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The Gordon School

Spring 2022 COVID updates


above: The Town Hall Dr. Thomas López hosted on March 8th. The beginning of the presentation focused on the changes to the COVID protocols for the spring explained below.

 

March 1st

I am writing today with a set of updates to our COVID precautions that we will be rolling out in the coming weeks. These build on the success of the plans we announced in early February, and my hope is that these updates will provide us with a stable and flexible foundation that will take us through the end of the school year.

The past few weeks have brought a lot of good news. Vaccination rates, nationwide and in our community, have continued to climb. Even more significantly, the number of cases among students and faculty has plummeted dramatically, as evidenced by the numbers at www.gordonschool.org/dashboard. That decline has taken place even as we loosened outdoor mask requirements, allowed grades to mix, and welcomed parents and caregivers back into the building for games and events every day.

At the same time, the advice we are receiving from experts—from Dr. Fauci to our consulting physician Shideh Shafie—has been that we need to build our path forward based on the conditions we are currently experiencing. When we began this journey two years ago, our focus was keeping COVID off campus and mitigating spread. This intention remains, but our approach will shift. Symptom tracking and testing will become our front-line tools, for instance, instead of quarantine and isolation. 

In all of this work, we will continue to rely on the high vaccination rate, at Gordon and in Rhode Island, as our best defense against serious illness and our best hope for a return to the connected community we remember and long for. I do want to acknowledge that a recent study has raised questions about the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged five to eleven. While this study was concerning, it does not alter the Centers for Disease Control's core finding: the vaccine is effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death in children in this age group. 

This recent study is a bump in our path, and it is likely not the last one we will face, but it does reflect how COVID is likely to be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, so it’s important that Gordon remain clear-eyed, focused on the science, and committed to the holistic wellbeing of our community.

The updates below reflect those intentions, including our understanding of how this information will be received differently by every family. Some will welcome these changes enthusiastically; for others, they will bring anxiety and concern. I am confident in our community’s ability to hold these tensions with care and sensitivity.

Please take some time to review the updates below in their entirety. 
 

Masks

Governor McKee recently announced plans to lift the statewide indoor mask mandate on March 4th, allowing schools and school districts to make their own decisions about masking.

Our current mask protocols call for everyone to wear masks indoors except while eating or during structured mask breaks. Both the Health and Safety and Leadership Teams have met to discuss Gordon’s path forward and have decided to maintain these masking protocols until April 4th, the Monday following our return from spring break. 

On April 4th, our current plan is to make masks optional, indoors and outdoors, for all Gordon staff and for faculty and students in Young Kindergarten to eighth grade. This time will allow us to assess further guidance from the Rhode Island Department of Health, especially as it relates to faculty and students in Nursery and Preschool where the majority of our students are ineligible for vaccination. We will also be working to develop plans for “situational masking” for large indoor gatherings like assemblies, theater performances and athletic events. We expect that masking will still be required on the bus traveling to and from school.

This is a simple but dramatic change, and we are gearing up to support faculty, staff and families through this transition. We are expecting that, even after April 4th, there will still be adults and children who choose to wear masks, and we will have a deep inventory of spare masks for people on hand for situations when we ask large groups to mask up.
 

Testing to return from break

We continue to experience a small spike in positive cases in the days following extended breaks from school, and we will keep using testing as a way to keep those spikes in check.

Gordon will require all students, faculty, and staff to test for COVID-19 before returning from spring break. Ideally, we would like everyone to take a rapid antigen test the morning of March 28th before arriving on campus. You will be able to attest to your results on the safety app. 

If you are able to schedule a PCR test within forty-eight hours of your return on March 28th, we will accept those results if your child is able to quarantine at home following the test.

Please purchase your at-home tests now. We will not be able to test on that Monday. If you cannot obtain an at-home rapid test kit, you should look to schedule an appointment with the state or at a local pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens.

 

Contact tracing

Currently, whenever there is a positive case among students, faculty or staff, Gordon goes through a rigorous contact tracing process and notifies everyone who might have been exposed to the positive case while they were contagious. Class lists are cross-referenced against attendance sheets and classroom schedules to ensure that the contact list is as precise as possible, and that no one is unnecessarily identified as a close contact.

