It is my hope that as the summer has progressed, you are aware that our response to the COVID-19 virus has become increasingly centered on the idea of opening on time and on campus. In addition, we are doing everything possible to prevent a return to distance learning in the event of a regional outbreak of the virus.
In my June 11 letter to the North Cross community, I spoke of our plans to test our school community for the COVID-19 virus. And as reported on the news late last week, North Cross has now formed a partnership with Helix, a population genomics company working to expand access to scalable COVID-19 testing, a partnership that will facilitate the testing of all members of the school community. Helix was chosen because of their development of a highly accurate (99%) test and quick return time (results available 24 hours after receiving the test kit). In addition, Helix was able to achieve accuracy while utilizing a self-administered nasal swab rather than the intrusive and uncomfortable nasopharyngeal swabs seen in early tests. The self-administered swabs will be conducted under the supervision of school nurses and should not be threatening to younger children.
North Cross School, in consultation with medical staff, has developed a comprehensive testing regimen for its school population that includes testing faculty, staff, and students. An initial school baseline will be established by testing the community immediately before the beginning of school, and then twice more, once at the two-week mark and once at the four-week mark. At this point, results will be examined to determine the frequency of future testing. It is anticipated that community wide testing will be required once a month, particularly at times that correspond with our return from breaks. Should we reach a point where the presence/absence of the virus in the Roanoke Valley is such that future testing is not required, we will cease testing.
By segmenting our school operations into smaller pods of students, we can also use available testing to identify and isolate symptomatic cases of the virus as they inevitably arise. In this way, we can keep school open for the majority of students while quickly testing members of the pod and allowing those that are virus free to return to class. Students that test positive can quarantine at home consistent with CDC guidelines and will be able to attend class virtually should their health permit.
As testing has become more available to the general public, the cost per test has dropped considerably. North Cross administered tests will cost $80 per test and these will be billed to the student account and can be paid for separately via Health Savings Accounts. Currently, a number of insurance companies are providing COVID-19 testing at no charge and parents wishing to take advantage of this will need to schedule appointments at local testing centers at times consistent with North Cross testing.
Again, I recognize the inconvenience and real expense associated with testing, but the ability to commit to in-person instruction and protection against the possibility of distance learning makes it an inconvenience worth tolerating. Should the expense be prohibitive, we ask that you contact the business office so that arrangements can be made. Additionally, if you do not wish to have your child tested, or if there are specific safety concerns that prevent a student from attending school in person, we will continue to offer distance learning opportunities for these students.
We continue to develop our reopening strategies and will keep you informed of these as they become known. The situation is incredibly fluid and I am hopeful that the number of COVID cases continues to decrease in Virginia and that our plans are merely an abundance of caution. But in any case, we will be ready.
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.