Update to Academy Families — November 6, 2020
Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,
It has been a busy week with our first two school community cases of COVID-19, and you’ve heard from me a few times already. I know that the recent cases have made folks nervous—the fact is, you can talk about something scary for months (which, to be fair, we have); but when it happens, it is still scary. So we are doing our best to help the whole community keep things in perspective and to reinforce those messages we’ve been sharing for a while, now that it feels more real.
A few reminders today, since I know people have had questions and thoughts about our roller-coaster week.
First, please know that all of our work around COVID-19—including deciding when to be on campus or online—is informed by and follows the guidelines from the Vermont Department of Health around contact tracing, quarantines, campus health and safety, and travel. The COVID Response Team and I want to remind folks of some of these resources and urge you, if you have questions, to go to the links below to find the best and most up-to-date information about public safety measures.
Vermonters traveling out of state: https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/travel-quarantine/vermonters-traveling-out-state
Prevention tips: https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/protect-yourself-others/prevent-covid-19
Tips before you get together: https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/protect-yourself-others/tips-you-get-together
Close contacts and contact tracing: https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/symptoms-sickness/close-contacts-contact-tracing
If you have COVID: https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/symptoms-sickness/if-you-have-covid-19
We have a sensible process to consider the safety of coming to campus, and to make hard decisions about that in moments when there is not much clarity, but a lot of emotion and concern. You can be sure that if we do not feel like we have enough information about whether or not it is safe to be on campus, we will pause, go online for a day (or more if needed), do a deep clean, and work on gathering the information we need to determine if all of us can and should be here together. We will try to be as clear as we can about how we’ve made these decisions, but know that they will always be based on scientifically sound public health best practices. Even as our goal is to remain in-person, we will not be on campus unless we feel confident that we are ready.
As you know, travel has become a particular concern, and as we have said before: please do not leave the state of Vermont unless it is essential: doctors’ visits, work, school, non-custodial parent visits, food shopping (though of course we do have stores in Vermont). Going out to dinner, going to visit family or friends, or going to stores like Home Depot or Walmart is not considered essential.
If you live in New Hampshire and travel here to work or school, the expectation is that you only do those essential things in NH as Vermonters are doing. This means not going out to eat in Littleton even if you live in Monroe.
We understand that this is just plain difficult and becoming more difficult the longer it lasts. I know people are doing their best, and we understand that students (and families) are becoming restless not being able to gather with their peers and families, but we need to keep doing the right things. I would encourage everyone to wear masks, even around friends.
Please also encourage your students to be kind with their peers as we hear about cases in the community, and show some compassion—don’t comment on social media, don’t gossip, don’t start or perpetuate rumors, and don’t make assumptions about people’s behavior. Our community can and should be a source of support and uplift, even and especially in times like these.
I expect we will have more moments coming up when we feel it’s necessary to pause and go online for a day as we gather more information and get clarity on what we’re dealing with. It is a reasonable measure, but it is also not ideal, and we will always prefer to get back to school if we can. Know that we are also thinking in the Academic Office and Departments about how to be sure online learning keeps students engaged, and considers things like screen time and the best ways to make the school day both structured and dynamic. We will talk more about that in future updates.
Communicating well with everyone is obviously also a priority, and we are doing the best we can to be timely and clear in our messages. It is also always helpful to hear from folks who have questions and concerns so we can address them and better understand what people want to hear about most urgently. Please never hesitate to be in touch with us at the COVID Response Team email: CovidResponseTeam@stjacademy.org. or with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you as always for your support and partnership,
Dr. Sharon L. Howell