This work is demanding and time-consuming, and it is becoming less important now that vaccination rates are high and the testing regimen for close contacts has evolved. The Rhode Island Department of Health, along with other national health organizations, is recommending that schools begin to transition away from this level of contact tracing and allocate resources to symptom screening and symptomatic testing. 

We are awaiting official guidance from the Department of Health, but we expect that on April 4th, Gordon will end universal contact tracing when there is a positive case. The school will consider all adults and students in the same groups (grade, classroom, athletics, after school, etc.) a close contact of the positive case and will notify the affected community members.

For the vast majority of our population, instructions following exposure will be to monitor for symptoms and get tested. We’ll be waiting to see if there may be masking requirements for close or household contacts.
 

Dropoff protocols

We know that when parents can connect informally in-person, with faculty, staff and one another, it can make a huge difference in their experience of the school.

Many of those connections happen during morning drop off, and we'd like to relax some of the dropoff protocols further in hopes of supporting and expanding this experience.

After April 4th, parents are invited to walk into the school with their children, and accompany them through the hallway and into the classroom. If class has not started, parents are welcome to take five minutes to help their child settle in for the day and then depart via the hallways or the Gator Path. Note that this was originally announced as an "after spring break" change. We're now doing it April 4th, along with all the other changes.
 

No need to prove vaccination status

We have only been allowing vaccinated adults into the building, and this policy will stay in place for the foreseeable future. Checking vaccination cards or the safety app at the door, however, has become an unnecessary burden for staff and for visitors. Visiting adults have demonstrated, in the Commons and at events like athletic games, that our community is able to adhere to our health and safety requirements without a formal vaccination check-in upon arrival.

Starting April 4th, Gordon parents and caregivers, as well as Gordon faculty and staff, may enter the building without formal vaccination attestation provided:

  • They are up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations
  • They have had no symptoms of COVID-19 in the past twenty-four hours
  • They are not a close contact of a positive case

Gordon parents and caregivers are allowed to bring siblings into the building who are not yet eligible for vaccination. Siblings must remain with their caregiver at all times and those older than two years old must wear a mask.
 

Looking to this spring and beyond

While our students have been enjoying a joyful and busy year learning together on campus, the administrative side of the school has been joyfully busy as well, assessing, learning, planning and scheduling.

One change for the spring that I am sad to announce is that we had to make the difficult decision to postpone the Beyond COP21 climate symposium scheduled for this April. The symposium will now take place on October 27th next fall. It was important to us that this event included students from schools all over the state, both public and independent. The Omicron surge, along with the public school vacation calendar, meant that we could not meet these important objectives. Our new fall date will make it possible for the symposium to be the dynamic and impactful event we believe it needs to be.

This spring, though, will still be full of dozens of opportunities for this community to connect, from March's conference day art showcase to April's WaterFire celebration and, in May, the return of Grandfriends' Day. Jenny Alario's program for the summer has some exciting updates as well, including the return of Gordon Summer Theater, new partnerships, and our first ever off-campus Summer at Gordon week at Aldersgate in North Scituate.

I am so eager to engage with you all about going-ons at Gordon that are not related to COVID! I hope that you will be able to join me on Tuesday, March 8th, at 6:30pm for our next Town Hall. I will be able to walk you through the community events coming up this spring, and give you a preview of the expanded programs, new staff positions, and innovative strategies like the schedule redesign that we will be rolling out next year. Please register at www.gordonschool.org/townhall if you plan to attend.

Thank you so much for reading this letter carefully, and for your continued partnership. I hope to connect with you virtually at the Town Hall, and on campus in the months ahead.

Take care, 

Mid-March updates

In addition to the changes listed above, there are two other modifications beginning April 4th:

1. Parent meetings and events will default to in-person; things will be on Zoom only when indicated.

2. We will move from the current one-symptom-stay-home rule to the system of red “stop!” symptoms and yellow “caution” symptoms

The red-and-yellow system has been in place at various points in the pandemic. It means:

Someone is considered a probable COVID-19 case if they have any ONE of these symptoms:

new cough,  shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, new loss of taste or smell

...or any TWO of these symptoms:

fever or chills, muscle or body aches, headaches, sore throat, fatigue, new congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea

Anyone who is a probable case—one of the RED symptoms, or two of the YELLOW symptoms—must stay home and get a COVID-19 test.
 

