Westminster adopts COVID-19 protocols to ensure safety of community


Photo credit Sunanya Guthikonda

With COVID-19 affecting communities around the world, many businesses and schools are attempting to return to aspects of life before the pandemic. Westminster began the school year with a hybrid model in which half of the students attended online classes via Zoom, while the other half attended classes distanced butand in-person. This structure allowed the school to determine whether it would be possible for all students and faculty to return back to campus safely. 

Westminster’s first plan of action was to split up the days into green and white days. On green days, students with last names beginning with the letters A-L were able to attend in person classes, while those with last names beginning with the letters M-Z stayed home. White days followed an identical setup, but the alphabetical groups switched their modes of attending class.

Faculty and students encountered many technical problems, such as difficulty connecting, students dropping off of the Zoom meetings, problems screen sharing, and general lagging with respect to the audio and visuals. Students also felt more distracted at home and wanted to see their fellow classmates in person again. 

“It’s hard for me to stay focused in person, but over Zoom it was definitely harder because there are more distractions at my house,” said sophomore Josephine Conley.

Because the on-campus aspect of hybrid school worked successfully, Westminster sought a way for all faculty and students to safely return to campus.

“We wanted to make sure the campus was safe for students and faculty,” said dean of students Brooks Batcheller. “That first week was just getting through orientation, and then getting through around green and white days. Can we get to Llabor Dday? Can we do a week with everybody full return? We were really making sure we were doing things the right way day to day.”

Westminster diligently tested the community to gauge the possibility of reopening campus to all members of the community. After very few positive cases, Westminster resumed in-person learning and offered students the option to either stay home or attend school on campus. 

To adjust to the full capacity of campus life, Westminster implemented a number of safety protocols. Arrow-shaped stickers indicate the direction in which foot traffic should move on stairs to remind students to stay socially distanced. Additionally, hand sanitizers and disinfectant stations are ample and easily accessible within every classroom and all around lunch areas.

Strict rules, including mandatory masks, COVID-19 testing, and staying socially distanced inside and outside the classroom, allow students and faculty to stay safe and continue learning in person. Moreover, hallway traffic and teachers monitoring one- way stairways and clusters of students allow transitions between classes to involve minimal contact with their peers. Inside the classroom, desks are spread out at least six feet apart and everyone must continue to wear masks at all times. Students who wish to consume food or drink must do so outside of the classroom, and, at the end of the period, students and teachers must disinfect all surfaces they touch throughout the class period.

“The thought process [behind the COVID-19 protocols] was step one1. We had to figure out what we could do to keep the virus from coming to campus,” said Batcheller. “Step two2 was the question of how we could prevent transmission on campus. In step three3, we considered the event in which we do have a transmission on campus and what can we do to isolate people so that the virus doesn’t continue to spread.”

In the classroom, teachers are also reinforcing the students’ safety while also making sure they have a positive learning environment.

“Each desk has a hand sanitizer and each student sanitizies their hands before they enter the class,” said Sara Pangle, an Upper School math teacher. “We also have disinfectant in the room, and they spray all the desks when they leave. [The protocols have] made working together a little bit of a challenge, but we’re working through it. I also feel it’s not that hard to see their expressions in their mask, which I think is really nice for helping with the sense of community.”

With new protocols mandating masks, Westminster has decided to ease other aspects of school life, including by  relaxing the students’ dress code, reducing classes to one hour, and incorporating 10 to 15 minute breaks in between classes.

“I like the breaks in between classes because I’m not rushing to class if it’s across campus,” said freshman Phillips Moore. “I can now also go to the bathroom before class without missing much time”

Not only has the academic schedule been modified at Westminster, but; lunch looks different as well. Students are now encouraged to eat outdoors. Moreover, the bottom floor of Hawkins Hall is now home to the Brewer’s Cafe where students can choose from a variety of sandwiches and wraps along with soups and chips. Next to the Brewer’s Cafe, there is additional seating where students are being monitored by faculty to make sure they stay safe while they have their masks off.

“I like how there are multiple options like Malone and Hawkins and how there’s more outdoor seating” said Conley.

With faculty and students adhering to the protocols and staying safe, Westminster’s foreseeable future with in-person learning looks promising.

“My biggest hope is that we can just continue to keep doing what we need to be doing to keep everyone safe, and that we continue to do it both during school and after school as we go into the winter months and flu season,” said Pangle.