School takes precautionary measures against coronavirus


Claire Goldberg, Staff Writer

After six months apart, all faculty and students will return for in-person schooling until Thanksgiving break, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote in an email. “Any time we can spend together — employees and students — physically on campus, dramatically enhances our collectively shared outcomes for the year,” Kelly wrote in the Horace Mann School Plan to Reopen in the Fall (HMSPRF).

For the safety of the community, each student, faculty, and staff member will complete a daily symptom check that screens for symptoms and exposure to the virus before arriving at school, Nurse DeAnna Cooper said. 

The check will include a temperature check as well as a series of questions about exposure to the coronavirus, testing history, and any symptoms a member of the community may be experiencing, according to the HMSPRF.

If students report any symptoms or exposures, they will be directed to stay home and see their healthcare provider to be tested, Cooper said. 

In addition to symptom checks, face coverings will be required at all times, with the exception of lunch, distanced physical education activities, and other outdoor and distanced opportunities where students are sitting more than six feet apart. Reusable cloth masks will be distributed to each student on the first day of school, Kelly wrote.

The school will remove any student or faculty member who refuses to wear a mask from campus, Kelly wrote. “This is not the time to test limits,” he wrote. “It is important for everyone to understand that by ‘removal,’ I don’t mean moving an individual to remote learning; I mean separating them from the community.”

Because masks conceal people’s faces, students will be asked to wear their ID cards around their necks on a lanyard for easier identification, Head of Upper Division Dr. Jessica Levenstein said. Zeba Packer (9), a new student, said the ID cards will make it easier for incoming students to learn students’ and teachers’ names.

There will be additional handwashing and Purell stations across campus, Cooper said. As soon as students enter the school, they will be required to sanitize their hands at a station in the lobby and head straight to class.

Within the classrooms, Harkness tables, the large, wooden tables in history and English classrooms, have been replaced with rows of distanced desks to comply with social distancing guidelines, according to the HMSPRF. The desks will have clear GuardXPro partitions, which are glass dividers that have self-cleaning protection. The GuardXPros have been proven to eliminate 99.87% of COVID-19 particles after 60 minutes of contact, according to the HMSPRF.

This will be history teacher Barry Bienstock’s first time teaching without the Harkness tables in 20 years. “I imagine that it will take days or even weeks to adjust to the new physical environment,” he said. Bienstock is worried that the absence of Harkness tables may initially hinder conversation, he said. 

All indoor areas will have a Medify Air MA-40 medical grade air purifier, tested to remove 99.9% of particles, according to the HMSPRF. Classrooms and high-touch areas, like door handles, will be cleaned multiple times throughout the day. 

Students can expect to receive their own safety goggles for science labs to avoid sharing, Science Department Chair Dr. Lisa Rosenblum said. Any shared materials will be sterilized with alcohol between uses. Students will still be allowed to have in-person labs and do group work, because the lab tables are large enough to accommodate social distancing, she said. 

However, some classes may have virtual labs so that students and teachers can acclimate to the platform before the school goes online in November. The Science Department experimented last year with two virtual lab platforms: Beyond Labz and Labster, Rosenblum said. 

New mask and social distancing guidelines may also provide a significant barrier to language learning, World Languages Department Chair Pilar Valencia said. “Language itself is hard to understand without seeing the lips.” 

To accommodate this barrier, Valencia said that she will emphasize proper articulation. “If we have to go slower, we’ll go slower, because the important thing is that we keep trying to let the learning and education happen.”

This year, classes will dismiss students five minutes early on days without tests to ease congestion in the hallways, Levenstein said. In the hallways, students will follow new signage and tapes on the floor to navigate hallways. Cones, floor tape, and retractable belt stanchions will modify traffic patterns by balancing population density, according to the HMSPRF.

“With masks on and good hygiene being practiced, people should not be alarmed if they find themselves in a crowd, as long as it is moving and everyone is keeping their hands to themselves,” Kelly wrote. 

As the clock strikes 10 a.m. and students leave their classes, they will use the hallway guidelines to make their way outside rather than to the library.

Every Tuesday, students will meet with their advisories, either for regular advisory or to stream the assembly, Levenstein said. Bartels said that she is working to host exciting speakers, even if the assemblies are virtual. 

Students will have a number of options for free periods this year. The school has mandated a closed-campus policy, which prohibits students from leaving campus during frees, according to the HMSPRF. Instead, students are encouraged to socialize with one another in outdoor tents set up across the campus, Levenstein said. 

A closed campus policy may make students feel a little trapped, Yana Gitelman (12) said. “I really like the walk to Starbucks as a de-stressing thing, and I anticipate being very stressed, so not having the option is something I’m worried about.”

There will be 20 tented areas across campus, including space on Kelly’s side yard, he wrote. The Steven M. Friedman Gymnasium will also be converted to a large study hall space, he wrote. While no classes will be permanently held outdoors, teachers will have the option to reserve outdoor spaces for individual classes, Levenstein said.  

Students can also use the library during frees to study, Bartels said. Because the library will not allow any food or drinks, there will probably be less socializing this year, she said. The  second floor desks will remain in place for silent, individual studying. Gordon Jensen, Director of Facilities, will determine room capacity for study rooms, she said

During frees, students can also meet with teachers. English teacher Dr. Andrew Fippinger said that meetings will be essential this fall to establish an in-person relationship before school goes online. “I don’t think I would be nearly as effective a teacher if I couldn’t meet with my students,” he said. 

When the school day ends, all students must leave campus unless they are on an athletic team, Levenstein said. Because the school is prioritizing holding classes and avoiding an outbreak, there will be no club or publication meetings on campus in September, she said. Only time-sensitive club meetings will be held virtually, because not all faculty will be available to attend online meetings on a regular basis.

While the school has implemented changes to prevent an outbreak on campus, they have planned for that scenario too, Cooper said. “If someone presents symptoms on campus, they will be isolated in my office until they can get picked up and go to their doctor to have a test,” she said. The isolation room was previously a college counselor’s office, which has now been relocated. If the person tests positive, the school and the Department of Health will identify their close contacts so that they can then quarantine too, Cooper said. 

The campus may close for one or two days for cleaning and disinfection if a student who was on campus tests positive, according to the HMSPRF. The school will shut down completely if 15% of employees and students are quarantined at one time or if 15 individuals in the Middle or Upper Division report symptoms, though the closure of one division does not ensure the closure of another. 

Alex Pustilnik P’24 P’22 wants his children to return to school, despite potential exposures to the virus, he said. “It is very important for them to have school in-person for both their academic and social development,” he said. “With the right measures in place, like mask wearing and social distancing, and given the current low levels of infection in the NYC area, I believe my kids will be safe going back to school.”

Ultimately, this year is in the hands of the students, faculty, and staff; to be on campus, everyone will have to follow all of the new rules, Levenstein said. “If students are cavalier about their masks and any protocol, the direct result will be closed schools, and I don’t think people really want that,” she said. “It’s in everybody’s best interest to really just follow these protocols and then we can continue to be together and to be safe.”