan (Class II) said, “Missing a day is really like missing a week because it can be hard to find a time to meet with a teacher to go over the material.” 

Drew Johnstone (Class II) added that the feeling of being overwhelmed extends beyond taking a few days to recover from a cold. Recovering from a concussion himself, Johnstone said, “I missed one day and didn’t do homework for two days, and as a result of that I am getting further and further behind [even] as I take advantage of my extended deadlines. I feel like missing one school day can take more than a week to make up.” As Johnstone was restricted from screen time due to his concussion, and he stayed at home to avoid overstimulation, class audio recordings offer a helpful middle ground. Listening to class without looking at a screen and without the risks of going in-person would be a beneficial option to relieve the stress of feeling like he was falling behind in school while still dealing with his injury.

Earlier this semester, battling a bad illness, I was unable to get out of bed for two days and I found myself asking teachers if I could log into class virtually, only to find out I wasn’t allowed to. Although I knew I did not have Covid, I still was put in a position where I had to weigh the risk of attending school and potentially infecting my fellow students versus facing the detriment of falling behind. After two negative COVID-19 tests and increasingly falling behind, I masked up and came to school. Should this be the norm? This experience gave me sympathy for those who are unable to attend school due to medical reasons or ones that help preserve our community health, and to wish for a virtual option in these special cases. However, presenting an alternative view, Abigail Roberts (Class I) said, “A student Zooming into class can be pretty disruptive and take a while to organize. Also, if we want to get back to 100 percent  normal and pre-COVID-19 school, we need to remember that sick days exist and if you don’t feel well enough to come to school you shouldn’t Zoom in either.” Roberts raises an intriguing point in the interest of returning to in-person learning in the classroom. 

She continued, “Unless [students are] noticeably ill, there’s lots of people who wake up with a runny nose and come anyways, lots of times with a mask on.” School Nurse Erin Hartford said, “I think most would agree that the Zoom world we had last year was not ideal and as a result, learning was negatively impacted[…] The rules are as is because we do not want to give students a way to abuse the Zoom. We fear this would result in a less than ideal learning environment. If a student is truly so sick that they cannot come to school, then they should be recuperating and not worry about attending class.”

In addition to organizational issues over Zoom, when students enter an in-person class virtually, the learning dynamic noticeably shifts. There is a divide within the classroom; in-person students are able to read off of each others’ body language and facial expressions, while the virtual student’s focus is not in collaboration with the class but solely with the material. The sense of community in the space changes, but at what cost? We must find a solution that maintains classroom community and efficiency, while also easing the stress that results from sick days and missing class.

It is difficult to discount the detriments of either falling behind, or being in class while a peer Zooms in; both of these issues must be addressed. With this, I believe the best solution is one that allows students to have access to the material after the fact, without directly participating in class. Teachers could record each day’s class meeting, so that an audio recording could easily be disseminated to students who were absent that day. This could be supplemented by more direct student-teacher interaction, where the teacher either meets with the student individually or provides them with a written summary of the class material from that day. By allowing students access to a class audio recording, Nobles will mitigate the fear that students will feel pressure to still work while sick, and will minimize class disruption, while still allowing students to catch up on their own time. Whichever approach the administration decides to adhere to in the future, it is clear that a new absentee policy must be created to accommodate the best interests of all students.