Masking Changes at St. Michael’s
Dear St. Michael’s Families,
As we approach the two-year mark of the global impact COVID-19, I am most thankful for the St. Michael’s community and the care and respect we’ve shown each other throughout this pandemic.
Understanding that the School should begin moving toward an "endemic" position with regards to COVID management, St. Michael’s will adopt a “mask optional” policy for students beginning on February 23, 2022. This shift is possible thanks to our partnership with you: families keeping students home when sick/symptomatic, getting vaccinated when eligible, sharing their students’ vaccine records with us, and many, many other examples of putting community above self. While we understand that this decision may feel like it is too soon for some, and has been too long delayed for others, we continue to be grateful for the support that our families have shown us as we continue to assess the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19.
Before making a decision as to if your child should go mask optional, we want to ensure that we are as transparent as possible about our decision process so that your choice is a thoroughly informed one.
There are several conditions that guided the decision to relax our mask usage:
- VDH and medical experts are conveying that the Omicron variant has peaked in Virginia.
- Encouragingly, infection rates have begun to decline in the Richmond metro area, and by implementing a student mask-optional policy on February 23, we are hoping that by that point, we will see our own recent higher School case rates on the decline.
- Aside from relaxing the mask mandate, all the other components of the health mitigation plans that are in place in our School will continue and remain in place.
- We are heartened by the relatively mild nature of the Omicron strain of the virus COMBINED with the recent jump in ST M student vaccination rates and reporting to our Magnus Health portal throughout our School community.
- St M Vaccination Rates: As of February 7, 2022, 75% of Middle School students and 62% of Lower School students are COVID vaccinated. 67% of ALL students are vaccinated. 95% of our faculty and staff are vaccinated. Grade level data is listed at the end of this letter.
- The evidence of Omicron’s lessened impact upon fully vaccinated individuals also allows us to reassess our mitigation process. So, while the conditions created by a mask-optional position are a little complicated, particularly when it comes to quarantining and contact tracing, we believe that it’s time to begin moving toward a more relaxed position as far as masks are concerned.
Nevertheless, we are still mindful of our responsibility for the health and well-being of our entire St. Michael’s community. We will rely on a layered mitigation process including increased notification of any cases in each grade, using the out-of-doors as much as possible, and we expect that all community members will take great care to be vigilant so that those who are sick or exposed do not expose others to unnecessary risk. This may be accomplished through careful at-home health screening, quarantining, and/or temporary masking.
Starting February 23, St. Michael’s mask protocols are as follows:
- The School will respect every family’s decision on masking and we expect that as parents, you will talk with your child(ren) with regards to your own family’s expectations for masks.
- Our faculty and staff will NOT monitor mask usage or lack thereof on behalf of a family. It is the full responsibility of the student to wear a mask if that is the family’s desire.
- In keeping with our DRAGONS’ values, we also ask that you strongly reinforce with your children to be kind and respectful of the choices of others and not to stigmatize classmates for their decisions.
- On Friday, February 18, each teacher will have a conversation with their homeroom or advisory about continuing to exhibit our DRAGONS values, treating each other with kindness, respecting one another’s decisions, and showing resilience and compassion for the situations of classmates and teachers.
- Please feel confident in the decision that is right for YOUR FAMILY. We expect that many families will indeed choose to remain in masks while other families are ready to go mask optional. We also respect that your choice may change day to day as new data is released.
- We ask that every child have two masks in a plastic bag in their backpacks at all times in case they are needed for large assemblies, chapel, and the like.
- Faculty and staff are still required to mask indoors unless eating or drinking per Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) regulations. For consistency, we ask that all adults, campus visitors, and parent volunteers wear masks on campus and when volunteering indoors with our students.
We encourage you to determine your child’s mask use based on several factors including the incidence of infection in the grade level/classroom, our weekly COVID dashboard, your child’s vaccination status, and your child’s likelihood of quarantine. You will notice that there will still be times your child may be required to wear a mask (COVID exposed, returning from COVID+ quarantine, field trips, large assemblies/events, etc).
- As we go mask optional, which is a reduction in one layer of mitigation, we will increase real-time case reporting for each grade. Therefore, you will receive an email each time a student in your child’s grade is identified as COVID+. It is possible that you will receive multiple emails, each one alerting you to a different case in your child’s grade. We do this not to alarm you, but to help you to decide upon your child’s masking status based on timely notification.
- Please be advised that choosing not to wear a mask may put students at higher risk for meeting the close contact definition, requiring quarantine, and potentially facing longer quarantine periods.
- Contact tracing must take into account the masking status of any close contact students. An unmasked child will be considered in close contact with their classmates unless they have consistently maintained a 6-foot distance. Our classrooms are not designed for students to have the six-foot separation, so contact tracing will identify significantly more exposures than currently.
- If a student is masked and COVID+, quarantine will be determined based on vaccination status and masking status. Unmasked, unvaccinated students will be subject to a slightly different contact tracing and isolation/quarantine process than masked and/or vaccinated students as outlined in the VDH contact tracing protocols.
- Unmasked, fully vaccinated students exposed to a COVID+ case will be required to be masked at school for a number of days according to the VDH.
- Any student returning to school from isolation or quarantine on Day 6 will be required to mask on campus for Days 6-10. Families asking not to mask their children under these scenarios will be required to isolate or quarantine for 10 days per CDC and VDH guidelines.
- The School may request testing if the situation warrants it.
- As always, if your child is sick in any way, please keep them at home.
St. Michael’s will continue to monitor the impact of the pandemic on our School community and we reserve the right to resume previous COVID restrictions and mandates if deemed necessary for the health and well-being of our faculty and students.
As always, I am here to answer any questions you may have. Our St M community’s willingness and ability to learn and adapt throughout this pandemic has been at the core of our success in providing a safe and engaging learning environment for every student in our care.
Head of School
Addendum: St M COVID Vax Data