“As you navigate throughout the building this year, please be aware that we are still in a pandemic.”
This was the somber warning issued during Dr. Cadian Collman-Perez’s first day address as MAST Academy’s new principal, and as it turned out, a prescient one.
Within the first five days, MAST has had 25 students on active quarantine from according to the Miami-Dade School COVID dashboard. Dr. Derek McKoy, the former principal, clashed with parents over the social distancing habits of students outside of the classroom last school year.
Collman-Perez comes to MAST after years as the vice principal at Homestead High School, and a tenure as the principal of South Miami Senior High School. She carries with her a sense of pride in the school she runs, and aims to hold MAST to a high standard.
This marks the 30th year for MAST, and there was some anxiety among the 1,500 students all physically returning just as a new coronavirus variant was expanding nationwide. Even with a reduced attendance last year, MAST often topped charts for COVID cases and active quarantines. District officials across the state have publicly clashed with Gov. Ron Desantis over mask mandates and the safety of students. The Department of Education is currently fighting these mandates in court.
“I know the school is implementing all the safety measures they can to secure the safety of students this year. I truly believe that students can feel safe in the building this year,” said Jonathan Mendez, MAST’s student government president.
“Last October, I did not feel at all comfortable coming into the building. I think the key difference is the vaccines,” said Carlos Couzo, a history teacher and member of United Teachers of Dade. “I’ve had kids that have been exposed but not quarantined because they are vaccinated. It gives you some hope; that normalcy is not too far out of the picture.”
COVID protocols have been updated since last year, no longer requiring entire classes to be quarantined wholesale, instead focusing around those in the immediate vicinity of an infected student. One way hallways, the closing of drinking fountains, staggered bell releases, and distanced seating remain in place from last year.
Although faulty air conditioning marred the opening day of classes, spirits seemed high with most students excited to return to physical school.
“The AC situation was unfortunate, but the first day of school was so much fun I don’t think it is too big of a deal. I have a positive outlook for the year. We can finally hold events and build school spirit. We can make everyone feel welcome again.” Mendez said.
Theo Miller is an intern reporter specializing in education, technology, politics, and the impacts those have on schools both on and off the Key. He is a graduate of MAST Academy. In Key Biscayne, he works in production with Crossbridge Church and the Anti-Social radio podcast, Often described as a full-time nerd, when he is not writing or in school, he loves cameras, cars, cooking, and cartoons.