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Update to Academy Families — August 14, 2020

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August 14, 2020

Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,

 

Over the last few days, students from around the world have been arriving here in St. Johnsbury, welcomed warmly — from a distance — by SJA faculty and staff who are overjoyed to see them. These students, from Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, are quarantining in the Maple Center under the care of Health Services Director Sarah Garey and the residential life team — they have food delivery to their doors, daily health checks, quick distanced visits, and Zooms with friends and family. In the coming days, they will complete their quarantines and tests and move into the dorms, where they will join our dorm staff and friends until orientations begin on the 31st.

 

We often remark on how brave our international students and their families are — students coming so far to be part of our community, and parents sharing their precious kids with us — so we are especially grateful for the extraordinary trust our families have placed in us during this global pandemic. That said, our students have landed in a real oasis here — our campus is green, clean, and tidy, and our Vermont county and region are among the safest places in the country, if not the world. And if all, including domestic and day students, are as fastidious about following our protocols for safe return as these students have been, we will be in great shape.

 

Today’s update is about that safe return, and what it means for us in the next few weeks. All faculty and staff will be back on campus in about 10 days and will spend a solid week training and completing the professional development that their colleagues have planned over the summer. As we all gear up for reassembling, I want to share the latest updates from the state and from our COVID Response Team, let you know about our next opportunity to connect in real-time, and ask you to consider the important agreement we are making with each other as we start this unusual year.

 

Community Commitment: As I mentioned last week, throughout our planning process, we have been weighing our need for some sort of agreement among ourselves — a mutual commitment to each other’s safety to undergird our effort to make this fall work. Instead of the common waiver form that smothers such an agreement in conditions and admonitions, we are asking that each member of our community instead make a collective commitment to some very clear, specific measures in service of our health and safety. This “Fall 2020 Community Commitment” can be found here (scroll down after accessing the page).

 

  • COVID Response Team Updates: Please read the important updates from the COVID Response Team below.

 

  • Athletics: On Tuesday, the state released new guidelines for our athletics department to interpret for our athletes, who we know are eager to understand what the fall season will look like. We are glad that the state is making an effort to help our students play on their teams and stay fit and healthy while also taking proper precautions. Please head to the VT Dept. of Health and Vermont Principals Association websites for more details, but the big picture for the fall is this:

 

    1. All sports will run, but in no or low contact forms — i.e. 7 on 7 touch football, and adjusted rules for contact in soccer and field hockey.

    2. All athletes will be required to wear masks at all times, except cross-country runners during races.

    3.  We will begin practices on, but not before, our first day of school, September 8th.

    4. Unless we are directed to move to what the state is calling “Step III” of the Strong and Healthy Start guidelines, interscholastic competitions will not be held.

    5. There will be limited spectators, with distancing requirements, if we do move to Step III and hold competitions.

    6. Please contact our Athletic Director, John Lenzini, at jlenzini@stjacademy.org, with any questions about our plans.

 

  • Orientation Schedules and Video Previews: Orientation schedules and other student life information will go out from our Campus Life Team early next week. These will include date and time details and some helpful videos made by some of our student leaders to show what a typical day will look like on campus — arriving in the morning with a temperature screen, walking in “one-way” hallways, grab and go lunch, and life inside a COVID-safe classroom. For your planning purposes, the orientation days will go by class year.

 

    1. Monday, August 31st: Freshmen A-K

    2. Tuesday, September 1st: Freshmen L-Z

    3.  Wednesday, September 2nd: Sophomores

    4. Thursday, September 3rd: Juniors

    5.  Friday, September 4th: Seniors

 

  • Zoom Forum: We will hold another forum for families on Thursday, August 27th, prior to orientations on the 31st. Please remember to keep checking our Reopening Road Map site as we respond to updates from the state, and communicate new information you need.

 

Thank you all, as ever, for your help and support as we continue to adapt our plans to a volatile reality. And as usual, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us via the website, email, or phone (802-748-8171) if and when you have questions. 

 

Yours Gratefully,

 

Dr. Sharon Howell

Headmaster

 


Updates from the COVID Response Team

 

Student/Family Travel Guidelines

 

Students and families should avoid non-essential travel to a quarantine county (as identified by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development) during the school year.

 

In order to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and the community, all students traveling outside of Vermont and returning to the St. Johnsbury Academy campus must follow one of the health protocols below:

 

 

 

 

The Agency of Commerce and Community Development updates out-of-state travel information each Friday. Updated information can be found here.

 

Guide to Boarding Student Travel to SJA

 

Non-essential travel to a quarantine county (as identified by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development) will be restricted during the school year.

 

In order to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and the community, all boarding students returning to the St. Johnsbury Academy campus must follow one of the health protocols below:

 

 

 

The Tinker Health Center: We have moved the operations of our Health Center, under Director Sarah Garey, to new space in what has been the Tinker House dorm. This new space will allow us to have dedicated rooms for isolation or quarantine, separate entrances for symptomatic and other students, more private counseling space, and more control over ventilation.

 

Facilities updates — HVAC, deep cleaning, and signage: Our Facilities team, led by Kurt Zschau, has been going above and beyond to meet evolving standards for air quality, disinfection, and campus navigation. An update from Kurt:

 

Cleaning/Sanitizing Protocols — The custodial team will increase the frequency of cleaning bathrooms and other high traffic zones to a minimum of three times per day. Every classroom will be sanitized between each class. Routine campus-wide cleaning will occur throughout the day and with an evening shift.

 

Interior Space Protocols — The maintenance team has been operating existing ventilation equipment with recommended damper controls. Daily maintenance checks and increased filter changes are part of the routine. The Academy has purchased additional window fans and 100 HEPA air purifiers to be deployed in most classrooms and offices to supplement and enhance natural ventilation. We anticipate building controls audits and rebalancing of existing systems to be completed in the coming weeks.

 

Continuous improvements on all fronts is our battle cry!

 

Response to campus infection: Even though we are in a very safe area, it is reasonable to assume that we will have a case of COVID-19 in the school community at some point. In that event, we will follow protocols developed with the help of infectious disease experts — including dedicated isolation space, testing, and contact tracing — and work closely with the Vermont Department of Health and our local health partners to determine a response in accordance with the state’s guidelines. Health officials will take the lead on contact tracing and testing, and help our staff and administrators to weigh options for response. We and they have significant constraints about what can be shared publicly about an individual’s health, so it is important to understand that different situations may call for different responses from us, and a positive case in the community will not automatically be considered cause for emergency action. At the same time, we will not hesitate to move school online — something we are prepared to do smoothly — if we determine that is the appropriate response. As we shared in our original plan, we will consider a number of variables as we decide on that response including our capacity to continue operations and care properly for students.

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