When Jacob Miller walked into a very crowded hallway at Papillion-La Vista South High School for the first day of school, his instant reaction was to take a photo.
“Contemplated on posting this but this needs to be seen,” the senior later tweeted. “Here at south, you can tell we take social distancing very seriously. I tend to follow the social distancing guidelines but I needed to take this photo and share.”
Miller’s selfie shows students standing close together at the front of the school. It appears that everyone in the photo is wearing a mask. The photo was taken before the start of the school day on Wednesday, the day all students except those learning remotely returned to school.
Papillion La Vista Community Schools spokeswoman Annette Eyman said that the photo of the crowded hallway is legitimate and that students shouldn’t have been crowded in the hallway like that.
Wednesday is the school’s regular late start day, meaning that some students arrived early that day and waited for school to start.
Eyman said principals were outside helping direct traffic because the school just got a new, reconfigured parking lot. Inside the school, students started arriving and stood where they had in past school years on late start days.
“Just a perfect storm,” Eyman said.
The hallways don’t look like that every day, Eyman said. And in the future, students will be routed to the gym, where there’s more room to social distance. Students are also being allowed to go to their first class earlier than they have in past years.
The district has drawn criticism from its teachers union for returning all but a fraction of students to in-person learning. The reopening plan is not safe, the teachers say. About 10% of the district’s students have opted for remote learning.
The Papillion La Vista Education Association has argued for a fully remote start or a 50-50 start to reduce the density of students in the buildings.
Miller said he didn’t share the photo to attack his school or district. He said he knows that teachers and administrators are doing the best they can in the circumstances.
Still, Miller said he wanted to share the photo to make a political statement. He said he’s frustrated with the role politics have played in school reopening decisions.
“There are children’s lives at stake,” he said. “That’s all the post was about.”
This week, President Donald Trump repeated his call to reopen the nation’s schools and again pressed Congress to steer future coronavirus relief money away from schools that do not reopen this fall.
Miller said that since that first day of school, he hasn’t seen a hallway that crowded again. And students have been wearing their masks.
Passing periods at the Papillion La Vista high schools have not been staggered. Instead, students have not been given lockers and are supposed to move quickly to the next class and not congregate.
Eyman said that the opening hasn’t been perfect but that things are improving as students are getting used to how things will work this school year.Photos: Our best staff photos of August 2020