Weston students call for midterms to be canceled amid COVID cases

An exterior of Weston High School in Weston, Conn.

An exterior of Weston High School in Weston, Conn.

Autumn Driscoll / Autumn Driscoll

WESTON — A group of students has created an online petition after high school administrators announced the school will have midterms starting next week.

The petition states the COVID pandemic is “raging” through the school system and has created obstacles to students’ learning, preventing them from preparing for the exams. It also said the pandemic has affected students’ mental health and asks administrators to take that into account and cancel the exams like other high schools have done.

Midtems are scheduled for next Friday and then the following Monday through Thursday.

“We respectfully request that the decision to proceed with midterms be reconsidered as the student body attempts to navigate through an already extremely stressful time in our lives,” the petition reads.

It also points to the number of students who are unable to be in school because they tested positive and are in isolation or are a close contact to a positive case and are quarantining, with the possibility it could worsen as the omicron variant spreads.

“These students who are being affected by the virus are already facing an obstruction to their learning by being required to stay home from school and learn remotely,” reads the petition, which doesn’t name its organizers other than “concerned students.”

According to the petition, there were 157 students who tested positive or were in quarantine in the district as of last Tuesday or Wednesday.

According to the district’s COVID dashboard, there were 65 students who tested positive or were in quarantine as of this Tuesday.

“While certain students may have been able to utilize the time over break or the few days this week to study for the exams, what about the students who can’t?” the petition states. “Many students have been sick, been spending time with ill family members, and have missed out on receiving the extra help they need.”

Juliane Givoni, Weston High School’s interim principal, sent an email to families last Friday announcing midterms would go forward with some alterations.

“In light of the recent and current COVID-19 case rates affecting our school community, I felt it necessary to assess whether moving forward with exams as originally planned was still appropriate and feasible,” she said.

Givoni said she spoke with student leaders, representatives from the Parent Teacher Organization, teachers, counselors, school and district administrators, and colleagues from neighboring districts.

“In the course of my conversations, students and adults affirmed my own belief that a) there is value in the practice of preparing and sitting for a cumulative assessment, and b) the scoring of said assessments provides valuable data regarding student performance,” Givoni said. “However, we share concerns about student readiness and instructional continuity due to recent COVID-19 related absences, as well as uncertainty around what the outlook will be two weeks from now, when exams are slated to begin.”

Among the changes is having the exams count for less of the overall grade in the course.

Teachers also have the ability to alter the content, format and intensity of the exam based on what was actually covered in class. How the tests will be given was already changed earlier this year to shorten the testing period and add more break time between exams.

“We will monitor student absences to assess the need for additional make-up exam periods beyond those already scheduled,” Givoni said, adding teachers are available for extra help, as well as the writing center and math lab.

The midterms won’t be given remotely and students isolating or in quarantine will make up the tests when they return in person, she said.

Any additional school cancellations will push the schedule back that number of days, Givoni said.

“I have learned much as an educator amidst a pandemic, most notably that flexibility is key,” Givoni wrote. “We continue to monitor the health and wellbeing of our students and staff, and we seek to respond in an informed and measured capacity.”

While the online petition had a little more than 600 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon, many of the online comments about why people were signing it were jokes.

Some comments did focus on the negative effect students said the exams would have on their mental health alongside the pandemic.

The petition said the high school’s mission statement is to “empower each student” to “serve as part of a caring and supporting community.”

“Now, more than ever, the student body urges administration to put the mental health and safety of its students first,” it said. “The students of WHS are currently dealing with the health, social, and emotional effects of the pandemic. The administration should show empathy to the students and understand what we are going through as we try to simultaneously navigate the pandemic and continue to adapt to the new school year.”