As we begin this new quarter of the school year, I would like to give you an update on our COVID protocols.
I want to once again thank everyone for their efforts in keeping our community safe this school year. Because of our vaccination rates and adherence to other public health protocols, we have had minimal disruptions and relatively few cases and quarantines. We have slowly added back more opportunities for the community to gather on both campuses while still maintaining mask wearing protocols when inside. We plan to expand these opportunities in the days ahead. We look forward to the availability of the vaccine for our younger students and will continue to monitor COVID cases at St. Andrew’s and in the larger community. In consideration of these factors, we will evaluate our other protocols, such as mask requirements, as our goal is to increase a sense of normalcy in our community.
Thank you for your patience and understanding as we go through this together.
I am happy to share the news with you today that over 95 percent of our employees at St. Andrew’s have made the decision to be vaccinated. Our employees’ decisions to be vaccinated shows a tremendous commitment to the safety of our community and our students. Additionally, those who have not been vaccinated have been notified that we will begin requiring weekly testing for COVID for the next few weeks with the vaccine required by the second semester with exceptions for medical and religious reasons. This policy was supported by the administration and adopted by the Board of Trustees in their September meeting.
Additionally, in support of this policy for employees, the Board and administration have also adopted a policy effective next week requiring, on the honor system, any visitor during the school day on campus or indoors be either vaccinated or tested within 24 hours if any potential close, direct exposure to students would occur with the visit. The purpose of this policy is to negate the risk of exposure to our students by asking our parents to take the same precautionary measures as our faculty and staff. We do this primarily to address parents visiting classrooms for parties and other events where they are in close contact with students.
While we understand a wide variety of opinions exist with regard to vaccination for COVID-19, it is our responsibility to protect our students, faculty, and staff from the pandemic. Thank you for your continued support as we attempt to make the best decisions we can for our community.
Due to continued concerns over the rapid increase in the spread of COVID and the strain on our healthcare systems, we have made the difficult decision to delay planned large group gatherings until after Labor Day. These include divisional chapel services, the planned convocations on each campus, and Saints Celebration. We are hopeful that COVID cases will begin to decline soon and we will be able to offer these events as planned. If not, we plan to reschedule these events in September with some additional modifications. Concerning back to school nights, we will move forward with the “Meet the Teacher” portion of the night, but we will not have the usual large gatherings before or after the event.
While it is difficult to make the decision to delay or modify these events, we must focus on keeping our community spread down to support our greater goal of providing as much normalcy and consistency during the school day as possible.
As the situation with COVID and particularly the Delta variant has evolved over the summer, we have been through multiple iterations of our planned response at St. Andrew’s for the upcoming year. I have heard from so many of you in the last few weeks, and I really appreciate your feedback. We are a diverse community in many ways, and opinions about the school’s response are clearly another aspect of that diversity. Ultimately our goal is to keep students in school as safely as possible including the avoidance of quarantines while providing an educational opportunity of the quality you all expect from us.
I am happy we are able to offer an improved experience in the coming months, even if it is not quite what we originally had envisioned. Our new protocols this year will enhance our instruction and allow us to offer the hands-on, experiential, and collaborative learning opportunities that were limited last year due to more stringent protocols. As always, the health (including social and emotional health) of our students is at the forefront of these decisions, and they may be modified depending on changes within the pandemic during the year. We plan to review these protocols every 2 weeks in hopes that as the current surge passes, we will be able to respond appropriately.
We continue to strongly encourage vaccination within our community. While the decision to vaccinate is not being dictated by the school, it is in the best interest of the entire community that everyone eligible be vaccinated.
Learning will be in-person for the 2021-22 school year. While the division heads have been given the discretion to allow virtual learning for certain unusual circumstances (COVID quarantines, for example), we believe that it is imperative to the quality of the programming at St. Andrew’s that students be present and engaged. We will return to offering opportunities of student collaboration, science labs, performing arts opportunities, etc.
All parents and family members are welcome to come on campus as visitors based on pre-pandemic check-in policies. Also, carpool screening will be discontinued. If your child is symptomatic, please do not bring them to school without being tested for COVID first, or if you are symptomatic, please do not come on campus.
Masks will be optional outside but will be required inside for Pre-K3 through 12. Infants and toddlers in Foundations will not wear masks. This policy is in accordance with current guidance from the AAP and the CDC. We will offer students as much time as possible outside and are looking to move larger community events outside as much as possible. With the North Campus being largely oriented to the outside, most social time for students will be outside. On the South Campus, we will continue to look for ways to provide more opportunities for outside learning. Consistent with last year, when the students are eating, sleeping, or in physical fitness/sports activities, they will not be asked to mask. Teachers, staff, and visitors in all four divisions will wear masks inside in the presence of students. As we monitor the data related to the current surge, we hope that this will be a protocol we can adjust.
Revised quarantine protocols established by the Mississippi Department of Health will be followed and will significantly lessen the impact of quarantines from school.
Contact tracing will continue as necessary based on diagnosed cases on campus.
Vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine despite exposure.
Unvaccinated individuals who are masked around a contact who tests positive do not have to quarantine if both individuals were wearing masks and they were at least three feet apart.
Students who are close contacts will be allowed to test every two days if they are asymptomatic so that they may stay in school. We are exploring ways with the MSDH for the school to take on this testing as a convenience to those who are exposed. This addition to the quarantining policy is key to keeping students on campus.
Facilities usage will be modified. While most of our desks remain at least 3 feet apart, we will return to locker usage on the North Campus, use of the Commons on both campuses for meals while still providing outside dining as well, and unrestricted guests at school events including chapels and athletic events.
Hand washing procedures and facility cleaning protocols will remain in place including easy access to hand sanitizer, air purifiers, and appropriate cleaning supplies.
As previously stated, these measures are taken with the simple reason of keeping our community as safe and whole as possible. Thank you for your support and understanding as we continue to work through the implications of the continuation of the pandemic and its impact on our community.
My prayers to all of you for your health and safety,