When we sent our daughters off to boarding school in the 80s, our biggest concern was whether they would be homesick and unhappy. We had carefully chosen the schools that they attended. We were confident that they were well-run schools where our girls would be safe and receive an excellent education. Fast-forward to the summer of 2020. If I were sending my children off to boarding school during the COVID-19 pandemic, I would be asking many questions. So, let's you and I look at some of the issues that should concern us as parents during this dreadful pandemic. Because the pandemic is so dynamic, be prepared for frequent updates and last-minute changes to previously-announced protocols and instructions.
How will the school communicate with us?
If you paid your deposit in April and your child is scheduled to begin classes in September, expect the school to be sending you regular updates about its plans for reopening. Most schools will explain in great detail how they propose to reopen in accordance with federal, state, and local guidelines and directives. You must understand that the situation is fluid. The school can only open when it complies with all the directives authorities have put in place. For example, if there is a surge in local infections, the opening of school may be postponed until the local infections subside to a safe level.
In addition to parents' emails, most schools will use their websites to describe the measures they are taking to protect their communities from COVID-19. The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, offers detailed answers to questions about how it is handling the pandemic. Don't hesitate to contact the school when you have specific questions about your child's safety.
Will my child have to wear a mask?
In any boarding school community, the wide range of ages makes the safety of every member of paramount importance. From the youngest children of faculty members to the oldest teaching, administrative, maintenance, and ancillary staff members, each member has a unique vulnerability to the coronavirus. That's why it is so important that every member of the community take a disciplined approach to their safety and the safety of others. That means everybody wears masks, everybody maintains social distancing, and everybody washes their hands frequently.
What safety protocols will the school follow?
Most schools will follow the most updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, state and local health departments for testing, isolation, contact tracing, quarantine, and cleaning. They will explain how those protocols will work so that schools can reopen safely.
Will my child have to be tested before attending school?
Yes. Most schools will require that your child be tested before arriving at school. She will need to bring proof of a negative test result in most cases. While testing will vary from school to school, you can expect regular testing and temperature testing to occur.
What happens if my child tests positive while at school?
She will be quarantined at school until you come to pick her up. She then would be quarantined for at least two weeks at which point she will be tested again. Be aware that the local health authorities will be advised and contact tracing will be implemented.
Will my child receive in-person teaching?
Most schools will implement a hybrid learning structure. In other words, in-person teaching will take place whenever it can be done safely. Online learning is risk-free and will be used whenever appropriate.
For international students: What if I don't receive my child's student visa before school opens?
She can attend school online as a day student. The situation is fluid as a result of COVID-19. The U.S. government embassies and consulates may be closed in your country or region. Visa processing times are very long as well. If you make travel arrangements, be sure to purchase travel insurance, as flights are subject to cancellation on short notice. Be prepared for your child to quarantine off campus for 14 days upon arrival in the U.S.
What about athletics?
This will be another fluid situation, as you might expect after hearing the news reports about the professional sports leagues. Depending on the local situation, there may a full or partial program more or less as usual, albeit, with masks and social distancing part of the mitigation.
What about boarding?
Schools appear to be implementing a variety of solutions. Miss Porter's outlines their plan for residential life as follows:
"In order to reduce the number of contacts any one student has in a given day, we are shifting to grade-level housing. This will also allow for more grade-level programming and community building. State guidelines permit roommates and communal bathroom use, so we will rely on a model of “family units” in dormitories. The benefit of family units is that while in the dorm, students can interact with members of their family unit in designated areas without having to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, creating a sense of home. Additionally, if a student were to contract COVID-19, the family unit model allows us to trace contacts and quarantine and test more readily. Many of our dorms, due to their small size, will have a single family unit. Larger dorms will have up to three family units."
"Junior Advisors will continue to play an active role in residential life while adhering to physical distancing guidelines when visiting their assigned dorms. Inter-dorm socializing for all other students will not be permitted in order to limit contacts."
Will the school have a detailed plan for reopening?
Yes. Most boarding schools have spent countless hours working through a variety of scenarios with one goal in mind: being able to reopen safely.
Here is Avon Old Farms' plan:
"Avon Safe is Avon Old Farms School’s comprehensive strategy to keep our campus and our community safe by limiting the spread of COVID-19. Our COVID Task Force has formulated a Pandemic Operations Response Plan to address multiple considerations including the health, wellness, and safety of our community as well as the continuity of operations of the school with the least impact to our students and faculty during the current pandemic. "
This very detailed strategic plan shows what you can expect from a school that places safety at the top of its list of concerns as it plans for reopening in the fall of 2020.
I know that you are concerned about your child's safety, but that you also want her back in school. Find out what your child's school's plans are. Ask questions about it. Discuss the situation in depth with your child so that she understands all that is involved.
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