New School Year Brings New COVID-19 Policies

Each week, Headmaster Micheal Wirtz releases results from the Covid-19 Surveillance Spit Tests, and any other positive cases from Hackley faculty, students or family. The green line depicts the positive cases detected by pool testing, and positives cases detected outside of Hackley.

After a challenging year and a half of following strict COVID-19 protocols, the new school year and its promise of a more “typical year” present lingering uncertainties pertaining to COVID policies. With constantly changing laws concerning vaccination status, mask-wearing, social distancing, and testing, students have been left to wonder what Hackley’s administration has planned in regards to the current and future COVID-19 policies.
“I think the biggest difference is that we’re allowed to be unmasked outside… close second is being allowed to return to classroom settings that are more typical, where the class formats are just a lot closer to what they’ve been – which I have to say is really nice.” Assistant Upper School Director Christopher Arnold said.
These changes have allowed the plexiglass in classrooms to be removed, one-way hallways and stairwells returned to normal, and the campus is hosting more in-person community events. For example, high school chapel talks are now in person rather than on zoom, and this fall there will be an in-person Coffeehouse.
Another shift in Hackley’s COVID policy pertains to vaccinations. Eligible students and faculty attending Hackley are all required to be vaccinated. Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine has only been approved for those 12 years old and older. As a result, the entirety of the lower school, and even some of the middle school has not been vaccinated yet. Nurse Shannon Smith said, “the policies are the same, as long as you’re masked and within three feet, and properly wearing your mask – they’re the same.”
Quarantine policies at Hackley have also been changed. Any student who has been vaccinated does not have to quarantine if exposed to a COVID-positive person. For the unvaccinated students – specifically the Lower School population and some of the Middle School – quarantine policies have not changed and they must remain in quarantine for ten full days after exposure.
According to a Forbes article by Nina Shapiro, “New Testing Protocols In Schools May Minimize Student Quarantines,” some public school systems are opting to, instead of quarantining vaccinated and unvaccinated kids, allowing them to continue in school but being tested every other day. This is in response to concern about the academic and mental health impact of frequent quarantines and loss of time in school. While the CDC has not approved this policy – they are working closely with one school district in Illinois to study its effectiveness. When asked to comment on this policy, Nurse Smith suggested that Hackley would not likely have the resources for such a practice.
This fall, a total of 7 positive cases have been tracked through Hackley’s spit testing system. According to Mrs. Smith, there have been positive cases in both vaccinated and unvaccinated students. At this time last year, there had been fewer positive cases.
“I think the delta variant is just more contagious, and we had a summer where we had lax, and felt free again – a lot of not mask-wearing, a lot of traveling,” Mrs. Smith said, “and we came back in group settings again and we’re closer than we were before.”
A major concern for both students and faculty in regards to COVID-19 policies this year is around sports. Concern around mask-wearing during indoor winter sports, and also around class trips (such as the Spring training trips).
The varsity lacrosse teams, for example, normally go on a training trip to Florida during spring break. These training trips are a time not only for the athletic improvement in your sports but also a team bonding experience that has been found to be a positive experience for Hackley’s spring athletes.
Mr. Arnold, the head lacrosse coach for the Hackley Boys Varsity Lacrosse Team, said, “I think if we had to make a decision right now, we would probably err on the side of caution and say they are not going to happen. I think the reason there hasn’t been any specific announcement yet is because we would really really like for them to be able to happen, so there’s a little bit of wait and see going on… what we are going to do, is regardless of whether or not the trips go, there will be a week of practices over spring break, and we will make an announcement about that as soon as we can. This is all preliminary conversation, but we are going to try to recreate the experiment as much as we can. Being honest, it’s going to be hard.”
Regarding requiring wearing masks, he said, “I hope not… but it’s a possibility.”
Some indoor winter sports include fencing, squash, basketball, and indoor track. Sophomore and varsity squash player Caroline Didden expressed her concerns on the winter season as well. “When you’re wearing goggles in squash, they tend to fog up so it’s really, really hard to play with a mask on… it makes it almost impossible.” Caroline did acknowledge that squash is a sport in which two players are within close quarters of each other in a small box, making proper distancing difficult.
The Hackley community as a whole is working hard to be as cautious, but as thoughtful as possible. The administration and committee that makes the decisions about the COVID policies are constantly thinking about the best ways to do things.
Mr. Arnold said, “It’s almost impossible to come up with a perfect policy, but the idea of trying to have the least possible social and emotional impact on kids, while simultaneously trying to keep people safe as possible while simultaneously trying to go back to the business of everything in school is something that they are working hard to do.”
The administration hopes that this school year will be much more normal than last year’s. When commenting on her hopes for the future, Mrs. Smith said,“I certainly hope that we will be done with testing, that everyone will be vaccinated… There will definitely be cases, but I hope there are fewer and fewer. I do think we will probably still be wearing masks… but hopefully having the in-person learning, our social events, our sporting events, HPAs, coffee houses, things like that… this year feels more normal than it did last year. I think each year hopefully, with this and the experience and the knowledge and the new technology we have it will get better and better.”
Hackley’s motto,“United we help one another”, has proven to be a common theme throughout the pandemic. For this school year to be as productive and positive as possible, it will require effort and dedication from not only the Hackley faculty in charge of mandating the policies but from the community as a whole.