In With the Old: School Reinstates, Revamps Policies


Upper School Dean of Students Mr. Jacobsen spent some time this summer brainstorming ways to continue to keep our campus safe, our community strong, and our policies clear.

Evan Liberman, Managing Editor

Although a significant portion of the U.S. population is vaccinated against COVID-19, the virus shows no signs of stopping–at least in Florida. Regardless, the administration has restored certain pre-COVID-19 policies, in addition to implementing new ones. 

The first and perhaps most noticeable reinstated policy has to do with masks. In an Aug. 11 email to the Benjamin community, Head of School Mr. David Faus and Chairman of the Board Mr. Darren Lowe announced that Benjamin is mandating masks for all students and faculty while indoors, despite a May 24 announcement that announced the School would be going mask-optional. The Aug. 11 email added that the School is “committed to regularly reviewing these policies with the ultimate goal of removing any mask or physical distancing mandates.” Those who feel uncomfortable with going to School can opt for a temporary remote learning option, but must return to campus when the administration adjusts the mask policy. 

On a larger scale, on July 30, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that affirmed “parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks” and blocked certain public school districts’ mask mandates. In defiance of this rule, the Palm Beach County School District has implemented a mask mandate, but is offering an opt-out option for families who would like their child(ren) to not wear a mask at school. Moreover, despite nationwide concerns about increased transmission of the highly-contagious delta variant, certain local businesses have done away with mask requirements for those who are fully vaccinated. 

Local private schools have also begun to take positions regarding masking. For instance, The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach is taking an opposite approach to Benjamin: masks will be optional for all students. Similarly, Cardinal Newman High School will not mandate masks, but recommends that all members of the community continue wearing them, according to an internal document obtained by The Pharcyde.

Since Benjamin’s mask policy stands in stark contrast with that of other schools, students such as junior Sophia Buller are upset. “Jupiter High School, which has over 4,000 students enrolled, has an option to opt out of wearing a mask indoors. Likewise, The King’s Academy and Palm Beach Gardens High School have the same policy. I would like to know why, as a school with just over 400 students enrolled, we are being required to wear masks while we are indoors,” she wrote to The Pharcyde. “I know many people, myself included, that have gotten a vaccine with the promise of being free to choose between mask or no mask… Each individual should be able to choose the best option for their own health and comfort,” Buller added. 

Additionally, the School will be removing the one way directional signs and the entrance or exit only doors, thereby returning campus movement to what it was pre-COVID-19. Furthermore, normal bathroom capacity has been reinstated. 

However, as the School returns to what life was like before COVID-19, so must Benjamin students. According to Mr. Jacobsen, students will have less leeway when it comes to the dress code and being tardy. Moreover, ordering from delivery services such as UberEats–which became a popular way for students to get lunch last year–will no longer be allowed. 

Explaining the motivations behind the reinforced dress code, Mr. Jacobsen said: “It was simply less of a priority [last year] given the circumstances, but we have to get back to it to establish expectations we have for our students and present ourselves in the best manner possible to guests at school.” On the topic of food dropoff being discontinued, Mr. Jacobsen added that “allowing constant food drop-offs is not needed nor are they reasonable to manage for our front office staff trying to fulfill their normal duties.”

A final area of school life that’s being altered is the activity period that took place on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It has been renamed “community block” and, unlike last year when all students could leave school when the period began, this year, students who do not have a valid excuse or senior sign out privileges will have to remain on campus for the period. It is also being moved to a different time of day than it was last school year.  This too is a sign that life on Grandiflora Road is returning to normal because this block follows the structure that was in place prior to the pandemic.

Senior Tyler Taplett, who was at Benjamin when the pre-COVID-19 activity block was still in place had this to say regarding its return: “I think it will be very beneficial [for students] in specific scenarios. For example, it allows students to finish homework, meet with teachers, and organize club meetings. On the other hand, the revamped activity period could be useless to some… students who use this time for nothing but sitting around.”

Regardless of how useful students feel the reinstated procedures are, Mr. Jacobsen says that the ultimate goal “is to return to normal but also keep the policies we implemented last year that worked well.”