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.
North Cross community,
I hope all of you are having a safe and enjoyable holiday break. We have been closely following the spread of the omicron variant and it seems to be spreading very fast. On the positive side, it appears to cause fewer serious symptoms, particularly among those that are vaccinated, but it remains a cause for concern.
I think our general precautions and masking are sufficient but I do think it prudent to test our community before we all return to campus. This prevents us from possible large scale quarantining of students that are exposed to students in their classrooms that test positive.
As such, we are going to move our return-to-school testing to Monday, January 3rd, in the afternoon from 1:00pm to 5:00pm in the CAC for all students, faculty, and staff. And we will not have school on Tuesday, January 4th so that we may receive our test results. This allows us to start school on Wednesday with a student population as healthy as possible.
I recognize that whenever we change our plans, it is an inconvenience and for that I apologize. I also realize that many families are using this day as a travel day which is why we have scheduled testing in the afternoon. Hopefully you will be able to return to Roanoke in time for testing. If you are unable to make testing on that Monday, please reach out to Pam Moskal, email@example.com, to arrange for testing.
Again, I apologize for the inconvenience but we continue to try to do the best we can to keep our school as safe as possible for all.
North Cross community,
We just completed testing 700 students, teachers, staff members, and volunteers and had 6 positive results. Among the positives were 4 lower school students, 1 coach, and 1 volunteer. There appeared to be no connections between those that tested positive so spread on our campus is unlikely.
The lower school kids were in 3rd grade (Martin), kindergarten (Brown), and JK4 (Votta and Cook). These students, along with the adults, will isolate for ten days, then return following a negative covid test and 24 hours symptom free.
Students determined to be in close contact have been notified and they are asked to quarantine for five days and may return following a negative test.
All in all, we are consistently seeing low positivity rates and as a result, we will test again the week following our winter holidays.
Thank you for all your hard work.
North Cross community,
On Wednesday, we tested 706 members of our community for COVID, and we had six positive results, one in the 10th grade, one in the 9th grade, two 6th graders, one in the 5th grade, and one in the 2nd grade. These students will isolate for ten days and if symptom free, will be allowed to return to class.
We have contact traced, and all students in close contact have been asked to quarantine for five days before being tested. With a negative test, they will be allowed to return to school. Siblings living in the same house are also treated as positive and will remain in isolation for ten days.
All students are either asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms.
I am pleased with a positivity rate below 1% and thank you for all of your care. Interestingly, in our contact tracing we found that four of the six students testing positive attend the same dance studio so we believe the transmission took place off campus.
Our next round of testing will be immediately following Thanksgiving Break and given our low positivity rates, we will return from Thanksgiving in person.
We have a second vaccination clinic scheduled for Friday, November 5. At this time, you may receive first, second, or booster doses.
North Cross community,
We just completed our third round of testing for this year, testing 702 people over two days. I am very pleased to report that we had no positive results.
Our mitigation efforts on campus appear to be working and your efforts to be smart at home are appreciated. The tendency to relax is understandable given these excellent results but let’s continue to stay focused as there is still considerable disease in the Roanoke Valley.
We will test again on Wednesday, October 20, as this is after our Fall Break and immediately before Homecoming festivities. Our Homecoming dance will be held outdoors and we will once again offer testing for dates from other schools.
Should our results on October 20th be comparable to recent results, the Medical Advisory Group appears ready to consider extending the period of time between testing. Again, that depends upon continued good results.
We will also be offering a vaccine clinic on campus on October 15. This will be a Pfizer Clinic and first, second, or booster doses will be available. More information about appointments will be coming out soon.
I do see the Delta Variant starting to wane nationally and it has stabilized in the Roanoke Valley. With vaccine rates slowly rising, I am hopeful we can get back to normal by the holidays. At least one can hope…
Thanks again, congrats to girls tennis for a huge 5-4 win over archrival VES, and a shout out to football for a crushing 59-6 win at Blue Ridge School. There has never been a better time to be at North Cross.
North Cross Community
On Thursday, we tested 663 students, teachers and staff members. We had 7 positives including 3 third graders, 3 sixth graders, and a substitute teacher. Per our policy, all persons testing positive will isolate for ten days and if symptom free for 24 hours may return. We have contact traced each positive and have notified those students that were in close contact. These students will quarantine for five days, test on the sixth day and will return with a negative result.
We have evidence that there was spread within Mrs. Martin’s third grade class and her class will go virtual next week, test on Tuesday and with negative results, will resume in person learning on Thursday. Victor Lamas has provided more information to our third grade in a separate email.
We also have evidence that there was spread in chorus as all three sixth graders sat adjacent to each other in chorus. They were all masked while in class but we have taken further measures by moving chorus outdoors in the future. An added bonus is that we will once again hear beautiful music when on campus.
We are very pleased to have only a 1% positivity rate coming out of the Labor Day holiday and I believe this shows that even with the Delta variant, mask use and classroom air filters seem to limit the spread. Having said that, we have now had three instances of apparent classroom spread this year after not having any classroom spread last year so clearly the Delta variant is a tougher opponent. I hope you will be very cautious when off campus.
