The US hit another record number of Coronavirus cases, with more than 187,000 at the writing of this article, November 19. States nationwide have begun to clamp down with guidelines similar to those of the spring lockdown. In Massachusetts, recent measures have included a 10 pm curfew, reductions in indoor gathering limits to 10 people, as well as increased travel restrictions. As concerns over the virus escalate, the question of continuing in-person school is becoming increasingly relevant. Although changes could occur at any moment, Belmont Hill and Winsor have created comprehensive in-person and online plans to deal with a possible second wave.
Thanksgiving and December are times to come together with family members and friends; however, with large gatherings comes a large threat of increased Coronavirus cases. Belmont Hill is aware of the prospect of large group gatherings and has planned accordingly for the return to campus. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, the school will test everyone. While the tests are processed, students will be online for Tuesday and Wednesday, then returning to campus on Thursday. However, several obstacles have to be overcome for this optimal scenario to come to fruition. Everyone must come to campus on Monday for testing so the school does not have to wait for outside tests to be reported. Also, there will have to be minimal positive tests. Mr. Schneider on the possible return said, “Our goal is to be here in person. The question is, do we have transmission on campus?” A similar process will occur after Winter break. However, Belmont Hill is under the jurisdiction of the state and will acquiesce to any new measures put in place. Weighing the possibilities, the school has prepared extensively to maximize chances that students can continue with in-person learning.
Winsor students recently received information, emphasizing existing safety protocols and plans for after Thanksgiving. In her message, head of school Ms. Pelmas reflected on her pride in the Winsor community, writing “I am incredibly grateful to you for everything you have done this fall. You have been remarkable partners to Winsor–flexible, good-natured, appreciative, kind, and so supportive of the whole community.” Going into the holidays with increased possibility of travel, Ms. Pelmas reiterated Winsor’s protocol for students to isolate for three days until receiving a negative COVID test.
Belmont Hill community members are hopeful that increased testing will help keep students healthy and on campus. If conditions improve and students return, the school will largely look the same. Belmont Hill will not forgo online Wednesdays for in-person school, which may disappoint some. Despite the building Zoom-fatigue, midweek deep cleans of the school are integral for the wellbeing of the community. Also, Wednesdays give students experience with online learning which will help with a fully online paradigm. In the event that Belmont Hill cannot have sports and lunch, Mr. Schneider said, “We have all kinds of options that we are ready to act on. Our main goal is to keep things looking how they are now.” Although we are hopeful Belmont Hill will return, online school is highly possible.
Ms. Pelmas also discussed Winsor’s new initiative to pilot a COVID testing plan for Winsor students and faculty beginning in December. Ms. Pelmas explained that with the current hybrid schedule, “testing structures are not ideal for us. They don’t really make us safer than our current protocols do” because of the 24 hour waiting period for results that would not leave time to get results before students go to campus. At some schools, she recognizes that this model of testing works adequately, especially for boarding schools or schools that are in person more days than Winsor. Belmont Hill is one of these schools, as in person classes occur four days a week rather than the two for students at Winsor. In the future, Ms. Pelmas hopes that the school will be able to use rapid-result tests, which take only 15 minutes to get results. Once these tests are available, hopefully in January, Winsor plans to “administer them easily every morning to everyone” and will therefore be able to “return to a more normal schedule.” While the administration works on this plan, it has found a relatively easy way to administer 24 hour tests, which the school will begin piloting with adults in December to learn the best ways to implement the rapid tests once they are accessible.
Collectively, students from Belmont Hill and Winsor must remember to socially distance and wear masks in order to allow their respective schools to stay open. Mr. Schneider, Ms. Pelmas and the rest of the schools’ administrations are working hard to give us an in-person school experience. As students, we need to work together with our administrations to maximize the quality and quantity of our in-person experiences. For Belmont Hill, a return depends on minimal cases within the community and the absence of at-school transmission. For Winsor, hope lies in the rapid testing. The Panel and The Banner thank Belmont Hill and Winsor’s administrations for working tirelessly for us now and the trying times ahead.