This page provides official updates from Visitation Academy about the current status of the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on our school community.
September 4, 2020
Like many of you, I follow COVID-19 news pretty obsessively. It is hard to avoid given the current state of affairs. I have a professional interest in following news around school, college, and university openings in the age of COVID. I have been really impressed with the thought and care that schools have applied in their plans. Much like our own plan, they are well thought out and thorough, and one can tell that hours of hard work went into each and every one of them.
Yet, one sees many stories about educational institutions being forced to abruptly end face-to-face instruction and switch to online learning. As I read through the stories and consult with experts, the problem rarely is centered on the institutions themselves. The real culprit seems to be community behavior outside of school. It is off-campus parties, travel to dangerous areas, and “super-spreader” events. It is people – in small and large groups – not taking mask wearing seriously. In school after school and college after college, elaborate and extensive plans fall apart because people decide to act irresponsibly outside of school. They become infected with COVID-19 and then spread it to other people. When I speak to public health officials, they tell me time and again that it is off-campus behavior that is causing the virus to spread.
I am beyond thrilled to have our community back on campus. The Visitation faculty, staff, and administration have dedicated hours to making Viz a safe place amidst a pandemic. Our nurses have spent countless hours in COVID-19 response training and education, including training in contact tracing. We have designated an isolation room where students exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms will be separated from others in our community. We have revised our lunch accommodations and procedures to maximize student safety. We have invested heavily in keeping our building safe and have implemented a strict regimen of disinfecting the campus. (Details can be found on the COVID-19 FAQ page of the Viz website.) We worked with mechanical contractors over the summer to increase the fresh air flow into our building and accelerated scheduled HVAC filter replacement. We are encouraging open windows in classrooms and offices when possible and have expanded our outdoor learning spaces. Mask usage, social distancing, and hand washing will be strictly enforced. The Middle and Upper School principals will be sharing more details regarding student safety in their weekly communications as each of those divisions prepare to return to campus on September 8 and 14, respectively.
I cannot stress enough that if our school is going to be able to continue face-to-face instruction, each and every one of us has to behave responsibly. Our goal is to keep Viz open and keep our community together during these challenging times. To do this, we need to dedicate ourselves to responsible behavior.
I thank you in advance for doing your part to keep our community safe. By wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, not gathering in groups, and staying home when you or those you live with are ill, you are helping us maintain face-to-face instruction for our students. We know that the times ahead will be filled with challenges. If we all, however, come together and look out for the common good of Visitation Academy, the St. Louis community, and indeed the nation, we can get through this.
Yours in Christ,
August 28, 2020
There have been some very encouraging developments over the past few weeks regarding COVID-19. The number of confirmed cases is down almost 50 percent in St. Louis County, the test positivity rate has dropped, and the infection rate has slowed. There was a spike in positive cases among adolescents earlier this month, but those numbers have trended downward over the past two weeks.
Due to these improvements in containing the spread of COVID-19, we are accelerating the process of resuming face-to-face instruction. Visitation Academy’s Middle School and Upper School will phase back to full-time, face-to-face instruction. The Middle School will return on September 8 and the Upper School will return on September 14 for full-day instruction. The beginning of each week will focus on getting our students used to our new safety policies and procedures, so those first few days will look and feel different than a normal return to campus. Please view my most recent video which addresses our reopening plans. Our Middle School principal Angie Jung and Upper School principal Terry Murray will be promptly following up on this communication with specific details on exactly how the plan will unfold.
If you and your children prefer to continue with our distance learning option, just let us know.
We are pleased to get our community back together, but I must couple this good news with a stern warning. If we are to remain open as a school, all Visitation families MUST strictly adhere to practicing safe behavior at all times.
- Wear a mask
- Practice proper social distancing
- Avoid large gatherings
If more than five percent of our school population (adults and children) – approximately 35 people – test positive, we face the very real prospect of being closed by St. Louis County. We must be responsible citizens if we are going to successfully stay open.
We also are modifying our policy regarding students who exhibit symptoms. We are requiring that students who exhibit symptoms of illness stay home from school until the child has been symptom free for 72 hours. While we recognize the inconvenience this places on families, we also are concerned about the health and safety of our community. Please stay-up-to date on our latest health and safety policies published on our COVID-19 page of our website.
Lastly, I would like to extend a thank you to everyone in the Visitation community for your patience throughout the past few months. We have lived through uncertainty, instability, and constant change. I am inspired by how many of you reached out with words of encouragement and support. The ability of our Visitation community to truly live our charism of love is inspiring.
I look forward to seeing you all very soon.
August 10, 2020
Dear Members of the Visitation Academy Community,
On July 30, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health issued a letter to school leaders that has forced us to reevaluate our reopening plans for August 20. The letter states in part:
Given the fact that most St. Louis County schools open their schools in a few weeks, it is unlikely that the spread of the virus will be sufficiently controlled for 300,000 students and 25,000 teachers, in addition to thousands of other staff members, to attend school full-time without the risk of significant outbreaks. Therefore, it is the recommendation of the Department of Public Health that all schools start the year in as virtual an environment as possible to protect students, staff, and families.