It does appear that over our first two schoolwide COVID tests, higher vaccination rates do have an effect on decreasing the spread of the virus. We did have breakthrough infections for two of our teachers but all students that have tested positive have been too young to be eligible for the vaccination. I strongly urge you to get your children vaccinated if they are eligible. We are in the process of arranging another series of vaccination clinics on campus to make it as easy as possible. Currently, we are at 71% vaccination rate in our upper school, significantly lower in the middle school.
I am in contact with a number of other independent schools and as a comparison, The Potomac School has 7-12 vaccination rates of 98% while St. Stephens and Agnes is 96% vaccinated. In addition, I am hearing a number of schools looking at requiring vaccinations as a condition to play winter sports. We will continue to keep an eye on things and will make decisions based upon our desire to remain in-person and as normal as possible.
If you have already had your child vaccinated, please send us a copy of their vaccination certificate for our records. It helps immensely when determining policy for us to know overall vaccination rates.
Thank you for your continued focus on the safety of our campus.
Dear North Cross Community:
As regularly reported, there have been a number of COVID outbreaks in local schools and regretfully, I have similar news to report for North Cross. We have three positive COVID cases, 2 faculty and 1 student in Mrs. Hagan’s JK3 class. Fortunately, all cases show mild symptoms.
We have kept the JK3 classes separate from each other and from other grades as well, so we do not think there is cause for further concern of exposure.
We have decided to test all members of Mrs. Hagan’s JK3 class on Tuesday, curbside at the Carter Athletic Center at 9am, and we will allow students to return on Monday, September 13, with a negative test result.
Out of caution, we are testing all of the Extended Day staff as well, but our teachers and administrators will cover Extended Day, so there is no need at this time to close it down.
This is most likely our first classroom outbreak since and we are taking this very seriously. I want to take this time to stress the importance of mask use and distancing.
We will continue with our school-wide testing on Thursday and will incorporate this information into our future planning.
Hope your long weekend is outstanding.
Dear North Cross Community:
It has been a great beginning of the school year and I thank you all for your patience in carpool as all families find their routine. I promise things will move faster in the upcoming weeks.
It bears repeating but this year marks the largest enrollment in the 77-year history of North Cross School and but for a few grades, we are full. That is a wonderful place to be but it is even better because the families that have joined us are delightful. I encourage all of you to introduce yourselves whenever you get a chance to meet around campus.
We also welcome 24 new boarding students from 14 different countries to include; the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, Poland, Austria, Romania, Israel, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Maylasia, Vietnam, and China. Most have been actively involved in athletics this summer so they have already blended in, but again, do not be afraid to introduce yourselves and find out a little bit about how they came to North Cross. It makes for a fascinating group of perspectives in our Upper School.
We already have a couple of really neat happenings on campus that I want to share with you. The first is our robotics program is actively recruiting student engineers and I encourage you to watch the following video. We will take battlebots to the next level.
Also, yesterday, in our first athletic competition of the year, Coach Brown won his 200th game as the Raiders defeated Seton School, 1-0, behind the excellent goalkeeping of Denzel Marufu and a timely goal from his son, the thankfully clean shaven, Spencer Brown. We have a remarkable athletic tradition at North Cross with 19 State Championships, and I invite you to come watch. Our athletic calendar is available on our website.
I joked with our students yesterday that we only have 168 days left in the school year and that summer was right around the corner. The reality is that there are so many good things that will happen over the next 168 school days, I don’t want to wish them away, even in jest.
Thanks again for all of your support and I look forward to a great year.
Dear North Cross Community:
On Monday, we tested 627 students, teachers, and staff members. Our results were very encouraging as we only had five positives, all asymptomatic. Four of these were in the lower school and one in the upper school. Each of these positive students will isolate for ten days and if symptom free for 24 hours, will be allowed to return to school. Students identified as in close contact with positives, are required to quarantine for five days, test the sixth day, and return as soon as there is a negative result.
As we were not in school, contact tracing was simpler but we did have siblings of positive cases that also attend North Cross School. Siblings are treated as close contacts and if they can be isolated from the positive student, they may quarantine for five days, test again on the sixth, and may return with a negative test result. If unable to separate from the positive student, siblings will be treated as positive as well. All other students identified as in close contact have been notified.
The Medical Advisory Group met following the return of our most recent test results. Of great interest was whether vaccinated students could be treated differently from unvaccinated students following a close contact. It was decided that because of the transmissibility of the Delta variant, our protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated students will be the same.
This is an excellent result, consistent with our testing from last year. While we get a better understanding of the transmissibility of the Delta variant, we have decided to test our school population again on Thursday, September 9th. We will continue to watch the community positivity rates and will use those trends to determine if we might reduce the frequency of future COVID testing on our campus. This round of testing will be the first round that we will implement a $10.00 testing fee, with a maximum of $20.00 per family.
For now, it is important that you remain aware of your mask use and your proximity to others. In addition, please do not send children to school if they are symptomatic and do not hesitate to have children tested if you suspect they are showing symptoms. And finally, we continue to recommend vaccines for those eligible. While there are breakthrough cases, vaccines provide protection against serious illness as well as helping limit the transmission.
Thank you all for your support as we do our best to keep North Cross safely in session.
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.