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December 2020 Update Part 1 of 4: Updated procedures as we enter winter weather

As we move into flu, travel, and colder-weather season

Friends,

With flu season approaching and COVID-19 infection rates rising across much of the country, Free Union’s COVID-19 Health Team continues to review, re-evaluate and, where needed, revise our policies and protocols for helping us to have as many students here as much as possible this school year. Anticipating that weather will move classes inside a bit more at the same time that viral infection rates also will tend to be higher, we will now begin adopting slightly more conservative decision-making criteria and protocols in the coming weeks, as taking extra precautions with individual cases should, on balance, translate to fewer infections between classmates, fewer class closures, and overall more time at school for most students.

The Overview

We have been so grateful for everyone’s openness, patience, understanding, and cooperation throughout the first two months in working with us to promote healthier and safer classrooms for our children and teachers in this brand new way of “doing” school. We know that sometimes precautionary decisions can be stressful, and thus appreciate especially deeply everyone's support and spirit of acting in ways that are best for the greater good, even when that might mean some inconvenience for oneself.

With some experience now under our belts and some new things to expect on the horizon, our health team has spent considerable time conferring, consulting local pediatricians, and reviewing updated documents from the Virginia Department of Health and our own experiences thus far this year. Based on those conversations and evaluations, we have developed an updated set of modified protocols and criteria for any employee or family experiencing any symptoms consistent with COVID-19. We implore all school families, faculty, and staff to carefully familiarize yourselves with this updated information, as most, if not all, questions that might arise on any given evening or morning before school could be answered from this document.

To accompany the detailed articulation of these policies in the following paragraphs, we have also created the attached two-sided resource with a different flow chart on each side. The first flow chart may be used for guiding you through the steps to follow whenever your child experiences a symptom consistent with COVID-19; it starts with your communications to the school (email your child’s teacher/s and ), continues with the ongoing bi-directional health-related communication between you and the school, and then also incorporates processes for implementing remote learning while your child is away from school. The second flow chart provides a rough outline of the decision-making process that the school's health team will often, though not always, when apprised of anyone in our community experiencing any symptom consistent with COVID-19.

Updated Procedures & Policies for Anyone Experiencing Symptoms

First, and perhaps most importantly, if a child or employee is feeling unwell, and the school does not already have on file DOCUMENTED and advised-upon next steps for that person, the affected family or employee will always be advised to:

(a) inform **, and

(b) follow up with your primary care physician for diagnosis, documentation, and next steps.

**Please note: Families are always asked to email with any COVID-consistent symptom, whether it is already documented at school or not.

While visiting the primary care physician or pediatrician, one should request a letter or return-to-school form with the doctor’s case-specific recommendations. (You may consult our school website for a generic copy of the form that some pediatricians are using, but we defer to their chosen method of communication with the school). Please be aware that regardless of diagnosis and the physician’s recommendation, our team will also institute the following policies specific to Free Union Country School. In some cases, these will be a bit more conservative than some physicians may recommend.

  • Symptomatic persons, with or without an alternative diagnosis but with a PCP visit and recommendation, may return to school 48 hours after symptom resolution. This may conflict with your primary care physician’s recommendation, as they may recommend 24 hours, but we are being slightly more conservative, with the school’s big picture in mind.
  • Any family members of symptomatic students or teachers who are also members of the school community (with same advice as above) should also remain at home with the symptomatic person until 48 hours after symptoms resolve, assuming they, too, have the green light from their PCP. One family member will not return before the other.
  • In case a COVID test is recommended, you will also find attached a resource documenting testing locations and turn-around times for the Charlottesville-Albemarle vicinity.

If for some reason a family chooses not to be evaluated by a physician for whatever symptom is present, they should consult the VDH guidelines under “if you choose to not be evaluated.”Symptomatic persons who choose not to be clinically evaluated (by visiting their PCP) should isolate at home for 10 days, and may return only once fever and symptoms have resolved for 48 hours without the assistance of fever-reducing medication. Close contacts should quarantine as well.

You will notice that some of our policies, such as keeping siblings of symptomatic children at home, and having everyone wait a full 48 hours from symptom resolution regardless of alternative diagnosis, past medical history or COVID test result are more conservative than the 24 hours that the VDH or a personal physician might recommend. This, of course, could translate in the short-term into more days away from school for any symptomatic individual and their siblings. In this light, we hope that everyone will bear in mind that it is the collective professional opinion of our health team that by further reducing risk of transmission within the school community, this extra cushion will protect our entire community of teachers, staff, students and families in a way that, on balance, not only reduces the risk of transmitting a very dangerous virus, but also could increase the overall average amount of time that everyone spends at school. Our highest priority is to keep our classes open, keep regular colds, flu and coughs at home where recovery is done best, and reduce the risk of transmission of any viruses at school to an absolute minimum. We are so grateful for everyone’s cooperation and support.

Updated Procedures & Policies for Other School Circumstances

In addition to the updated policies affecting symptomatic individuals, we also have these other important procedures and policies for you to be aware of:

  • If anyone in any cohort tests positive for COVID-19, that person’s entire cohort will be closed for either 14 days or until TJHD comes back to our school with a recommendation that it can open based on case investigation. Depending on a review of the entire set of circumstances, the school may or may not follow a VDH recommendation to return before 14 days. Unless it is the class teacher who is infected, teachers will initiate and implement remote learning within one school day of the closure.
  • If a teacher is out because they are ill, and without test results and a definitive alternative diagnosis, a cohort will be closed until the teacher is well and cleared for return. Remote learning will be implemented to the greatest extent possible, depending on the severity of the teacher’s circumstances and the availability of a substitute teacher familiar with the curriculum.
  • Important as a sense of community is to our school, we regret to share that, for now, we are asking that there be no class playdates or small group gatherings at the school at any time, including weekends. This does not mean that local kids may not continue to come play basketball on the premises as they sometimes do in the summer. But school or family organizing on school grounds, which increases exposures for each person in the class (if families are present together) and potentially compromises standards on protocols (masking, distancing, hand washing) is not allowed, nor should be encouraged by our community, until further notice.

In the coming days, I will share two more communications. Tomorrow's second installment of this series will offer guidance and suggested language for communicating with our children about various circumstances they might encounter in the coming months, like when a friend might be staying home for a period of time, a sibling's cohort might be shut down for a couple of weeks, etc. The final part later this week will speak to travel precautions we recommend or request, our plans for teaching and learning in colder weather, and reminders about flu shots and other ways to promote your family's health and the continued on-site operation of the school.

If you have any questions, please email . Meanwhile, thank you all again for all the things you have done and are doing on your end to help us all be learning at school so much this year.

Eric

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