We are still failing


De Lila Green

The KHS cafeteria sits undisturbed on Oct. 26, two weeks before students would return in person.

A little less than a week before I was supposed to start my senior year in person, my boss called to tell me I had been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. I’m a golf caddy, and on the gusty morning of Halloween I had unknowingly spent four hours with a golfer who had the virus. Even though I had tested negative a few days earlier, my moms scheduled another test and promptly contacted KSD about my exposure. 

According to the decision protocol on the district website, COVID-19 exposures are divided into symptomatic and asymptomatic. Within these categories, further action is recommended based on test results. In my case, I had a known exposure, but was asymptomatic with a negative test. This requires me to quarantine for 14 days after my “last potential exposure.” Furthermore, this protocol defines close contact in three ways, the last and most commonly overlooked being a household contact. These rules would soon be put to the test.

A frantic frenzy of tweets, texts and Slack messages exploded the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 30 when Kirkwood football forfeited the first districts game against SLUH due to a positive test within our program. My brother, the only freshman on varsity (he’s a beast), was devastated — and extremely confused like the rest of us. Players and their families received emails that afternoon shortly after the news broke. The email informed families if their player was a contact, requiring quarantine, or a contact of a contact, which did not. My moms received the latter email. 

Twenty-four hours later, we received a different one: my brother was required to enter a 14-day quarantine, along with the rest of the team. One day after the first, apparently false, notification could have been plenty of time for him to expose his household without anyone’s knowledge. Luckily, our parents still had him tested and isolated after the initial Oct. 30 announcement — we have that privilege.

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What about the people who don’t? What about the families who can’t afford tests “just to be sure?” Or, what about the ones who have the ability to both test and isolate, but refuse?

This brings my lengthy context to two points of consideration: first, the protocol isn’t effective. KSD stated in their second email to football players that household members are not required to quarantine. When we notified them of my exposure, my siblings were an afterthought, and again not required to isolate. Children of exposed teachers are not required to isolate either. We will not keep this virus at bay if we do not follow the supposedly effective systems that we create. 

Second: while the district is failing in key areas, there are so many places where KSD has no control. The district cancels the Friendship Dance; this weekend, students clustered together in formal wear with no masks — parents laughed and snapped photos. KSD requires students to stay masked until off campus; friends drive each other home, tossing their mask on the dash once they turn out of the parking lot. 

KSD might run a bad ship, but it can’t control what its passengers do on land. That in itself is a system set up for failure: why are we going back if we cannot control this virus? On July 28, when KSD decided to return virtually for the first nine weeks, St. Louis County’s average daily number of diagnosed cases was slightly over 200. By Nov. 11 it had more than doubled to 577, and hit a record-breaking 736 Nov. 6. We are conducting ourselves in a way that pretends we can effectively manage this. 

Since Nov. 5 — the first day KHS had students in their classrooms — there have been four new positive cases at KHS. Two athletics teams are under quarantine. More than 30% of Robinson Elementary’s instructional staff members are under quarantine, as well as four classrooms. On Nov. 2, there were 28 staff members and 153 students in quarantine, Pre-K through 12th grade. By Nov. 9, those numbers had escalated to 51 and 385. 

These numbers are fortunate compared to other districts in St. Louis County and nearby. Show Me Strong, a state-sponsored website, gathers data on cases from children ages 5-19 within school district boundaries. The KSD area has had 243 cumulative positive cases since March 1, with 16 new cases between Oct. 21 and Nov. 4. Our neighbors of a similar size boast more extreme numbers: Lindbergh, with a similar reopening plan to KSD, has 280 cumulative and 25 in those two weeks; Francis Howell, with 383 and 48. 

This does not mean we are handling the virus better. Kirkwood has a mentality of “not me.” My friend went to a birthday party and got COVID-19, but I won’t get it at this Halloween party; My coworker’s kid contracted it while hanging with her soccer team, but my kid won’t while going maskless at practice; Four elementary school classrooms have to quarantine, but KHS is different.

This isn’t the time to deflect blame and blindly hold on to unsafe policies. We are all struggling, but we are all responsible for ourselves, our kids, peers, friends, parents, teachers, students, coworkers. It’s time for everyone to step up, to hunker down, to improve the systems we abide by. The data is starting to turn the other way — if we are going to be attending school, we need to eliminate the holes in protocol; there need to be consequences for individuals and families who put others at risk. Or, if that seems impossible: we did virtual for the first 9 weeks. We can do it again.