[Opinion] School COVID-19 safety procedures just for “show”

Eagle Eye Editorial Board

Like most theater productions, our shows here at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attempt to put a mirror up to society’s problems, and often propose solutions through satirical or comical methods. These productions typically include eye-opening lessons to teach those in the audience about the negative effects of their actions and prevent students from taking dangerous paths in their futures. However, this year’s neglectful attitudes towards COVID-19 safety measures seem like a mock production of “Safety Theater,” and take a slightly different approach. With that in mind, we ask that you sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Our story begins with our main protagonist, the not-so far away land of oh-so-red Florida government, the puppet master of all our school districts, twiddling away their fingers while manically laughing at the lack of protection statewide school districts have been given in regards to COVID-19 safety measures.

While implementations of Broward County Public Schools COVID-19 safety measures in the previous school year were relatively simple to follow with lower in-person attendance at MSD, the current population of over 3,500 students on campus begs the question: how well are these procedures are now being followed and enforced in the midst of enduring COVID-19 cases?

The answer, put quite simply, is not well at all.

We’ll give them light applause for trying; we do acknowledge that going against Gov. Ron DeSantis and his anti-science reforms takes courage. However, the mitigation of these much-needed regulations in order to satiate the community’s frustrations, rather than protect it, is detrimental to our student body safety.

While BCPS claims they have safe COVID-19 protocols, such as social distancing 3 feet “when possible,” mask mandates except for when eating, sanitation of rooms and an essentially paperless classroom, the students and staff at MSD hardly follow such guidelines.

Sure, we “wear” masks, but not at lunch, not at sports games, not in outside spaces. Not in hallways, bathrooms or around the courtyard before we get to class. We “quarantine” COVID-19 positive or exposed students, but not if they are vaccinated, not if they have a doctor’s note, not if they are “asymptomatic,” not if they don’t tell the school, not if Gov. Ron DeSantis and his new surgeon general decide to ignore CDC guidance and let student’s parents choose otherwise.

We “social distance” 3 feet when possible, but with such a severely overcrowded school, it is physically impossible to have any sort of social distancing in stagnant stairways and classrooms stuffed full like sardine boxes.

Where is the logic in providing the formality of safety regulations but not the viability?

It would seem to most these “safety precautions” set in place by BCPS are less for actual utility and protection of students than they are for show and avoiding possible liability. Following their long list of disputes, from superintendent arrests to unproportional distribution of students among schools, turning the other way in the face of unenforced safety measures is commonplace, but God forbid they tarnish their already-well-soiled reputation.

Here at MSD, where dress codes are more regulated than worldwide pandemic safety measures, these so-called enforcements of precautionary “requirements” feel unenthusiastic from some of the staff and security guards who refuse to properly wear a mask themselves while others try to do the right thing. The whole show is exhausting and the mixed messages are undermining those who properly follow a script that could ensure our safety.

The apathetic view of protection, mixed with BCPS’s tendency for appeasing everyone and protecting no-one, make it clear they are pulling the puppeteer strings of MSD administration in this Off-Off-Broward production of imitation safety of our students.

With students themselves feeling the frustrations that coincide with safety regulations, trust us, we know no one truly wants to wear a mask. It is an inconvenience to every single person on this planet, vaccinated or unvaccinated, rich or poor, Black or white, Republican or Democrat, teacher or student, old or young. This nuisance, however, does not excuse the real adults here from setting an example of abiding by the rules.

We’d like to ask, when will those in leadership positions, whose job is designed to protect and assist students, realize they are not exempt from truly enforcing these rules because they simply do not want to? When will the grown-ups be the actual adults?

But those questions would wrongly hit too close to home. Administrators aren’t wrong to care and try to make feasible rules; they have a duty to keep us safe. The directives from a district unwilling to pick a real fight with a governor who could not care less about keeping us safe creates an ever-befuddling divide.

Almost everyone wants us to be safe, but those who don’t continue to receive concessions. We then end up with half measures and half enforcement.

Additionally, due to an absence of honest communication from the administration, the student and parent population are often entirely disregarded and left clueless of the conditions of the school and the amount of students and staff who may have tested positive for COVID-19.

Some may receive phone calls or emails if they or their child are personally exposed, say, in a classroom setting, but what practical help does this notice bring to those exposed during the free-for-all maskless lunch period with at least 1,800 students plus staff, hallway passings, bathroom interactions or pep rallies where there is no “contact tracing” available?

This idea of “contact tracing” sounds good, in theory at least; however, like most “regulations,” if we can even call it that, it has no true application in mass student protection and prevention, only the appearance of a mitigating strategy for COVID-19.

It is clear this mockery of safety in no way actually benefits the health and safety of the severely overcrowded school; rather, it props up the translucent curtain of a ruthless state, district and administration that truly couldn’t care less about mass student safety.

Until there is a break in the pattern of systemic ignorance and safety regulations are updated to be made applicable and enforceable, the student body will continue to be compromised by this lack of authority over COVID-19 prevention.

When the community as a whole decides to take our collective health and safety seriously, we can finally hold a curtain call for this shambolic production of “Safety Theater” co-directed by the state of Florida and BCPS, starring Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

This story was originally published in the October 2021 Eagle Eye print edition.