Disclaimer: I am not a health professional. I am a concerned parent and grandparent. This article draws attention to some of the questions I have about sending my grandchildren off to boarding school. ~Rob Kennedy
Getting your child ready for school in the summer of 2020 is a nerve-wracking experience for parents. We have always been concerned about our children's safety both at school and at home. We have taught safe behaviors since they were tiny tots. Sending them away from home to a residential school always posed issues of separation and homesickness that you and I were able to deal with more or less successfully. But sending them off to boarding school in the middle of a global pandemic? Well, that's something else again, isn't it?
Suddenly, all those familiar scenarios of dropping our children off at school seem so benign and distant. This COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything you and I have seen in our lifetimes. The virus seems to attack people of all ages. It seems to lurk in hosts and find new hosts via droplets that hang in the air. It lives on common surfaces such as doorknobs and stair railings. It spreads to its new host when he touches his face. Worst of all, there's no vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. Scientists are scrambling to create vaccines, but it doesn't look as though anything will be available before early 2021.
I have listened to This Week In Virology podcasts for several months. I have concluded that frequent handwashing, wearing a 2-ply mask in public, social distancing, staying home whenever possible, are necessary steps to protect myself and others from the virus. That's what the health experts recommend. But what about children in boarding school? How safe are they going to be? Let's look at some of the safety steps and protective measures your child's boarding school will most likely implement when it reopens in the fall of 2020.
Will my child have to be tested before she goes to school on Opening Day?
It depends on the school because each private school determines its protocols. Generally, schools seem to be requiring a negative result on a polymerize chain reaction (PCR) test before school opens. Given all the news reports we have seen about how long it takes to get test results, i.e., 7 to 14 days, I recommend scheduling the test well in advance. Ask your school for guidance, and plan accordingly.
Will we be able to arrive at school to drop her off whenever we want?
Probably not. Most schools will set up a schedule of drop off times and drop off points in order to prevent crowding. Be prepared for that.
Will the school take everybody's temperature daily?
Most schools seem to be planning to take temperatures daily. How they do that depends on the school and its financial resources. Taking individual temperatures involves a certain amount of risk. That's why some schools have installed risk-free body temperature measurement systems.
What happens if my child gets sick at school?
In most cases, the school will isolate her. You will be required to pick her up as soon as possible, in any case, within 24 hours. If you live more than a three-hour drive away from the school, you will have to nominate a friend or relative who lives closer to the school, who can come quickly to pick up your sick child. The school will recommend the next steps depending on the situation. That will likely include testing for the virus.
What do I do if my child tests positive and must quarantine for 14 days?
You will keep her home from school and carefully monitor the situation, always following your health professional's instructions. She must isolate even if she is asymptomatic. Be prepared to assist the school with any contact tracing requirements it might have. The school will indicate when she can return to school.
What do I do if I think she has been exposed to somebody who has COVID-19?
Alert the school of your suspicions. If she is at school, the school will test her and advise. You will have to come and pick her up. If she happens to be at home when you suspect exposure to the virus, quarantine and isolate her, and get her tested. Once you have the test results, notify the school.
Will the school schedule further testing at my expense?
Testing is costly. I have seen prices ranging from $25 to $150. So, be prepared to pay for additional testing as the school year proceeds.
How do I know that the school is cleaning and sanitizing facilities thoroughly?
Most boarding schools have implemented deep cleaning and sanitizing programs. Read the CDC guidelines, Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes, to understand the steps involved. Also, everybody will be able to wash their hands frequently and use hand sanitizer.
What kind of mask is best?
The experts seem to agree that cloth masks work best. You can make your own or buy them commercially. Cloth masks cost more initially, but because they are washable, they are less expensive in the long run. I suggest supplying each child with a dozen masks. That way, you will have a few in the laundry and a few ready to wear. Read the Cleveland Clinic's guidance on wearing masks, Unsure About Actually Wearing a Face Mask? Here’s How (and Why) to Do It.
Will my daughter still be able to play field hockey and other sports?
School sports programs will look much different in the academic year 2020-2021. Students will wear masks. Temperatures will be taken. Social distancing will be observed. NFHS releases high school sports guidelines during coronavirus pandemic outlines some of the measures that the National Federation of State High School Associations suggests. Some sports are riskier than others. Expect the riskier sports to remain off the table until the situation improves.
Will my school teach in-person or online?
Because the situation is so fluid, there are no easy answers to this question. Much depends on the physical layout of your school's facilities. Since most boarding schools tend to have small classes (12-15 students), it is quite possible that most of the teaching will be in person. Be prepared for some online instruction as well.
What do I do if I can't afford the tuition I have previously agreed to pay?
Speak to the school office. Explain your situation. Perhaps they will be able to work something out.
What can I do to support my school?
Your school needs your support more than ever during these troubled times. If you can afford it, make a gift to the school. Personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, cleaning and sanitizing, and so many more measures explicitly related to the pandemic, are expensive items. Most schools had not budgeted for them. So, your financial help in this area will be much appreciated.
Many families are struggling financially as a result of furloughs, layoffs, and other employment challenges. Consequently, they will probably be asking the school for financial assistance with tuition. Your generous support of the school's financial aid fund will make all the difference in helping students receive the education they deserve.
If you are at a time in your life and career where you can make a major unrestricted gift to your beloved alma mater, this is the time to do it. The need has never been greater.
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