With School Reopening, How Do I Know I Can Trust My Classmates?

The truth is I cannot. Competing interests and priorities reign supreme, and that undermines the integrity of any bubble that any place of education is trying to uphold. I empathize with the hesitation to go back to in person learning in the Fall. Although I fully intend to try to engage in the hybrid learning that is coming my way, I do feel nervous.

I feel nervous that a classmate may head off to Boston for the weekend to see a loved one before coming back to our remote town. I feel nervous that a party may manifest in a quiet place just off campus. I am nervous I will be sitting next to someone who tries to exit the bubble and then return under the radar. Humans crave socialization, and who am I to police that? I do not want to and will not.

Our freedom to move around is one of the most fundamental parts of life. It’s something that I never want to see go away, even now, but it’s also the reason we are allowed to have different priorities in life.

I can’t get angry with someone who wants to see their boyfriend or girlfriend off campus in a city, and I can’t get upset when a tuition paying student wants to return to the education they are buying.

The fact of the matter, though, is that human nature threatens the integrity of any safe learning situation the decisionmakers in our lives come up with. All plans are good plans until they are put into practice.

The problem I face, and the problem you probably face in returning to school this Fall, is the very notion of undermining a bubble environment can be enough to deter participation. Wherein, I have to ask, is that deterrent adversely affecting accessibility we are all promised in the eyes of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Of course, I have no reason to believe everyone is a bad actor. That’s simply not the case, but I fear we are setting up for failure. Back in March I read an article that suggested that every friend we see during this time is like also seeing every person that friend has seen in the last two weeks. I can’t, for the life of me, remember where I saw that – so I can’t cite it – but that’s notion has truly resonated with me.

The truth of the matter is that belief underscores the same exact hesitation I feel when I go into a cystic fibrosis clinic’s waiting room. I always stand near the perimeter of the waiting room, never sit down, never touch my face and never interact with anyone until my name is called. Why? I can only control what I can control. I assume everyone in the clinic lives with a multidrug resistant strain of bacteria in their airways, and that is something I don’t want to have to deal with. I also do not want anyone else in the waiting room to have to deal with my MDR strain either.

I assume widespread risk in several ways, but in the case of respiratory disease, I take no chances. Why? My priorities.

My family, my career, my education, my friends, my livelihood and my long term health are all higher priorities in my life than making a stupid decision that can leave me vulnerable to a lifetime that denies me of those opportunities.

You are not wrong to feel some hesitation about return to school, or putting your kids back in school. Sydney and I were talking about it last night. What would we have done?

The answer we came up with is that it is impossible to speculate. Is elementary school or high school truly safer than college? Would we have been able to see our friends? If I was forced to give an answer, I would say that we both would have had to err towards virtual learning, and I say that with a deep pain inside. The problem wouldn’t have so much been us, we have been trained, like all CF families, to uphold the integrity of infection contact precautions, but we would have lived in fear of our friends and peers. Is that a way worth living? How would we have regained the confidence to reinfuse ourselves into our social circles?

It’s the same question I ask myself today… how can I trust the people around me to keep me safe, which may also require them to jeopardize some of their priorities in life?

If you have answer I want to hear it.

My advice to all of us is that we need to be more infection savvy now than ever before. It doesn’t matter whether coronavirus is truly milder or more deadly than we’ve seen… I aim to avoid putting myself in a situation that forces me to find out.


The CF Foundation has one solution to this problem: expanded paid leave for people with CF and their family members. I fully support it.