Half days

Shane Rich, Editor-in-Chief

Bernards High School has remained in-person for all school days this year (despite one virtual day on December 23rd), but recently, due to the introduction of the Omicron variant, there has been a significant rise in positive COVID-19 cases. 

Omicron has caused a surge in cases because, according to Scientific American, “the variant has shown that it can reinfect people who already caught and survived earlier versions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as people who have been vaccinated against it.”

A team led by virologist Alex Sigal have found that “reflects people who already got the virus” and “that more than 35,000 SARS-COV-2 reinfections had occurred in South Africa among 2.8 million people who tested positive for SARS-COV-2 within the past three months.” 

With the new omicron variant spreading throughout the country, many schools across Somerset County reformatted their schedules as students and staff returned to school following winter break. Given the widely-believed learning loss that students suffer from going all-virtual the decision for many districts to follow a half day schedule to eliminate the spread of COVID-19 still gives students and staff the best chance of learning new material, along with properly following social distancing by eliminating the unmasked contact during lunch periods. Bernards High School should switch to a half day schedule in order to navigate the omicron surge.

Bordering towns and high schools such as Bridgewater-Raritan Regional, went virtual on January 3 following winter break, then following an early dismissal schedule (with no lunch) from January 4-7. Hillsborough High School elected to go virtual from January 3-7, and Somerville High School was virtual through January 14.

The exposure of COVID throughout the high school has grown exponentially. In the week returning from winter break, over 50 cases were reported in one week vs a total of 50 cases since September, according to the COVID-19 dashboard on www.SHSD.org. Scientists have also found that the “transmissibility reflects the virus’s ability to replicate in human cells and move from person to person.” Although Bernards High School has done its best to maintain appropriate social distance, the Omicron variant has proven to be contagious amongst students and staff alike.

With positive cases on the rise and teachers being forced to quarantine or miss school due personal illness or family exposure, an additional challenge the school has faced has been staff shortages. Staff and administration face an increased loss of free periods to fill in for absent teachers, setting back their individual time to catch up on grades and lesson planning. 

As 2020 sent us into a worldwide pandemic and saw a good portion of Bernards High Schools 2020-2021 school year virtually, students and staff understand the difficulty of going all-virtual. The Somerset Hills School District has remained structured and organized while handling positive COVID-19 cases within the school, and continues to work to the best of their abilities in order to avoid a full school shutdown and move to all-virtual.

While a full virtual schedule is not the best option, if the district were to switch to a half day schedule, students and teachers would still have ample time to teach and learn in-person, which is most beneficial for students and staff.. With school days ending at 12:15 teachers would still be given 41 minutes to go over lesson plans as the 41 minute periods would be much similar to the old bell schedule Bernards High School used to follow, which ended the 2019-2020 school year. While it is clear that the full virtual option has many negative effects on the students and staff of BHS, the half day option seems like the best alternative during any surge period of Covid variants.