St. John’s has returned to hybrid learning for the last two weeks before Christmas Break after being virtual for a month following a COVID-19 outbreak during the first week of November.
With some nerves running high, precautions are being taken and Principal Chris Themistos is confident that the St. John’s coronavirus plan is comprehensive and safe as long as all parties buy in.
According to Mr. Themistos, about three-quarters of the student body has elected to learn in-person part time. However, participation remains low for upperclassmen. He said, “The protocols we have on campus are as good as they can be. Through the DC Health Department, we’ve been approved and they’ve told us that everything we have in place is excellent. Doctors from DC Health…are saying that it’s safe to be in schools as long as health and safety protocols are in place. What I’ve learned in all of this is that it’s hard to quell the anxiety that some people feel because it’s a very personal feeling and at the end of the day it’s something that I can’t necessarily change because we are in the midst of something that nobody has ever gone through before.”
Mr. Themistos emphasized the importance of students maintaining the same safety protocols in and outside of school. Themistos said washing hands, wearing a mask, and being socially distant is just the name of the game if St. John’s hopes to have a continued and safe hybrid experience as numbers continue to rise locally and nationally. At the moment, Mr. Themistos is not able to comment on the consequences of not following the proper safety protocols.
The school is taking additional steps to ensure safety and prevent another closure. Two questions have been added to the Magnus Health Attestation to better be able to track potential cases. The questions are:
- Have you been at a gathering of individuals outside of your family that has been unmasked?
- Have you traveled outside of the DMV?
Staff will also be stationed at entrances to remind students about the form and QR codes will be posted for easy access. Students who have not completed the form will be contacted in the morning by class deans.
Despite the current state of the pandemic, Mr. Themistos remains optimistic. Though it is too early for the administration to have a full plan regarding the development of new vaccines to combat the coronavirus, Mr. Themistos says he is enthused about the availability of vaccines and will listen to Dr. Fauci and public health officials in hopes of eventually returning to normal. In terms of requiring a vaccination upon the return to campus, St. John’s follows the D.C. government for vaccination requirements and there is yet to be a decision on that end.
After two cases were reported on campus during the first week of November, the St. John’s administration made the decision, with advice from D.C. Health, to close school for the month of November. As a private institution, St. John’s is not required to follow any specific metrics when deciding whether or not to open the school in-person. However, an outbreak is defined as more than two cases within the school community. With no new reported cases on campus and doctors from D.C. Health stating that coronavirus is not likely to spread in school buildings, the decision was made to reopen for the final two weeks before the winter holiday.
Doctors have expressed concern about a surge in cases around the holidays as many people continue to travel to see relatives. The cold weather has pushed many gatherings inside, increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19. With this information, the administration told parents in a Parent Connections on Dec. 3 that the school would return to fully virtual learning for the first two weeks after Christmas Break as a safety measure.
Despite fears of rising positivity rates, St. John’s is looking for more opportunities to get students in the classroom. Parents were sent a survey asking if their child would return in-person for the third quarter. Depending on the results, the administration will likely be able to “collapse cohorts,” allowing students who have opted for in-person learning to be in the building more often.
For the growing number of students who are opting to remain virtual, St. John’s is relying on teachers to be their link to a school-like community, as well as the Student Government Association. Mr. Themistos said, “I want it to be something that comes from the students. I think that if it’s not from the realm of the students, it’s hard to kind of galvanize. So, I definitely want to make that more of a concerted effort on the student-centered focus when we return after the holidays in mid-January.”