In-person schooling resumes on Tuesday

In-person+schooling+resumes+on+Tuesday

Claire Goldberg, Staff Writer

On January 19, all students and faculty will return for in-person schooling, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly said to 446 members of the community in a town hall. Kelly conducted the town hall on Wednesday to provide an update on the health of the community and the conditions for the return. 

During the town hall, Kelly announced that the school has applied to be a verified vaccination center for the Bronx community. If the school is approved, it would designate a single facility to vaccinate people in the local community. This center would be constantly cleaned in order to prevent additional risks to the school community. “If we can step up and help out our community in the Bronx, you bet we will,” Kelly said. 

All students and faculty members have to supply proof of a negative test before returning to school. As of Tuesday and since the first day of school in September, the entire school community had 63 positive tests, Kelly said. To facilitate easy and safe access testing at no cost, for the return to school the school opened a testing facility on campus that administered tests to 800 students. In addition, 8% of the student body will be online when school reopens. 

On Wednesday, the school ordered 200 doses of the vaccine for faculty and staff members. While the school is not requiring employees to be vaccinated, most are opting to do so, Kelly said. “We’re looking like we’re going to have herd immunity among the faculty by the end of the school year, assuming the vaccine works as intended.”

The school will reopen on Tuesday and test 40% of the community this upcoming Friday, Kelly said. If there are a minimal number of cases and the source of these cases can be identified, the school will continue on a regular schedule, he said.

The school might adopt a new testing schedule to increase safety and provide a sense of normalcy, Kelly said. In this case, every member of the community would be tested every other week according to an odd/even schedule so that 100% of the community would be tested every two weeks.

Jennifer Rosenberg P’22 P’24 said she favors the new testing protocol because it helps keep both the school and home environments safe. “I’m thrilled to hear that my kids get testing because it keeps us all safe,” she said. “‘Test as often as possible’ has become my motto.”

The school expects to see exponential increases in cases due to the more vigorous variant and the increasing case numbers in the tri-state area. The school expects to see moments where students and employees are asked to quarantine, and quarantine numbers may go up in light of regional increases in cases. 

Daniel Steinman P’20 P’26 said hearing about the exponential growth rate of cases was reassuring. “It was paradoxically comforting, because it was so obviously realistic,” he said. “I felt that we were being spoken to very directly and given the full picture of what lies ahead without any censorship.”

During the first 11 weeks on campus, the use of buses, the pick up and drop off routines, and lunch were not found to be venues for the spread of the virus, Kelly said. As such, the school will continue to offer bus services. “We’re never going to be a school of have and have nots; if we can’t have the buses we will not hold in-person school,” he said

Extracurricular activities and athletics contributed to the school’s need to quarantine larger numbers of students; however, the school will continue to allow activities. “We’re going to continue with extracurricular activities because they are a key part of how our kids intellectually and actively play.” They will allow intramural sports for the winter season. 

However, the school has made the decision to prohibit all out-of-school activities. Rosenberg said it was one of the most restrictive yet necessary decisions Kelly has made. “This year I’ve heard of many cases spreading through travel sports,” she said. “To the extent that we can keep our bubble as tight as we can, this is better and safer for all of us.”

To accommodate lunch in the cold weather, the tents will be heated to make them suitable for both dining and work with distancing. The food truck and pizzeria will also relocate to the Lower Gym. 

Teddy Ganea (11) said while he likes the tent, he wonders how the administration will handle the ventilation. “It’s hard with tents because if you have too much ventilation it defeats the point because you’re freezing, and if you don’t have ventilation you have a fester of coronavirus,” he said. 

While students will not be allowed to eat inside classrooms, they will have the added option of the lower gym. Furthermore, if the gym, the cafeteria, and the tents do not provide enough space for students to eat lunch, the school will build more tents. 

Steinman left the town hall feeling more confident in the school’s ability to open safely. “I’m really impressed by the flexibility of the school,” he said. “Having the ability of our school to pivot on a moment’s notice helps us from being stuck with a decision that ends up being the wrong decision.”