Upon discussion with local authorities, consultation with health experts, and much prayer and reflection, to ensure the safety of our community and minimize the potential of an outbreak, we have made the decision to bring students back on campus in phases. Please click here for a video message from me regarding this decision. This phased-in approach allows us to better monitor those on campus, analyze and make adjustments to our COVID-19 response plan, if necessary, as our on-campus student population increases, and scale up safely to full-time, on-campus enrollment.
Middle and Upper Schools:
We have made the very difficult decision to begin the school year in distance learning mode for the Middle and Upper Schools through September 30.
Distance learning is no one’s first choice, but for the Upper and Middle Schools, it is the right choice at this time. This will not in any way be similar to our spring experience, where we worked with what amounted to “lockdown” restrictions imposed by the County. It is our full intention to phase Middle and Upper School students back on campus as soon as is safely possible. In mid-September, we will evaluate the current conditions and let the community know how we can best proceed. In the meantime, we will be working to bring Middle and Upper School students on campus in small groups for clubs, campus ministry programs, tutoring, etc., as quickly as possible. These opportunities will allow for much-needed social interaction, while also letting us implement our COVID-19 safe processes and procedures on a small scale. We will slowly, safely, and responsibly increase the number of students on campus, with the ultimate goal of being fully back together. We are being careful in our method, but this comes from a commitment to the health and safety of our community. We are eager to bring everyone back, but as educators, we also want to make sure we get this right.
Our Middle and Upper School students have proven they can succeed with distance learning, but there will be some substantive changes in how we conduct our distance learning programs. We have listened to the feedback we received in the spring and over the summer and have worked hard to make the most of distance learning. Our teachers have spent many hours over the summer in professional development in such areas as improving our usage of technology in distance learning, subject-area content, and teaching methodologies. Our principals and class moderators also are working to create experiences for our students to maintain their connections to classmates and teachers. Our counselors and campus ministry programs have been preparing to ensure our students’ spiritual, social, and emotional health. Mrs. Jung and Mr. Murray will send out the specifics of our distance learning plans shortly.
The Lower School will be open for in-person, on-campus learning with a radically-modified structure and schedule. Dr. Albert will communicate the details to families shortly. We are confident we can reopen our Montessori through Grade 5 program safely for three primary reasons:
- With smaller class sizes, the Lower School will be able to maintain self-contained classes, with minimal to no contact with other students and only a handful of adults. There are fewer moving parts in the Lower School, whereas Middle and Upper School students have different classes and teachers that require constant movement and therefore increased contact exposure;
- Smaller class sizes in the Lower School also allow for easier contact tracing if someone contracts COVID-19; and
- Recent research shows that children younger than 10 transmit the virus to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. Lower School students and their teachers will return with very strict guidelines for mask wearing, social distancing, minimized movement during the day, and a zero-tolerance policy for illness and symptoms.
Our highest priority and the driver of every decision we make is the health and safety of our community. We have consulted with numerous medical and health professionals, deliberated over recommendations from the County, listened to our faculty and Viz families, and taken into consideration the recommendations from such organizations as the CDC. We have been blessed to speak to many parents and community members in the healthcare profession and their advice, wisdom, and suggestions have been greatly appreciated. We have run scenarios and pursued multiple approaches, but ultimately, Visitation Academy has a moral obligation to protect both the children and the adults at our school in light of COVID-19.
We understand the challenges these changes put on all of us. I understand the special burden this puts on parents. I also understand the burden on our students. Our children miss their daily routines and seeing one another. They miss social gatherings and things like clubs, athletics, and even lunchtime and recess. It has been remarkable how much they miss school.
While not being together physically is indeed a challenge, our Viz spirit is something we take with us wherever we may be. Our charism of love is the very thing that gets us through these times and keeps us together, despite being physically distant. In a recent correspondence with Sister Mary Grace, she gave me advice that will stay with me forever: “Fall back on St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis de Sales. When you have to make a decision, ask for God’s help, think through the pros and cons, go with what seems to give your heart the most peace, then decide and move forward…and in that spirit of peace, move forward.”
We are taking the best measures to do what is right and are planning to come back together as soon as possible. We have included links that outline our divisional distance learning plans and specific calendar dates for upcoming events. Our principals also are following up this letter with more specific details about our program for the next six weeks. As always, reach out to me or your divisional principal with questions.
Though we are disappointed that the year will not be starting out as we had hoped, we are delighted to welcome everyone back, whether on screen or in person. We are excited to see what the 2020-2021 school year brings, and are confident that our students, faculty, and staff will have a wonderful year.
God bless you all and please be well.