North Cross community,
It was just about this time two years ago that we started worrying about the spread of COVID in China and what we would do with our campus in Shanghai. We were fortunate that school in China was headed into their long New Year Holiday so we had some time to get distance learning set up for a faculty that was spread across the world. Can you imagine teaching your classes remotely, when your students are in Shanghai and you are visiting your parents in Australia, or “trapped” in Phuket, or home in the States? We managed to seamlessly re-open our Shanghai campus remotely on return from holiday and move to masked, in-person classes by May. Our response in Roanoke has been informed by our experiences in Shanghai and I remain impressed by the job our faculty and staff has done.
I tell this story for two reasons. The first, we have been dealing with COVID for a long time and I know we are all tired of talking about it, dealing with it, and worrying about it. The second is to point out that North Cross has been making decisions regarding the education of our students and our response to COVID for almost two years. The initial transition to distance learning, implementation of a schoolwide testing program, improvements to our air quality, consistent masking, and commitment to in-school learning are all examples of successes we have achieved. When I read articles in the national press about COVID related disruption in schools and the learning gaps that exist, I remind myself how fortunate we have been.
All of this success does not necessarily mean that we have been perfect in our responses. We will never know if our testing, quarantining, contact tracing, and isolation policies were, or are, appropriate. But I promise in all of our efforts, we have tried to be thoughtful and responsive to the needs of our general community.
Recently, we adjusted our isolation and quarantine policies subsequent to new recommendations made by the CDC. It is important to realize that we have never fully followed the CDC guidelines with regards to COVID but we have used them to inform our policies. The CDC makes guidelines for the general public and we apply them to our community as thoughtfully as we can. I think this is appropriate given that unlike the general public, our school community undergoes regular comprehensive testing, consistently has a positivity rate lower than regional and state averages, has mandatory masking requirements, and has an overall vaccination rate that is significantly higher than average vaccination rates found in other schools. In some cases we are more aggressive in our policies and in others, we are more conservative.
I appreciate that all families are dealing with COVID in their own way and I recognize that our COVID policies impact different families with differing degrees of inconvenience. Recently, I had to cancel a much-anticipated family vacation because I tested positive for COVID just before Christmas. I know how hard it is being at home with little or no symptoms, all the while wishing I was on a sunny beach.
COVID is unusual in that it affects everyone differently, most with very minor results. But by this point, I believe everyone knows at least one person that has suffered, or worse, from COVID. As a school, we weigh the dangers of continued community spread with the inconvenience and interruption of education that is caused by COVID mitigation efforts. This is a balancing act that requires both restrictive preventative measures, and more relaxed interpretations that allow for a more normal school experience. I don’t ask you to agree with every decision we have made, rather, understand that the most recent policies and the future inevitable changes to these policies, are our best effort at finding balance.
Last year, we asked all students testing positive to isolate for 14 days before returning without additional testing. The CDC moved to a ten-day period but out of an abundance of caution, we kept the 14-day requirement. This past fall, as we became more comfortable with the success of our mitigation efforts, we reduced the period of isolation to ten days in alignment with CDC recommendations.
Recently, the CDC, somewhat controversially, changed their COVID recommendations to require only a five-day period of isolation for persons testing positive for COVID, with no requirement for additional testing. Again, out of an abundance of caution, we have elected to continue with our previous requirement of ten days isolation, and no further testing, for unvaccinated students who test positive. But we are now allowing unvaccinated students to re-test after a five-day period of isolation to see if an earlier return is possible. This is indeed more restrictive than the CDC requirements but we felt the additional layer of testing for unvaccinated students is warranted. For vaccinated students, it was felt that a return after a five-day period of isolation was appropriate without further testing. Regardless of vaccination status, all students testing positive will remain masked when on campus for the ten days following the initial testing.
Our decision to alter our policy is not politically motivated nor are we mandating vaccines for our students. Rather, our decision is one that attempts to balance safety and the ability to keep students in school. Over the last several days, it has been interesting for senior staff to receive about the same number of emails stating we should allow students to return with no testing as we have received concerns that we would allow students to return without testing. Both groups could be right.
One thing that has been made apparent is that our Monday testing date had the effect of keeping unvaccinated students out of school for seven school days because of the follow-up testing schedule. Future testing will be scheduled on Wednesdays and Thursdays, a schedule that allows for potentially only five missed school days, even with the need for follow-up testing.
I am deeply appreciative of the support we have received from our parent community over the past two years. This most recent spike in COVID cases has been particularly difficult to deal with, coming over the holidays and after 18 months of COVID caused weariness. We have managed to run a safe campus during this period and I sense if we can get through another couple of testing cycles, we will find ourselves on the other side of the pandemic.
Thank you for your understanding,
North Cross community,
On Monday, we tested 680 members of the North Cross community and results show 58 positives for a 8.5% positivity rate. This reflects the increased contagiousness of the omicron variant and the social nature of the holidays but the positivity rate is not much higher than our results from last year at this time.
Of the 58 positives, 41 were students, 3 were faculty, and 13 were staff. We are fortunate in that the faculty and staff positives are spread out among the departments so that we are able to continue full operations.
In response to changes made by the CDC, we are altering our quarantine and isolation policies for faculty and students that test positive or are deemed in close contact. At present, vaccinated means two doses of the MRNA vaccine or one dose of the J&J vaccine.
Unvaccinated persons testing positive will isolate for five days and then re-test. With a negative result, they will be allowed to return. A positive result will require five more days of isolation. Vaccinated persons testing positive will isolate for five days then will be allowed to return without further testing assuming they are symptom free for 24 hours. In all cases, persons testing positive will remain masked for a ten day period, a non-issue given our current requirement to remain masked when indoors on campus.
If a vaccinated person is exposed, we will not require a five day quarantine period. Should an unvaccinated person be exposed, they will quarantine for five days, then return following a negative test.
It does appear that while more transmissive, the omicron variant is less severe, although there are increased numbers of pediatric hospitalizations. Please follow the recommendations of the CDC with respect to vaccinations and boosters for your children.
We will test again on Thursday, January 20th.
Thank you and again, I appreciate your patience as we negotiate our way through.
Christian J. Proctor, PhD
Dr. Proctor is the ninth Head of School at North Cross and has served as such since 2011. He has more than 30 years of experience in education. He has served as headmaster at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, Louisiana, Grace Episcopal School in Monroe, Louisiana, and as Interim Headmaster at Wesley Academy in Houston, Texas. In each location, Dr. Proctor’s tenure was marked by creativity, innovation, and school growth.