I recently read an article about a party in Marblehead, MA attended by 20–30 young people.
Apparently, no masks worn were worn. It seems there was no social distancing. There was, it appears, sharing of drinking cups (unclear what was in the cups). Now, this party occurred in a private home. (No word best as I can read as to where the homeowners/parents were.)
Apparently, most of the attendingstudents scattered when the police arrived. That means that contact tracing is tough sledding since the names of party goers is not known. It seems that the students who were identified (because they were not fleeing) are not being subjected to any police action.
The result of the party has been that the Superintendent closed down the high schools until Nov. 6th. All athletic events have been suspended too. Another high school in the area is closing too. Students attending the party need to be tested and quarantined, as do any adults in contact with them.
The incident standing alone is bad enough. But, it is the contents of the letter from the Superintendent that truly got me thinking about the title of this article. In his letter (linked here), the Superintendent observes that this was not the only such party in his community. He notes that other nearby communities had similar party incidents. He observed how he recognizes the need of students to socialize but in these times, that desire (and acting on it) presents serious risks for not only the students themselves but the larger community. He ends his letter by noting how sorry he feels for all those who worked so hard to open the schools. He notes in the second to last line: “We must do better.”
As a former college president, I get that students want to party and congregate. I appreciate that the Superintendent gets this reality too. I get how difficult social distancing is. I get that students of a certain age underestimate risk to themselves and others. And we know that our brains do not develop quality capacity to make good judgments until we are well into our twenties.
Let’s start with this question: Were there no students in the crowd of 20–30 who had parents or grandparents who might become ill? Were they all only children or were their siblings (older or younger) who could become ill? Were there one or two or three students who recognized that this type of party was seriously risky as COVID rates rise in Massachusetts (and elsewhere)? Why didn’t those few students have the courage to speak up and out?
Here’s another question: Where were the parents living at the home where the party was held? Were they there in the home that evening and let the party happen? Were they out to dinner (really?)? Were they at a neighbor’s house socially distancing and wearing masks?
Consider yet another question: Did the parents of the 20–30 students attending this party know where their children were that evening? Were they totally unaware of a party which their child was attending? And, how did all the kids get to the party? Did they drive (and drink) or were they dropped off by an adult?
I appreciate that we have COVID fatigue. We have a new serious surge of the virus; we have impending holidays. We have been wearing masks and social distancing (or not) for months. An end is not in sight. A WSJ article today by Stacy Meichtry et al observes that to stop the spread of the pandemic, we need large scale public cooperation.
The WSJ article contains a chart of “rule breakers” in the UK, and it is clear that our collective desire for compliance is waning — and not just among young people. Many of us have been “rule breakers” over the past 6 months. The question is whether our degree of rule breaking is increasing. Apparently, the answer to that question is, sadly, yes.
Surely, we can do better as the Marblehead Superintendent observed.
Consider these nine reasons as to why we cannot and are not doing better as COVID threats persist. And as you read each reason, consider this reality: we can change. The reasons are not presenting hurdles over which we cannot go. We can change if we have the will to do so.
The Marblehead incidents are frightening and maddening. They are also sad and potentially disaster-making and that’s no exaggeration. But, I have hope.
I actually do. All of the above 9 reasons can lead to change. We just need the will — personal, societal, political — to make that happen. If ever there were a time to encourage changed behavior it would be now. So, no more Marbleheads; instead, let’s have more of a strategy to enable and foster compliance with COVID precautions. When shall we begin? Yesterday.
Karen is an educator and an author. Prior to becoming a college president, she was a tenured law professor for two plus decades. Her academic areas of expertise include trauma, toxic stress, consumer finance, overindebtedness and asset building in low income communities. She currently serves as Senior Counsel at Finn Partners Company. From 2011 to 2013, She served (part and full time) as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. She was the Department's representative on the interagency task force charged with redesigning the transition assistance program for returning service members and their families. From 2006 to 2014, she was President of Southern Vermont College, a small, private, affordable, four-year college located in Bennington, VT. In Spring 2016, she was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in VT. She also teaches part-time st Molly Stark Elementary School, also in Vt. She is also an Affiliate of the Penn Center for MSIs. She is the author of adult and children’s books, the most recent of which are titled Breakaway Learners (adult) and Lucy’s Dragon Quest. Karen holds a bachelor degree in English and Spanish from Smith College and Juris Doctor degree (JD) in Law from Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law.