McCallie School students on Saturday began a 10-day period of self-quarantine as one of many precautions being put in place in preparation for on-campus classes to begin on Aug. 18, officials said.
Headmaster Lee Burns said, "During this quarantine period, all students will be required to undergo a COVID-19 test and will not be allowed onto campus for classes unless they can document negative test results.
"As the 116th school year begins, students will have a choice of attending classes on-campus or from their homes via distance learning technologies that McCallie used last spring when the campus was closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
All classes will be available online. Parents of approximately 30 boys have opted for the virtual classes.
"Despite the pandemic, McCallie is on target to open with a near-record enrollment, including its largest boarding program enrollment. Exact enrollment numbers will not be available until students report for the first day of classes.
“Students will find things different when they return to campus. They will find a lot more rules, such as being required to wear face masks, and they will find their classrooms and class sizes reconfigured to ensure constant social-distancing. And they will be screened each morning before being allowed on campus.
“At the same time, they will find things similar. Our great faculty is ready and eager to greet the boys, and we are all ready to enjoy the full McCallie experience that builds the leaders of tomorrow.”
On Friday, Mr. Burns sent a reminder to all students stressing the importance of the self-quarantine period. This reminder was needed, Mr. Burns said, because of the continued high instances of the coronavirus in the Chattanooga area and because several McCallie varsity football players were diagnosed with the virus while attending football camp during the past two weeks. Those students are all in isolation and are reporting none to mild symptoms. McCallie followed its coronavirus containment protocols, including contact tracing.
“This is an insidious virus,” Mr. Burns said, “and we know firsthand how it can infect anyone, no matter their age or how healthy they are. Our charge, and the one we are taking with the utmost seriousness, is to do everything possible to contain the virus and stop its spread on campus.”
Among the steps that McCallie is taking are:
· Self-quarantine period – All students, faculty, and staff, are required to adhere to stringent self-quarantine guidelines for a 10-day period prior to the beginning of school on Aug. 18.
· COVID-19 testing – All students, faculty, and staff must take a COVID-19 test no earlier than 11 days prior to the beginning of school and provide documentation of a negative result; students who elect to take their classes via distance learning are not required to have this test.
· Rapid-antigen test – Any boarding student who flies to Chattanooga to begin classes will be given a rapid-antigen test prior to being allowed into the dormitory.
· Daily temperature check, health screening – All day students, faculty and staff, must complete a temperature check/health screening and report the results via a computer app to the Student Health Center prior to being allowed onto campus each morning; boarding students must do the same screening prior to being allowed out of the dorms. Any student who has questionable results will not be allowed onto campus, or will be sent to the Student Health Center for evaluation.
· Facemask wearing – All students, faculty, and staff will be required to wear facemasks at all times when indoors on campus, and outdoors when social-distancing cannot be achieved.
· Classroom design, cleaning – All classrooms and other rooms have been reconfigured to allow for social distancing at all times. Rooms will undergo frequent cleaning/disinfecting throughout the day, including the use of electronic misting machines, and will be heavily disinfected overnight. Some hallways will be designated one-way and class dismissal times will be adjusted to keep hallway congestion at a minimum.
· Dining and common use areas – Social distancing will be enforced in the Dining Hall and many meals will be served in other areas, with students encouraged to eat outdoors when possible. All common use areas will be cleaned/disinfected frequently. Many bathroom fixtures, water fountains, and similar equipment have been reconfigured to conform with hands-free sanitary guidelines.
· No Visitors – The campus will be closed to visitors. Parents will be allowed on campus only to drop off and pick up their sons, and vendors and others who must come onto campus will have a health screening and be required to wear a facemask.
· Contact tracing – Several faculty and staff have been trained via Johns-Hopkins University Medical Center in contact tracing and will follow a strict protocol for any reports of a coronavirus infection to limit its spread.
“These are just some of the many new rules and procedures we have put in place for this year,” Mr. Burns said. “As always, we have high standards and expectations for our boys. This year will be no different. We expect that our boys will rise to the challenge.”
In addition to allowing students the choice of taking classes on-campus or via distance learning, McCallie also has procedures in place in case there is a need to close the campus. “Because the pandemic situation is ever-evolving, as a school community and as individuals we must remain patient and adaptable,” Mr. Burns said.
Email to Parents that was sent on August 9
I want to update you on the latest developments on campus and appeal to you to help us as we prepare for the opening of school. I think all of you share our excitement for this upcoming school year. We all want the boys back on the Ridge. Safely.
Yesterday we posted a news release on our website with details of the major steps we are taking to keep the coronavirus off campus and away from your sons – and containing it when, as we all must reasonably assume, it does sneak onto campus. Those plans, I think you will agree, are extensive and are well beyond what many other independent and public schools are doing and what organizations like the CDC recommend.
Two major parts of our back-to-campus plans are the self-quarantine period and having everyone tested prior to the start of school, and that’s where I need your help now.
In the news release, we discussed the fact that several members of our varsity football team have tested positive with the COVID-19 virus. Since that time, we have learned that the number of positive cases is 11 (as of this email late Sunday afternoon). Our coaches, team physician, Health Center Director and others have been in close contact with the Hamilton County Health Department and, based on their advice, we have taken the following action:
Varsity football practices have been cancelled for a 14-day period. All players, coaches and trainers will undergo a strict quarantine for those 14 days -- stricter than the already strict self-quarantine that we are requiring of all students. They will not be allowed on campus until those 14 days expire and they are COVID-free. The students who have tested positive for COVID-19 will undergo 10 days of isolation. Through our contact tracing protocol, persons who have been in contact with them (including parents and siblings) will be contacted by the Hamilton County Health Department and urged to adhere to a strict quarantine.
If there is anything good in this – and I’m not sure much is good about a pandemic – it is the fact that all of the young men who have contacted COVID-19 are experiencing none to mild symptoms and no one has required hospitalization. Another positive development -- again, if you can call it positive -- is that several hundred students have already had their COVID-19 testing completed and only three or four have tested positive. These students, too, will be isolated and kept off campus or in isolation units of our McCallie Health Center until they are cleared to return. I tell you this to let you know that our requirement for testing prior to school is working. We have anticipated that these tests, as well as our daily temperature tests during school, will alert us to positive cases, and when we discover these conditions, we’ll adhere to our strict protocols, quarantine or isolate the student, and keep the campus as clean and safe as possible.
We understand that other high school football teams throughout our area and the entire state have had similar instances of COVID-19 infections as our team has experienced. I don’t say that as an excuse, but rather to emphasize the insidiousness of this virus. I will be speaking with our coaches and administrators extensively to discuss how we move forward with athletics once this quarantine period has expired.
Here’s where I appeal to you for help. Through our contact tracing protocol, we determined that the majority of cases detected came from off-campus contacts – specifically from our boys socializing in large groups and ignoring mask-wearing and social distancing protocols. I know it is tempting for them to want to get together with friends and extended family during these last days of summer before school begins, but please, please, just say no to that. For the sake of all the boys at McCallie, keep your son quarantined! And get him tested!
If we all work together, we can begin school with a COVID-free campus on August 18, and if we all practice the new health and safety rules outlined in the Back-to-School booklet (www.mccallie.org/backtoschool), then we can beat this.
Thank you so much for all of your help and support.
Lee Burns ’87 Head of School