Examining the ambiguity of the coming school year and COVID’s impact


Photo by Daniel Kuriakose

A look at the COVID cases reported to the school nurse’s office, by week.

Masks. Vaccines. Social distancing. Quarantine. Are all things that have been normalized throughout the past 3 years, and while the talk of COVID is dying down, its presence will still affect the lives of next year’s students and staff at West Chicago Community High School. 

While the current variants of COVID are actually just sub-sections of other variants, according to Nurse Cathy Collins-Clarke, they are still infecting a large number of people. The most recent variant, Omicron, is subvariant BA.2.12.1. Collins-Clarke believes that subsequent mutations will simply be renumbered, unless there is a dramatic change (so the next subvariant, potentially, could be BA.2.12.2).

Not only that, the new subvariants also come with reduced symptoms. Even though COVID is starting to go to the background, Collins-Clarke stressed students still must continue performing basic hygiene routines

As the second semester continued, it became commonplace to see both masked and unmasked students in classrooms. (Photo by Yearbook Staff)

“COVID and flu will always be here now, and the biggest thing is we just need kids to get enough sleep, eat well, hydrate, and wash hands,” said Collins-Clarke.

While COVID may be here to stay, many students wonder whether school will look and feel different in August.

This year, the school has seen privileges resulting from COVID such as the free grab-and-go breakfasts at Entrance B, and a lunch program that was introduced this year. In 2021, West Chicago Community High School, and many others, received a grant from the Department of Agriculture allowing administrators to provide free lunch to all students. According to school principal Dr. Will Dwyer, that grant is set to expire at the end of the school year.

“That’s what we’re working on right now. That grant is set to expire nationally for everybody. We are trying to work out some other ways to figure out, making sure we get everybody fed, as we’ve seen there is a big enough need for it. The intention is to do that. The exact plan, now that the grant is going away, we’re still working [on],” said Dwyer. 

While many students disliked attending classes via Zoom in the 2020-21 school year, one benefit that emerged from this digital tool is the ability for teachers to host meetings virtually. The administration is still planning to continue Zoom parent/teacher conferences, as they feel online conferences have become more efficient. 

Degrees of masking could be seen when outside as well, especially when students and staff were in close proximity. (Photo by Yearbook Staff)

“There are some issues with our service provider for conferences, but that’s the plan. I think parents have really appreciated that flexibility and that opportunity. I know as a parent, I have little kids there not in high school yet. I have appreciated [a virtual option]. It’s made my life much easier for my wife and I,” said Dwyer. 

After Illinois dropped its indoor mask mandate, many students at West Chicago Community High School continued to wear a mask. At this point, the administration does not expect any changes to the guidelines set forth by the State of Illinois, nor the DuPage County Health Department. 

The option to wear a mask and quarantine if positive for 5 days will remain. However, the school does not intend to continue contact tracing. 

In the future, booster shots to protect against COVID, like flu shots, will also be an option. The school will not be offering vaccination clinics, though, because random strangers coming in to get vaccinations could pose a danger to the safety of students. 

Vaccinations will not be required at WCCHS, but are recommended. 

The number of students and staff coming down with COVID have fluctuated throughout the year, but Collins-Clarke believes the amount of actual cases has decreased. 

She explained that allergies are horrible right now (the spring season), as well as Influenza A. Unfortunately, there is no certain way to tell the difference between COVID and these other illnesses. 

“A lot of things mimic COVID. Allergies mimic COVID, flu, cold… Everything mimics COVID,” said Collins-Clarke.

A student goes without a mask in the hallways. (Photo by Yearbook Staff)

When the Wildcat Chronicle first broke the news about changing COVID guidelines, many students offered up their opinions. Reporters followed up with the students to determine whether their opinions changed over the last several months.

In February, freshman Daron Marin felt there was no need to change the COVID guidelines, since students still had the freedom to remove their masks periodically. Since then, he has stopped wearing a mask himself, but does not believe there will be a dramatic dip in the number of students unmasking next school year.

“A lot less students would wear masks [next year] because they would feel more comfortable without them,” said Marin.

Freshman Pamela Cruz, who expressed anxiety about removing her mask in February, said, “I’ve gotten [so] used to it that taking it off feels wrong. Now, I carry two with me.”

Not wearing “the mask lets you be free,” said Brayan Tecuanapa, who said in February that he thought it was “good” to require masks in school. Since then, though, Tecuanapa found it was difficult to breathe with a mask on. 

Tecuanapa believes “there will be less people masking because there will be more vaccines that will make it safer.”

While most students and staff acknowledge COVID will still remain a concern in the future, they are hopeful the disease will not be as terrible and dangerous. Some have changed their outlook over the course of the semester, and perhaps there will be more developments over the summer which will allow the 2022-23 school year to look and feel more normal, like the years before the pandemic.