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‘This isn’t March 2020 anymore’: Parents express frustration with Duke’s new COVID-19 guidelines

Many parents are not happy with Duke’s new COVID-19 guidelines, with some even considering pulling their children from the University.

Some parents are demanding that their kids deserve a normal college experience. Others question Duke’s decision to host large orientation events. 

“We would like to see Duke consider its larger obligation to its students, that obligation being more than just the degree you get at graduation,” wrote Melissa Traum, mother of a Duke junior. “Duke overreacted, jumped the gun and we hope they will revisit and for the benefit of their community revise their plan.” 

Traum emphasized that she and her family take the virus “very seriously,” as her father died from COVID-19 and her mother was hospitalized from it. However, she pointed out, vaccinated students are at low risk and that this generation will be dealing with COVID-19 for a long time. 

“College is four years unlike any other in your life, and once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Traum wrote. “Duke should be doing everything it can to maximize and normalize the experience as much as it can for its students. The social, academic and living experience, all of it. This isn’t March 2020 anymore: the game has changed, the rules have to change, too,” she continued.

“It’s a complicated issue. On the one hand, I completely understand the public health concern and I understand Duke’s desire to protect their community,” said Brian Gallagher, parent of a first-year. However, as a parent, he has concerns “about anything that degrades the quality of the education and the experience that our children are getting.” 

Gallagher shared that his son took a gap year last year after hearing about Duke’s changes to what the education, living experience and activities were going to look like during the 2020-21 academic year. 

“It was a very difficult decision and a difficult year for him,” Gallagher said. “So anything that sort of goes in that direction is worrying to parents. Duke education is very expensive, and it’s a great education and a great experience, but when you start changing instruction to online and putting limits on activities and gatherings, it’s concerning.”

Similarly, Aravinda Pillalamarri, another parent of a first-year, wrote in a message to The Chronicle that in-person interaction is necessary for “social and emotional learning and health.” 

“I feel hopeful that Duke will resume in-person activities in full as soon as warranted,” Pillalamarri wrote.

Given Duke’s high vaccination rate and lack of hospitalizations among COVID-19 cases, many parents believe that there is not a compelling case for Duke’s policies. 

“We’re a year and a half into this pandemic, and these are difficult issues, but at some point, we have to, I think, protect and safeguard the vulnerable,” Gallagher said. “And for the rest of us, to some degree, it would be nice to be able to get on with our lives.”

Kristin Grip, mother of a graduate student, described Duke’s policies as “a waste of time, resources and money” in a message to The Chronicle. 

“Parents are paying for an on-campus, [in-real-life] college experience for their kids,” Grip wrote. “We've had a year and a half of paying full tuition for our kids to do online work from the basement. Local community college would have been the better option, if many of us knew. Heaven help us that Duke doesn't shut down.”

Grip isn’t the only parent who feels passionately about their child having a normal college experience. Michele Seifert, mother of a first-year, shared that three out of four of her daughter’s classes have already gone online. 

“We are already considering pulling our daughter from school if Duke does not lift restrictions on these poor kids,” Seifer wrote in a message to The Chronicle. “The data shows even those testing positive for COVID-19, most are asymptomatic, no one is getting really sick. Stop the nonsense and let these kids get back to in person school, interactions, study sessions, gyms, etc.” 

Other parents are concerned for the safety and wellbeing of their children due to Duke’s high number of COVID-19 cases.

In an email to The Chronicle, Animikh Sen, Fuqua ‘06 and the parent of a sophomore and a senior, took issue with the discrepancies between Duke Athletics’ COVID-19 policies and those of the University. 

“How come so many vaccinated kids with very little symptoms live in isolation, yet athletics are allowing [thousands] of people to attend games without a requirement of vaccination from around the community who may not be under the Duke Compact? How are they going to enforce the mask mandate?” Sen wrote. 

Sen described recent messaging from Duke as confusing and concerning. 

“We have many concerns about what is happening and how little information about the process is being shared, but this latest decision does not make sense,” Sen wrote. “If there is already a staffing shortage at Duke to provide the right level of care and support, why invite a situation that is obviously going to stress the system more?” 

Manjula Dhupati, mother of two sophomores, said she has been worried about the physical safety of her children due to the large events thrown by the University, such as the Blue Devil Return event and Class of 2024 photo hosted by Student Affairs on Aug. 21. 

“I think the 2024 class is the one that feels left out the most because it’s the year that  COVID-19 happened,” Dhupati said. “I’m glad that Duke did something, but I think having that without fully getting the test results back definitely didn’t help.” 

Seema Mohan, mother of a senior, felt similarly about the carnival, writing in an email to The Chronicle that the event resulted in the “totally wrong message [being sent] to kids with the huge gathering and no masks.”

“My student and I stayed FAR from there—just walked past it,” she wrote. “The administration should not have done that.” 

However, Dhupati says that she does not believe students are at fault for the spread of the virus. While she acknowledged that there may still be students who don’t wear masks or listen to the rules, she thinks the problem is how quickly Duke keeps changing its policy. 

“You’re following what Duke tells you, but Duke keeps changing it. So, you can’t follow what Duke tells you, and it adds this level of uncertainty,” Dhupati said. 

Dhupati says despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, she would appreciate the University having “some sort of bigger plan,” as it would provide her some mental comfort. 

“I want my kids to have an experience … I worry about not knowing. I worry about what’s going to happen next, and I worry if sophomore year is going to be the same like freshman year, which means that it’s two years that they’ve kind of lost.”


Madeleine Berger

Madeleine Berger is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


Ayra Charania

Ayra Charania is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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