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Heritage Christian COVID Update

January 13, 2021

We recognize that nothing right now is preferred or easy for your family, your students or our teachers and staff. While our situation is challenging, we remain committed to effectively navigating this season of disruption and disappointment.

As we proceed through the second semester of this unique year, we will be providing regular updates on COVID’s impact on Heritage families and classrooms.

Post Holiday Break COVID Increase

We have experienced an increase in COVID cases and close contact situations following the holiday break. This surge is not unexpected and has created challenges. The recent increase has also involved faculty members including eleven Elementary School teachers and/or aides who were out with the virus or quarantined for close contact during the first week back to school after break.

This week, six cases in the 5th-grade including teachers with COVID prompted us to quarantine the entire 5th-grade. Those classes are learning remotely and are in process of completing their 14 day quarantines. 6th-grade has been limited to one confirmed case at this time, requiring one classroom to be quarantined.

In these cases and other situations emerging this week, the number of students throughout the school with the virus has been relatively low and we do not see evidence of wide-spread transmission at school among students at this time.

We are thankful for our protocols and strategies utilizing cohorts, distancing, masks and contact tracing that allow us to limit the number of classes and students impacted on campus. We will continue to monitor the absentee list and HCS COVID reporting tool daily, and will take action to quarantine individuals, classes, cohorts, teams, or buses as necessary to prevent further spread to keep our school open.

Changes in Health Agency Decision-Making

Through the review of additional data and the urging of private school consortiums, the Marion County Public Health Department (MCPHD) has changed their metrics and benchmarks for working with schools relative to virus monitoring. Here is the overview of the new position of the MCPHD:

“To ensure schools in Marion County have the flexibility needed to continue operating safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Marion County Public Health Department (MCPHD) is implementing new guidance for schools. This change is consistent with increasing evidence that schools which follow appropriate prevention steps are able to remain open, and that COVID-19 spread in schools is lower than with the entire community. The new guidance will focus on individual schools, underscoring the unique environment of each school while allowing flexibility to continue operations safely.”

We are glad to now have a system that recognizes the lesser health risk for children, the unique experience and circumstances of each school, and works to keep students in school.

COVID Reporting to Agencies

Beginning this month, we are reporting selected Heritage COVID data to county and state health agencies. This will assist with the new direction that health agencies are taking regarding decisions being made concerning in-person versus remote learning.

With the new approach, based on the individual school community's number of cases compared to that of the community at large, we - as the HCS community - are now more than ever able to influence our ability to remain open for in-person education.

Growing Support for In-Person Schooling

MCPHD Director Dr. Virginia Caine recently provided the following information about the science regarding COVID-19 spread in schools and the rationale behind supporting in-person schooling.

Children are at low risk of infection and do not appear to be drivers of transmission

  • The infection rate in children is low. In the US, 22% of the population is less than 18 years, but only 1.7% of cases are from that age group.
  • They have a better immune response to COVID-19 and a much lower risk of hospitalization compared to adults.

School does not have significant impact on community spread

  • Data suggests that reopening schools has not been associated with increase in community transmission.
  • Infection in schools is driven primarily by transmission in the broader community.

In-person, remote or hybrid schooling has no significant impact on community rates

  • The evidence from recent studies found that having school be remote versus hybrid versus in-person generally did not have a statistically significant impact on community case rates.
  • In-person schooling does not appear to contribute to COVID-19 spread above and beyond what is already occurring in the community at low-to-medium levels of spread.

In-person schooling recommended by leading organizations

  • The best available evidence from countries that have reopened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children – at least in areas with low community transmission.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics and National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine agree that children should attend in-person school when possible.

In-person schooling provides significant benefits

  • Allowing students to complete their studies and continue to the next level
  • Social and psychological well-being
  • Access to reliable information on how to keep themselves and others safe
  • Benefit to society, such as allowing parents to work

New Quarantine Guidelines

New quarantine guidance was recently provided by the CDC and reviewed by the ISHD and MCPHD. This guidance maintains that a 14 day quarantine period is still strongly recommended which remains our preference as well. However, new data indicates that after 10 days of quarantine, the risk of transmission has been significantly reduced. Accordingly, we will be able to reduce the at home quarantine period to 10 days for students in grades 7-12 contingent on the following factors being met:

  • the student has been symptom free through day 10
  • the student and parent continue to monitor for symptoms on days 11-14
  • the student maintains physical distancing (6 feet) from others while at school
  • the student wears a mask at all times (no mask breaks)
  • the student continues with health safety measures including hand washing, avoiding crowds, and taking additional steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

As we cannot reasonably expect to ensure that students in preschool through 6th grade will be able to meet the exception guidelines, the quarantine period for that age group will remain at 14 days. Neither the ISHD, the MCPHD, nor HCS will recognize any of the 7 day quarantine guidance for students, included in the CDC guidance.

Thank You to Our Health Services Team

Our Health Services Department has done an amazing job this year in very difficult circumstances recording cases, conducting contact tracing interviews, gathering and interpreting various health department guidance, and consulting with both internal and external leadership. They are appreciated. Please pray for them.

Partnering Through the COVID Challenge

Balancing the risks associated with the virus and the benefits of in-person instruction has been a challenge. We want to be on campus, but there are instances where we must adjust based on individual facts and circumstances. We are hopeful that with the new approach from Marion County, and with your help, our school will remain open for in-person education through the end of this pandemic.

Thank you for the trust you place in us each day.

Heritage Christian School Administration