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Important Update- Thanksgiving Considerations

November 16, 2020
By Seth Yocum

St. Paul’s School Community,

Given the nature of the Thanksgiving holiday, the current spike in Covid-19 cases across the country, in our state, in our county, and out of an abundance of caution, St. Paul’s School has decided to resume distance learning for all St. Paul’s School students for one week following the Thanksgiving holiday break (11-30 to 12-4).  We have every intention of resuming in person learning for our preschool through 6th grade students on Monday, December 7th.  This decision has been made in consultation with local health providers, our school’s leadership team, and our board of trustees who all find this to be a wise “next step” as we continue to attend to the health and safety of our school community during a global pandemic.  It is also important to note that this decision mirrors the precautions that numerous other independent schools across the country are exercising, while many more have decided to recess entirely for the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

St. Paul’s School has been fortunate to have maintained a healthy campus during the past several months, and has remained relatively unscathed -- though not untouched -- by Covid-19 during this time.  To our knowledge, we have not had any students test positive for Covid-19, and when the potential for campus “close contact” has occurred, our mitigation strategies as described in our RePopulating Plan have been effective.  One could argue that we’ve simply been lucky, but I think we can attribute it more to the committed efforts of our entire community in taking the requisite precautions to prioritize the health and safety of our school.  At this point, regardless of the Covid-19 fatigue that we are all feeling, our efforts cannot diminish.  We cannot assume that because it hasn’t happened, it won't happen.  More likely, it’s simply a matter of time.

I understand the challenges that this decision might present to families, and that weighs heavy on my heart.  I know that finding additional child care and acting as surrogate teachers during distance learning is complicated.  I know that so many of our students are overjoyed to be at school, and nothing makes me happier than having them here.  But these are the very same reasons why we are taking this added precaution, because we want to do everything in our power to act responsibly and preserve our ability to hold in person learning for as many students as we can.  Our waiver approved by the county and the state essentially gives us license to control our in person learning opportunities as long as our mitigation strategies are effective.  Up to this point, our cautious approach to Covid-19 has meant that we have not had to quarantine classrooms for 14 days, have not exposed our campus community unnecessarily to Covid-19, and continue to serve as a safe haven for in person learning.  We should be proud of our efforts up to this point, and remain determined to continue taking appropriate precautions that reify our commitments.

The Thanksgiving holiday offers unique challenges to our mitigation strategies due in large part to the ways in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, and the typical incubation period of Covid-19. It is my understanding that most cases present four to seven days following exposure (nearly all cases present within 14 days). In real terms this means that individuals exposed to Covid-19 on Thanksgiving would begin to present symptoms (if they present symptoms) sometime between Monday and Thursday of the following week. By keeping our students at home in a distance learning format during this week, we aim to avoid exposing our campus to a potential wave of cases related to the Thanksgiving holiday. By no means is this a fool proof strategy, but it is a reasonable precaution that we can take to avoid some of the more severe consequences that could emerge, and in our efforts to return to in person learning with a much better grasp on the overall health of our school community.

My sincerest hope is that one day we can look back on this decision and deem it an overreaction. My hope is that our families have a joyful and safe Thanksgiving, and that everyone remains in good health. I would love to look back on this decision and think, “dude, we freaked out a little bit.” Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing other than in retrospect, and the leadership of our school has determined that the potential benefits of this decision outweigh the complications. We’d rather be wrong and look silly than be wrong and compromise the health of our community.

In the spirit of the season, I am thankful that I get to serve as the head of St. Paul’s School.  I am thankful that we have an amazing student body full of bright and eager students.  I am thankful that I have a faculty and staff who are so dedicated to our mission that they continue to exhaust themselves in service to others.  I am also thankful that our families have remained supportive of our efforts, compassionate to our needs, and attentive to the mission of our school.  Amidst all that has stacked up against us in 2020, I hope that you all have much to be thankful for as well. 

Kind Regards, 

Seth W. Yocum
Head of School
St. Paul’s School