Randolph campus will move to distance learning Nov. 16

November 4, 2020

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On Nov. 3, Head of School Bryn Roberts released a statement to SPA students and families declaring that all Middle and Upper School classes will return to full-time distance learning on the 16th.

Using current local data, Roberts laid out why SPA’s administration has decided to close campus: “The Safe Learning Plan recommends that schools consider moving to Distance Learning for Middle and Upper Schools when the 14-day case rate hits 30. The state issues a report every Thursday and last week Ramsey County recorded a case rate of 31.03 and Hennepin County a rate of 28.88. The number for considering a shift in the Lower School to Distance Learning is a case rate of 50.”

In the past few weeks, Minnesota has continued to see spike after spike in COVID-19 cases, creating a great cause for concern not only in public health but in allocated resources for clinics and hospitals, too.

With all these factors in mind, the administration has officially decided that middle and upper school will revert to full-time distance learning on Nov. 16 and will remain in that step of the Safe Learning Plan until at least Jan. 19, 2021. This extended time after Winter Break in January is in order to provide equity to students and families who may decide to travel over the holidays so that everyone can return the hybrid model at the same time.

As well as the extended end date, Thanksgiving Break this year is extended, with no school on Nov. 23-34. These days will be used by faculty and staff to develop and transition their curriculum.

“These are difficult decisions, and we want to give you the time and information to plan for this next phase of schooling at SPA,” wrote Roberts. “Division-specific details will be shared by the Middle and Upper School Principals in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please stay safe, and know that we will do all we can to support your student and your family as we work together to navigate the challenges of living with the coronavirus.”

Students petition to stay in school

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Screenshot of Peltier’s petition

Yesterday, after the announcement about the move back to distance learning, a link was shared across the SPA community.

When opened, it revealed a Change.org site titled “Petition To Continue Hybrid Learning At SPA.” Created by sophomore George Peltier, the student-lead appeal demanded that the middle and upper school remain in its current hybrid model instead of transitioning back to full-time distance learning, as the administration has called for.

“Students have sacrificed so much to stay in a hybrid model. We are going to distance learning because of county cases, not school cases. We are being punished for a number (county cases) that is out of our control,” wrote Peltier. “Let the amazing faculty and staff shape our hearts and minds in the classroom!”

“Originally, my parents told me the news yesterday night that we were going to go into full distance. And at first I was just mad and didn’t really know what to do,” said Peltier the next day. “And then, my parents were like, ‘You should do something about this.’ And I jokingly said, ‘Oh, I’ll just do a petition, because I saw plenty of those in the summer.’ And they were like, ‘Actually, you should.’ And then, the more I thought about it like, this isn’t a bad idea – I have nothing to lose here.”

At first, the response to the petition was positive.

“I’m signing because we do not have enough COVID cases for the school to shut down,” commented sophomore Jack O’Brien.

The administration has made the right call. Perhaps not the most comfy, or the most fun call, but the right one.”

— Quenby Wilson

One SPA community member even took Peltier’s message of preserving hyrbid learning one step further, calling for a change to a fully in-person schedule.

“Respect the virus, do not fear it. We need to be transitioning to full time in-person schooling,” wrote Carl Rindelaub, a parent of SPA students.

As the website spread, however, the feedback on the petition began to sway.

“This isn’t going to do anything,” commented junior Ellie Murphy. “I’m signing so I can comment on how rediculous (sic) the fact this petition exists is. SPA students are not the ones most at risk for COVID and the disregard for the greater community is really inappropriate and selfish.”

I think we’re not entitled to be in hybrid – nobody is entitled – but we’ve worked really hard as students, as teachers, as administrators, everybody has worked super hard to make this happen. And I don’t think the current COVID cases in our community should make us go to Distance Learning.”

— George Peltier

“This is stupid,” said sophomore Quenby Wilson. “Do you not understand that there are people who CAN’T work distance? Who HAVE to go into work in order to survive? By us going distance we are limiting the chance of some of those people getting the virus… The administration has made the right call. Perhaps not the most comfy, or the most fun call, but the right one.”

“You are seriously blinded by your privilege if you think this is acceptable,” wrote junior Per Johnson. “If we can recognize that SPA is not a community isolated from the greater community of Saint Paul, it becomes clear that such advocacy will not hurt people, only help. This year is upsetting and troubling for everyone, and for SPA students, if the toughest thing we have to do is stay home and go to school online, we should consider ourselves lucky.”

“At first I thought [the comment section] was just good criticism, and I kind of expected that from a few people,” said Peltier in response to the backlash. “Two words like “entitled” and “privilege” came up a lot both yesterday and today. And, like what I said in the comments, it is our privilege to be here. We are super lucky to be at this school and SPA has done a great job, and nobody is entitled to be a hybrid learner. We’re super lucky to be at this small school that has done a great job so far of keeping COVID cases really low and community spread really low. And I think we’re not entitled to be in hybrid – nobody is entitled – but we’ve worked really hard as students, as teachers, as administrators, everybody has worked super hard to make this happen. And I don’t think the current COVID cases in our community should make us go to Distance Learning.”

