On Thursday, March 12th, the day before spring break began, Ms. Katie Berger, IMSA’s Chief Student Affairs Officer, sent out an email announcing that IMSA will remain closed until April 13th, rather than re-opening on March 22nd right after spring break.
Spring break has been extended until Wednesday, March 25th, after which time online classes would commence. Whether online classes occur synchronously (via video chat) or asynchronously (teachers posting homework assignments online, leaving students to complete them at their own pace) is at the discretion of individual teachers.
The closure is due to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Originating in China, it was quickly exported to other countries via travel. At the time of this article’s writing, the World Health Organization puts the official number of COVID-19 cases at 7,087 in the United States and 209,839 in the world. Ms. Berger’s email came on the heels of Kane County announcing its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 10, and Aurora University suspending all in-person classes on the morning of March 12.
This also meant that all campus events between March 13th and April 14th were canceled, including IMSA’s annual entrepreneurship competition, Power Pitch.
Students worried that with the rapid spread of the virus, IMSA’s closure might be extended past the original date of April 14th. There were concerns that the Latinx culture show Casa de Alma, prom, and even graduation might be canceled.
These fears were validated on March 20, when Dr. Torres posted an update informing the community that “remote learning and working will continue through the rest of the academic year. Face-to-face instruction will be suspended for the Spring 2020 semester.”
The IMSA community’s many Facebook pages quickly flooded with posts about the abrupt end of the semester. Some students posted their progress on a Minecraft simulation of the IMSA campus, with the intent of hosting an online graduation ceremony on the gaming platform. Some held out hope that IMSA would reverse the cancellation of in-person classes.
Members of the Class of 2020 were the most affected. Traditionally, the last week of the spring semester is called “senior week,” for the various events that seniors get to participate in before they leave IMSA, including a trip to Six Flags and a senior banquet. Although Dr. Torres’ email stated that “decisions on spring activities, including prom and graduation, will be forthcoming,” most seniors seem to have assumed that those, too, will be cancelled.
Abigail Light (’20) said on the school closure, “I’ll miss my friends and my SSS [second-semester senior]. I was ready to chill with my friends and be able to take advantage of my senior privs [residential privileges]. And especially prom and graduation and the last week of school, those are the iconic senior moments.”
Ry Roller (’20) had a different view, “I’ve never really cared about Six Flags or graduation or prom… For me, it is the SSS and…the ability to spend time with my friends before we all went our separate ways. I miss that, not some frivolous events.”
Looking at the seriousness of the virus pandemic, Sabrina Meng (’20) added, “Although the way this school year ended was definitely unexpected and unfortunate, I can see why IMSA chose to make this decision to keep everyone and their families safe.”
Another senior, who requested to remain anonymous, said, “After an emotional, mental, and social struggle as an IMSA student where I persevered through all types of obstacles, I was finally going to get my chance to chill a little as a senior and do a couple things that brought me joy. I am displeased with how IMSA dealt with the COVID-19 situation, but what else can I expect from a school that barely gives us working vacuums to do our housekeeping with?”
At the end of the fall and (to a lesser extent) spring semesters, some IMSA students make Facebook posts asking people to comment memories they’ve made together, usually something along the lines of:
“In the spirit of ending the year on a warm note- if you’re reading this, even if we barely talk, comment a memory of us. After, if you want to, make this your status because you’d be surprised with the memories people hold with you.”
After word of the semester shutdown got out, many IMSA seniors posted the above message on their timelines, considering the school year to be effectively over.
Alternative Solutions to the Campus Closure
The social-residential sphere is a major part of the IMSA experience. Many wished that they’d known they wouldn’t be returning after spring break, so they could have a chance to say goodbye.
Some suggested that IMSA should quarantine everyone on campus, since many students have less-than-ideal home environments that aren’t conducive to online learning. However, in January 2018, IMSA set a precedent for how fast viruses can spread throughout the school community. Known colloquially as “IMfluenSA,” during the third week in January 2018, so many students had the flu (30% at a certain point) that IMSA sent all students off-campus for a week.
Kane County already has multiple confirmed cases of COVID-19. If the virus entered IMSA through even one person, given the close quarters of the residence halls, it would spread like wildfire. (Many sources have found that COVID-19 is significantly more contagious than the flu). At that point, sending students home would be the only way to stop everyone from being infected, but then students would spread the virus to their families, worsening the problem.
Ry Roller rejected the quarantine-on-campus solution, pointing to multiple issues it presented: “One, staffing. RCs and Sodexo staff were expecting a spring break, and trying to schedule them [to work] for that time period would be difficult if not impossible…Two, teachers. They would have to be quarantined…which many would not appreciate, [otherwise] they would be a way for COVID-19 to enter the campus. Three, if they quarantined us on campus after spring break, many people could have gotten infected with COVID-19 over that time period and then the quarantine would just infect more IMSA students with the virus.”
Roller concluded, “Sending us home is the best thing IMSA can do… While I and many others hate it because IMSA was our safe space to be who we are, I understand that this could be a life-or-death situation, and what is happening really has to [happen].”
All learning for the rest of the semester will occur online. Although students don’t yet know exactly how it will work, since online classes won’t begin until Thursday, March 26th, many have opinions about the general concept.
Some students brought up class-specific issues. “I’m really nervous about [the idea of online classes]. I think the chemistry classes will be hard to actually learn because of the labs,” Abigail Light commented.
Others took issue with the idea of online classes in general. One anonymous senior explained, “I’m not keen on the idea of taking online classes under any IMSA teaching method… In general IMSA’s learning system has never been a good fit for me. I’ve been homeschooled online before, and it’s not as easy/simple as IMSA is making it out to be.”
Ry Roller concurred, “I feel like some classes will have an easier transition, like Digital Literary Studies, and some will be much harder, like MSI. I think teachers requiring the classes to meet at certain times [synchronous learning] are in for a rude awakening that that won’t work well at all.”
And Sabrina Meng commented that the virtual learning option “has the potential to work well, but seems very unstructured at the moment. Also, while it might work okay for some classes that are primarily presentation or lecture-based, it’s especially problematic for discussion-based or lab-based classes… And also, tests just don’t seem like they’ll work.”
Some IMSA students have proposed class meetups in centralized Chicagoland locations. Others suggested a massive class reunion in late July or August, hoping the COVID-19 situation will be largely alleviated by then. The general sentiment seems to be that students shouldn’t wait until their last semester of high school to slow down and enjoy the IMSA experience.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
~Alan A. Milne