Changes for mid-April


April 18th

Dear Families,

Happy spring! I am happy to report that the changes we made to our COVID protocols April 4th have gone smoothly, and, as promised, I have a few more updates to announce following the latest meeting of Gordon’s Health and Safety Team.
 

Mask optional for Nursery and Preschool

Starting on Monday, April 24th, we will expand our mask optional policy to include all students, faculty and staff from Nursery to eighth grade. 

During my spring Town Hall, I previewed that we would most likely not wait until a vaccine was available for three- and four-year olds before considering making masks optional for this age group. As Rhode Island and Gordon transition from pandemic to endemic, the school must continue to carefully balance children’s social, emotional and academic needs and the health and safety of our community. Given that Rhode Island is a highly vaccinated state, that Gordon is a highly vaccinated school, and that the COVID-19 community level for both is currently designated as low, the Gordon Health and Safety Team is comfortable moving to mask optional for Nursery to eighth grade.

Please note that we are not banning masks! Masks truly are optional, and many students and adults are continuing to mask up according to their own comfort level. Masks are available by request to students at any time, and we are continuing to require masks for several activities that require students to share a close space for an extended time.

One final reminder for parents and caregivers of Nursery and Preschool students: if you walk your child into the classroom this week, please remember to wear your mask! 
 

Preschool and Nursery may mix

We have also decided to begin allowing Nursery and Preschool students to learn and play together once again, in the classroom as well as outdoors. These same changes have opened up many important social and instructional opportunities for the older grades over the past few weeks, and we are confident that now is the right time to extend these same opportunities to our three- and four-year-olds.
 

Dining hall tables return

Another change your children will see on April 24th is the return of lunch tables in the dining hall. Since the pandemic started, our distancing practices have often compelled us to have students eating on the floor, in the field house and the theater as well as the dining hall. This set-up has not been ideal for many reasons, and we believe this change will make a huge difference in students' experience at lunch time. 

All students will continue to eat lunch outside when the weather allows. In inclement weather, Early Childhood students will continue to eat lunch in their classrooms and Lower School students will eat in the dining hall two grades at a time. 

Because the entire Middle School has lunch at the same time, they will have to share access to the dining hall, and some students may still be seated on the floor in the theater when there is bad weather; seventh and eighth graders will have access to the dining hall from April 25th to May 13th, and fifth and sixth grade students will be able to eat in the dining hall starting May 16th to June 8th. 
 

Continued vigilance

Our deliberate approach to making the changes above has provided us with the benefit of learning from schools who have had, for quite some time, mask optional and regular dining policies for all students, and the data are encouraging. 

We are committed to keeping a close eye on COVID-19 levels here at Gordon and in the state, and the Health and Safety Team will continue to meet regularly to assess our plans and make revisions if necessary. Additionally, we continue to track new cases, perform contact tracing on those cases, and PCR test participating students in-school at least every two weeks. We also consult closely with our peer schools and still participate in regular briefings with the Department of Health and the Department of Education. 

While we have not experienced a spike in cases since we made masks optional, we do expect a small but distinct increase to appear in the days ahead. Rest assured that if conditions change significantly, we are prepared to make the precautions necessary to keep our school a safe, joyful and effective learning environment for all.
 

Caution and optimism

For several months, I have been approaching the changing pandemic with a range of feelings. I am feeling very cautious, and very optimistic. That's a difficult combination to convey, especially when you are (like me) a little superstitious and care deeply about the welfare of the people in this community.

I hope that some of my hopefulness is coming through my communications, leavened as it is with deliberate care. Maybe you can't feel it when you read these letters, but perhaps it comes through when your child arrives home from school, when you connect with a peer on campus, when you see second graders jumping rope on our social media or fifth graders learning ballroom dancing.

It is a privilege to work in a community where hope and joy are generated daily, and I hope you get to experience some of it, too, at Summer at Gordon's celebration at Aldersgate this weekend and at the many celebrations, large and small, that we will host in the weeks before summer break.

Thank you as always for your encouragement and support.