On Friday, March 13, more than two-thirds of the RMHS student body left school at 10:30 AM, apparently in response to fears over the COVID-19 virus and the decision of many neighboring school districts to close for the day.
In the weeks leading up to this day, the cases of coronavirus in Massachusetts increased exponentially from 13 to 108. Some of these cases were in nearby districts, namely Arlington and Woburn. This led to the closing of many nearby public schools like those in Wakefield, Burlington, Bedford, and Wilmington. Even the private Austin Preparatory School in Reading closed. Many school districts did remain open, including Boston, and closer to home, Melrose and Andover.
Friday, March 13, started out as a regular day. However, many students believed that their school should be closed down just as others had. Evidently frustrated that the Reading Public Schools had not decided to close, some students decided to hold a walkout after C block, which was the second block of the day. The news of this spread throughout the school, most likely through social media. After the C block bell rang at 10:30 AM, students left classes and started to walk out the school doors. Teachers, directed by Principal Boynton, stood in the halls to ensure the safety of students. As more and more people left, others decided to follow as they believed that nothing would happen in their classes with such low attendance.
Principal Boynton also made an announcement on the school PA system informing students and staff of the decision of many students to leave the school in protest, but clarified that any students still in the halls should report to their scheduled classes. She also urged students who were deciding to leave to notify their parents.
When D block started, teachers marked their attendance and a headcount was done of students remaining in school. My teacher at the time expressed disappointment at the walk-out. She believed that the walkout was unnecessary and rash.
With only a third of the students present, there was only one lunch block, instead of the usual three. Some of the cafeteria food was offered to students for free as there was a lot of excess which would go to waste otherwise. During the rest of the day, most classes didn’t have enough students to do anything productive. Some of the students who stayed were heard saying that they were hanging out with their friends and messing around the entire day.
At the end of the day, an email was sent by Dr. John Doherty mandating that Reading Public Schools would be closed for the following two weeks, until March 30th. Students were generally quite happy about this but they also suspected that the unplanned break might mess up teaching schedules. One student commented on the break: “It’s gonna be a lot of fun but I think we’re going to have to do a lot of work when we get back.”
On March 15, Governor Charlie Baker ordered the closing of all public and private schools through April 7, further extending the break to three weeks.