Back to school, and a solemn anniversary

September in Durham and Middlefield means the start of another school year, and we are very pleased with a successful opening in spite of the ongoing challenges of the Delta variant and the overall COVID-19 pandemic.

It was great to be in the schools on Sept. 1 and feel the energy and excitement as we start reconnecting with our young learners after a long summer break. I would love to say that I could actually see that energy expressed on the faces of our young learners, but, of course, I couldn’t do that because we were all wearing masks. 

In July, as we planned the opening of our schools, we had been hopeful that things could operate a bit more normally in 2021-22. But here we find ourselves again balancing the health and safety of everyone with the need to be in school.

I want to thank our young learners, families, and employees for their ongoing adherence to all of our Fall 2021 Back to School Guidelines. In addition to requiring masks for everyone indoors and on school buses, as we did last school year, we are also requiring our employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Both of these are state mandates, as are the majority of guidelines that we are following. You can view these guidelines and a short video that includes highlights at, along with other related information. We also expect these guidelines to change in the months ahead, and we will do our best to keep everyone informed.

This week we also commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I remember the horrific events of 9/11 for a number of reasons.

On the morning of the attacks, I was in a meeting at Rodney Thompson Middle School in Stafford, Virginia, where I had recently begun serving as an assistant principal. Our principal, Mike Trant, called me out of the meeting and let me know about the attack of the World Trade Center North Tower. He then asked me to go to each classroom and discreetly inform our teachers about what was happening. By the time I had completed these notifications, the South Tower and Pentagon had also been attacked.

This third target, the Pentagon, had a direct impact on our local population, as many of our parents worked at the Pentagon or in close vicinity. Our communication to our families was also hampered that day, as local cell towers were not designed to handle the heavy volume of activity that exploded across the entire Washington D.C. metropolitan area. People at school were so scared, as you might imagine, and it took our collective efforts to finish the school day and get everyone home safely.

My other memory of 9/11 actually occurred a number of days after the attack, when I was driving to school. I was listening to the radio news and learned that my friend, Ann Judge, had died in the attack on the Pentagon. Ann was the travel director for the National Geographic Society, and someone I worked with closely when I was in the Navy.

Ann was one of the passengers on Flight 77, along with three young learners, Rodney Dickens, Asia Cottom and Bernard Brown; three teachers, James Debeunere, Sarah Clark and Hilda Taylor, and her colleague Joe Ferguson. The eight of them were bound for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the California coast to participate in a research project titled the Sustainable Seas Expeditions. Instead, they perished together when their hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon.  

I imagine that anyone reading this article who was alive in 2001 will recall memories of their own from 9/11, and whether or not you lost someone close to you on that awful day, I hope that we can all honor those victims by remembering their sacrifice.

Doug Schuch is RSD13
superintendent of schools.

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