by Mel Malmberg and Nicole Haims Trevor ’91
Several days a week, members of Prep’s COVID-19 School Compliance Task Force receive updates from Dr. Barbara Ferrer of the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH). After several months, the task force, whose focus is health, safety, facilities, academic and student life, and communication, has developed an understanding of the data, which it balances with compassion and flexibility and a deep sense of responsibility to the physical health and emotional wellbeing of faculty, students, parents, and staff.
Task force members share information with other schools, and manage the questions from faculty, parents, and students. It’s a tremendous collaborative effort, and the stakes are high. They want to restore our community safely and within the law.
“Each member of the task force has a specific skillset and a unique role,” says Director of Finance Theresa King. “For example, Andres Alamillo has received a certification in contact tracing from Johns Hopkins University and developed not only our on-campus athletic conditioning protocols but also our overall campus health response. I see my job as being a facilitator as we gain new information and develop the safest path forward.”
While the task force takes guidance from health experts, educational partners, campus leaders and heads at peer schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Association of Independent Schools, the California Association of Independent Schools, California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the National Business Officers Association, and attorneys specializing in education, the school is required to comply with guidelines from the State of California and the LA County DPH.
The county has been extremely conservative about reopening businesses and educational institutions, and the task force watches caseloads per 100,000 residents among other key benchmarks, knowing that Dr. Ferrer is unlikely to risk the lives of students and employees in her decision making.
“It’s so important to stay up to speed on all the rules and data points because they’re designed to make everyone safe. This is the number one priority for the school—to maintain the emotional and physical health of our whole community when they return to campus,” says Director of Operations Kim Kinder.
“It’s a little like building the plane while you’re flying it through a storm,” says Director of Facilities Nick Adams-Wright, who has been tasked with ensuring proper air filtration and ventilation in all campus buildings. “Details shift daily. That said, I feel we have a solid plan to protect faculty, staff, and students when we return for hybrid learning.”
Although the school year began with students at home, essential workers and faculty who wanted to teach from a classroom have been coming to work since March with mandatory precautions in place. Having a core group of faculty and staff on campus has created a baseline of behaviors that are intertwined with the school’s community values of trust, honesty, generosity, and respect.
Assistant Heads Sarah Cooper and Vanessa Walker-Oakes and Head of School Jim Pickett respond promptly to parental concerns for their children’s physical and emotional health, as well as providing faculty and staff with extensive safety protocols when they return to campus. They have spent the last seven months planning and implementing techniques with faculty to increase connection and promote community online.
“The overarching concern for all of us has been, and remains, what is best for the whole community,” explains Pickett. “We have a variety of scenarios to choose from depending on circumstances, but we believe that when we enter hybrid learning, there is a potential that we may stay there for some time. We just have to keep following the county guidelines and reducing risk both on and off campus.”
Here are some of the protocols currently in effect for Prep’s eventual return to hybrid learning:
- Approximately half the students will be on campus at any given time.
- Masks are required at all times, and physical distancing guidelines will be managed by COVID-19 compliance officers.
- Community members will be asked to acknowledge on a weekly basis the community expectations and personal responsibilities inherent to educating students in a hybrid environment. These include limiting interactions on and off campus, maintaining physical distance, wearing masks, and frequently washing hands.
- Before arriving to campus, community members must use the Magnus Health app symptom tracker, and anyone experiencing symptoms must stay home.
- Students with health concerns will not be required to come to school when hybrid learning begins and can continue taking their classes from home until the school resumes at full capacity.
- Protocols are in place if someone becomes ill on campus and/or diagnosed with COVID-19.
The school hosted a free flu vaccine clinic in October for staff, faculty, and their families, and encourages all community members to get a flu vaccine if they can.
“The most challenging aspect of managing our response is that we cannot control what people do. We know that adolescents need social and emotional support, that they crave interaction with their peers. Our parents can support the school by modeling the safest behavior and honoring the spirit of the honor code when they agree to our weekly guidelines,” says Pickett. “This is one way to protect the most vulnerable in our community, as well as loved ones at home who might have underlying health conditions.”
We appreciate the support that parents have given to our faculty, staff, and students as we continue to focus on providing the best possible student experience. As of late October, Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 adjusted case rate remains at levels that keep the county in Tier 1, the state’s most restrictive tier. As a result of the increasing case rates, LA County DPH’s conservative approach to reopening schools, and the approaching holidays, we do not see an encouraging outlook for our return to campus before at least January 2021 for any in-person learning. While we are disappointed with this situation, the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and families remains our primary concern. We will continue to monitor the data and provide frequent updates.
Managing health and safety for all means also providing essential social and emotional support. Our teachers have been focusing on such support in classes and extracurricular activities, our student life team recently held retreats and activities designed to connect students, and 200 high school athletes returned for on-campus athletic conditioning.
Together, as a community, we will get through this.
Stay Updated on Prep’s Response
Given the changing landscape of this pandemic and guidelines from national, state, and county officials, we encourage all members of our community to visit our website at www.flintridgeprep.org/return-plan for the latest information about the school’s response to COVID-19 and updates to guidelines and protocols.
We are communicating with parents, students, faculty, and staff frequently through email. We welcome you to reach out to us at email@example.com with questions not answered on the Return to Campus Plan website.
We encourage all families to ensure that their email address is up to date with Flintridge Prep. If you are not receiving emails or need to update your address with us, please contact our Registrar Brenda Diaz at firstname.lastname@example.org.