“I was extremely dissapointed to read through the arguments in support of maintaining the current hybrid model,” reflected Johnson.

This year is upsetting and troubling for everyone, and for SPA students, if the toughest thing we have to do is stay home and go to school online, we should consider ourselves lucky.”

— Per Johnson

As Peltier responded and debated with Murphy, Wilson, Johnson, and others, the rest of the comment section soon devolved into jokes and sarcasm.

“Bruh Idk what they are talking about George, you are in the right,” joked sophomore Will Painter. “Covid ended months ago and the media is lying to us. Thank you for such an amazing petition! We should end online learning and not wear masks!”

Peltier quickly responded to Painter’s declarations.

“I do not endorse William Painter’s comment for the record lol.”

Despite Peltier’s attempts to muffle the sarcasm arising from the comment section, others soon began to pile on.

Sophomore Jasper Weissbach wrote, “Will and George, thank you for spreading the true word of God. Bless up. Jesus will be our mask! Bless up! :D”

Most sarcastic comments, like Painter and Weissbach’s, were written in English. Some took it upon themselves to write in Hebrew and Arabic, too.

While some found the humor clouding the comments of the petition a funny response to the appeal, others found it extremely disheartening.

I am taken aback by the overflowing amount of privilege and entitlement that is pouring out in the comment section of this petition. Even seeing parents getting involved has truly shown me how much work we need to accomplish in this community to eliminate the “individualism” attitude in the SPA community.”

— Aman Rahman

“I feel like [the jokes are] just disrespectful to me, who put in the effort, and people who signed this petition and took the time out their day to sign it,” said Peltier. “And also, it’s just really a distraction from what I was trying to get across. There’s no reason for any of that, and I was just kind of bummed to see it.”

Peltier wasn’t the only person to find the jokes offensive, though. Senior Aman Rahman, while against Peltier’s petition, also agreed with the innapropriateness of the comments.

“We need to realize that the next year(s) of our lives will not be normal and therefore, we cannot force them to be and feel normal,” wrote Rahman. “The amount of jokes that are being stated in these other comments only furthers my doubts about how this student body takes COVID-19 to be a minor inconvenience and even a joke just because they haven’t been personally affected by it.”

Reflecting later on the events of yesterday, Rahman further acknowleged how the turmoil of the petition mirrors the community at SPA.

“It’s clear that the SPA community has placed itself inside a bubble where they believe that the impact of their decisions only affects the school and not their families, faculty, staff, and especially the communities around us. I am taken aback by the overflowing amount of privilege and entitlement that is pouring out in the comment section of this petition. Even seeing parents getting involved has truly shown me how much work we need to accomplish in this community to eliminate the “individualism” attitude in the SPA community.”

I thought what I was asking was pretty basic. Just saying like, maintain the status quo. I’m not saying we should be full in person. I’m just saying we’ve done a good job. We follow all the guidelines SPA laid out, and we should be rewarded for that.”

— George Peltier

“It is okay to be upset about change,” said Wilson as she contemplated the situation of yesterday. “I am too. But now is not the time to disagree. The administration has made its decision, the right decision, and if we want to have any hope of being back to in-person school next year, we have to accept their decision and comply with the rules. To do otherwise would accomplish the opposite of what the petition supporters are trying to get. Is staying in hybrid for what? A month more at most, probably, before cases get uncontrollable both in and outside of our school – worth not being back in person next year? That isn’t my call to make, but at least for me, the answer is a resounding no.”

“No one is immune from the impacts that rising cases are having right now, and even though some SPA students view themselves as being in a bubble, our actions clearly impact and are impacted by the outside world,” said Johnson. “I respect that there are differing opinions over this topic, but I think that we have to act with empathy towards people who do not come from the same place of privilege that SPA as a community exists in.”

As his closing remarks, Peltier laid out, in simplicity, what his message is.

“I really didn’t expect any backlash at all. And, like, I understand that this is obviously a sensitive topic for everybody – it means something different to everybody. And I thought what I was asking was pretty basic. Just saying like, maintain the status quo. I’m not saying we should be full in person. I’m just saying we’ve done a good job. We follow all the guidelines SPA laid out, and we should be rewarded for that.”

 

UPDATE Today, November 4th, Dean of Students Chantal Thornberry released a statement to the Upper School as follows:

“Dear Upper School,

We’ve become aware that a petition to remain in hybrid was created and shared broadly with the community. We always welcome student voice, so please consider speaking to your class’s USC representative, your advisor, or a member of the admin team to share your input pertaining to scheduling.

While we haven’t been able to read all the comments, I remind you that our online presence should reflect both our best selves and adhere to both school policy and our community’s standards.

Please reach out with any questions or concerns.

Best wishes,

Dean Thornberry”

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