School ends remote learning, keeps masks on in building

19 Months into pandemic without foreseeable ending, students and faculty adapt to daily life with Covid-19


Anna Zell '22 and Maraki Tamrat '23

For the first time since March 2020, the entire school community returned to in-person learning this fall — fully masked.

“I understand why people might get annoyed [by masks], but you have to protect other people, and it’s the responsible thing to do,” said Student Council Co-Vice President Avni Mangrulkar ‘22. 

With a mask mandate implemented by the Washtenaw County Health Department, the Greenhills community will at the very least remain masked until COVID-19 transmission levels reach and remain moderate for 14 days—regardless of vaccination status. The mask mandate applies to everyone when inside the building but masks are optional when outside.

“Having to tell students to put masks on correctly is one of my least favorite things to do,” said 11th Grade Dean Janelle Sterling. “I put myself in the shoes of a classmate of theirs who may not be comfortable doing that. I take on that role to make sure students feel comfortable and safe.” 

98 percent of age eligible Greenhills students as well as 100 percent of faculty are currently vaccinated; the vaccination rates wane for sixth graders as they are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine. The school announced in the spring that all age eligible community members without government-recognized conditions must be vaccinated in order to attend in-person classes for the upcoming school year. Greenhills will provide a vaccine clinic once the Pfizer vaccine is approved for sixth graders, which is expected before Halloween. However, even if the student body reaches a 98 to 100 percent vaccination rate with the Pfizer vaccine being approved for sixth graders, students and faculty still may not be able to remove masks yet. 

“We hope that by the fourth marking period, if everyone is vaccinated, for us to be able to take off the masks, however, the pandemic has taught us that the virus changes and the landscape changes,” said Head of Upper School Quincy McLaughlin.

Wearing a face covering during the school day while learning, presenting, and speaking is not something that anybody is used to. This change is especially different for teachers who have to adapt lectures and lesson plans to the physical barrier of masks.

“It hasn’t really impacted my ability to teach, I got used to it last year,” said Sterling. “For the most part it’s just been nice to be back, even wearing a mask.” 

Even though Greenhills has a high vaccination rate, vaccines are not foolproof. Especially with the emerging Delta variant, breakthrough cases are becoming more and more common. Despite this, Greenhills is not currently offering a remote learning option for those who wish to stay at home during the pandemic. 

“The hybrid was really difficult,” said McLaughlin. “On a case by case basis, we could put a microphone on the teacher, put a camera in the classroom, and a student could listen in from home.”

Greenhills used a hybrid learning system for the majority of the last school year. Many teachers felt a disconnect between students learning at home and at school. The hybrid learning option was discontinued for this school year even though the pandemic continues with similar rates of positive cases in Michigan.

“I don’t think Greenhills should be offering a remote option, there’s something lost there, I personally felt like people at home never got a great sense of the class and it’s too hard for the teachers to do both” said Sterling.

Other regulations besides a mask mandate and vaccination requirements include new air ventilation systems, desk spacing, and open windows in classrooms when possible. 

In terms of positive cases, the Greenhills community has seen very few. One upper school student and one middle school student tested positive for COVID-19 so far in this school year. In response to positive cases within the community, there is a step by step detailed protocol advised by a team of medical advisors to prevent further transmission The team of advisors are also Greenhills parents: University of Michigan Chief Health Officer Preeti Malani, Infectious Disease Specialist Anurag Malani, and University of Michigan Dean of Engineering Alec Gallimore.

“I think there could be more communication between faculty and students about what’s happening with positive cases,” said Mangrulkar. “A lot of people in my grade got tested recently and even though everyone was negative, people were really worried.”

The Washtenaw County Public Health Department is consulted when there is a case or exposure within the Greenhills Community. The Malanis and Gallimore, on the other hand, are not consulted with individual cases but rather protocol decisions such as air ventilation plans.

“The medical advisors help us with big picture sort of questions, like what’s the value of testing now,” said McLaughlin.

Throughout the last school year, weekly testing of students and faculty was conducted. With just one positive case resulting from this process, the protocol was abandoned with the start of the new school year. Community members continue to test for COVID-19 on an individual basis.

“Students and families have been really thoughtful and very conservative and always thinking about the safety of the community,” said McLaughlin. “[School wide] testing did not yield a lot of useful results, we will not be returning to this.”

In the upcoming months, there are many things that the school is in hopes of fulfilling, such as a fully vaccinated school, a maskless marking period, and an increase in COVID-19 friendly school activities. 

“If we’re fully vaccinated, that would be my great wish and my great hope,” said McLaughlin.