No sooner did school start on August 26ththan the first quarantine began. Welcome to a new school year, where the “quarantine” will become part of our daily vocabulary. Quarantines are happening to schools all over the region and state, and to date, it is mostly impacting athletic programs. We started monitoring two different Catholic school systems who started school 4-6 weeks before the Owensboro Catholic Schools came back. These pioneering Covid-19 schools paved the way for those of us that followed. Over 150 Catholic School Systems have closed their doors this year due to the pandemic. They will not reopen. So, finding a way to educate children without transmitting the coronavirus became a priority all summer. And while we continue to meet every challenge with a solution, the journey is far from over. One thing is ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN, masks make the difference in the spread of Covid-19. The 8,000 children under roof in the Catholic school systems we are monitoring are proof of that and the 1200 children under roof in our own system are proof of that as well. The quarantine from the middle school through the high school grew from about 5 to over 40 this week where they were largely deemed as “close contacts” by the Health Department. We will continue to update the status of quarantined students each week. But we assume there is a student who could test positive in EVERY classroom, and we were fortunate to have two Diocesan schools to consult with us early on what was working in their systems. We also assume that we have employees with the virus, which is why we continue to work on mitigating strategies such as plexiglass barriers and opportunities to go outdoors and monitor distancing.
We have an incredible team of dedicated staff, administrators and faculty who spent the summer doing their homework. There were no breaks from the daily doses of chaos. We would receive and review CDC updates daily only to see things change after a few days. We watched as recommendations became directives and then vice-versa. We had federal dollars allocated to pay for our Covid resources that were withdrawn AFTER we made purchases. The OCS Back to School document we completed in June did not look anything like the one we completed in July, or the full one we finally released in August two weeks before school started. And even thatdocument changed dramatically the day before school started when KDE and CDC guidelines changed again (and they are still changing). We are not unique. Businesses, universities, professional athletic programs… the entire world is trying to adapt. And of the 750 families we serve, the overwhelming majority have expressed a debt of gratitude for the effort that teachers are making on the front lines. We are open and we will remain open, if we all continue to work together for more solutions to the challenges we will continue to face.
Getting through this school year is going to take an enormous amount of patience on the part of our entire community. We are all suffering from corona lifestyle fatigue, but THAT disease is going to be with us throughout the entire year as well. And while 90% of the feedback we have received is positive, sometimes 10% can sound like 90% when it is loud enough! So here are some things you can expect over the course of this year:
- Social media rumors will run rampant. I am amazed at some of the screen shots that are texted to me. They are like all forms of gossip. Some of it is true, some is amazingly inaccurate. If you need to know the truth, feel free to call the schools. We are transparently doing the best we can to communicate. Nobody is playing favorites or being picked on. Nobody is bypassing the protocols.
- The kids are not the problem. It’s hard seeing these children in masks all day, but they adapted quickly, particularly in the younger grades. But the students ARE responding. We anticipated a lot of mask issues (improperly worn or the wrong material). Nobody likes them, but students are holding up their end of this commitment.
- We should all be concerned for the teachers who must navigate the non-traditional instruction and the classroom instruction. Technology was vastly improved over the summer to provide a higher level of interaction between quarantined students and classroom teachers. It has taken a few weeks, but most of the bugs in that network are getting ironed out.
- To date about half of the negative feedback we have received is that we are too restrictive. And the other half…you guessed it; they think we are not doing enough! But again, we have two other Catholic school models doing the same things we are doing, and “in school” transmissions are extremely rare, if they have even occurred at all!
- Please be patient, as we are trying to be patient with the students entrusted to our care. The lines into the building are slower and longer. We do not employ perfect people, as we do not expect perfection from the parents we serve. You really learn a lot about people when they face adversity, or they do not get their way. Right now, what we are learning about the Owensboro Catholic School System, is that we have a community of people dedicated to keeping these schools open. And we appreciate everyone’s effort during these emotionally disruptive times.
- Do not take this out on the Health Department when they call! Representatives from the Green River Area Health District have been an asset to this effort. They are working with us to keep us open, and to keep us from transmitting the virus. THAT’S WHAT WILL KEEP US OPEN! When they call you, be as honest and specific as you can. If they find inconsistencies in your story, then you will cast a much broader net of quarantined students. Quarantines are just going to be a fact of life this year. We will get through them. But please be gracious and cooperative. These folks are just doing their job, and they are being held accountable for virus containment.
- We talk with the Health Department EVERY SINGLE DAY, and unfortunately, that has included the weekends as well! We have added a step to the protocol by calling quarantined parents BEFORE they get “the letter.” An additional letter to school parents simply notifies them of a positive test in the building. If we have sent the letter out on a positive test, we will not send another one out for at least a week, but we will provide parents with a weekly report of positive tests and quarantines. But because of the laws around releasing health care information, we are very limited on the type of information we can release.
- If employees are negligent with the protocols, it could be cause for termination. All adults are being asked to wear masks at ALL events (indoor and out). However, when it comes to this highly contagious virus, we are not passing judgement on the people who test positive and took reasonable precautions. People have been getting contagious diseases since the beginning of time. But we ARE being stricter on coronavirus protocols until it is no longer a threat to closing our school system.
We will continue to work with individual circumstances and adapt as things continue to change. We’re open to suggestions. Sometimes it takes a pandemic to put life into perspective, or to reveal what communities are all about. I could not be prouder of the men and women working for the Owensboro Catholic School System, or the families that we serve.