COVID-19 Response and InformationMarch, 2020
The safety and well-being of our entire community are always our first priority. Accordingly, as of March 15th, all students have returned home. Although we experienced no cases of COVID-19, we took this action to protect the Saint Thomas community and to help slow the spread of COVID-19. We hope that this precautionary measure will keep our community safe, help provide essential protection to individuals at risk of severe illness and support critical healthcare infrastructures.
We have been and will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 crisis and follow recommendations from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, and New York State and City Departments of Health as we navigate these uncharted waters.
We are also working in coordination with our governing bodies at National Association of Independent Schools, New York State Association of Independent Schools and National Association of Episcopal Schools and remain in contact with our peer schools.
Senior leadership at the Choir School will continue to meet regularly to guide and plan the Choir School’s continued response to COVID-19, and make plans for re-opening the school when it is safe to do so.
Timeline of actions and decisions taken
March 2: The Choir School advised parents that it was closely monitoring the growing crisis, taking steps to reduce student exposure according to guidance issued by the New York City Department of Health and advised parents to be mindful of CDC travel restrictions when making Easter break travel plans. A letter and Frequently Asked Questions Guide from the New York City Department of Health with information about the coronavirus and general flu prevention measures was distributed.
March 10-15: Under the guidance of Interim Head of School, Amalia Francisco, faculty quickly developed and implemented a plan for distance learning using Zoom and Microsoft Teams in all subjects, including choir, voice, and instrument lessons. All of the boys were instructed in how to use Zoom, including a full, practice day at school prior to the boys leaving to trouble-shoot any issues and ensure a smooth transition.
March 15: All students returned home, bringing their school-supplied laptops with them. Residential faculty and staff remain at the school and are following all protocols to remain healthy and safe. All other faculty and staff are working remotely.
March 17 and 18: Ms. Francisco hosted two online meetings with parents to present more information on the Choir School’s plan, give parents instruction in how to use the Zoom platform, and address any questions and concerns from parents.
March 18: Distance learning began with a full schedule from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. All regular classes continue with both faculty and parents reporting a successful transition to virtual classrooms. Father Turner reiterated the Church’s commitment and ability to maintain the Choir School and the entire Saint Thomas community during this uncertain period and into the future.
March 20: Plans for virtual student recruitment begin to ensure that prospective students and their families can continue to move forward with their applications and auditions.
May 15: The Fall 2020 Scenario Planning Working Group, composed of Mrs. Wentling, Mrs. Allman, Dr. Gilbert, Ms. Hruska, and Ms. Francisco, begins meeting weekly to talk through the different possible scenarios for Fall 2020. Our goal is to think through the number of different paths the pandemic might take over the next several months, and to prepare so that we are ready for whichever scenario we find ourselves in both in September and as the year carries forward. Always, we will be working to keep the health and well-being of the boys and of our entire community at the center of our thinking. Throughout this process, we have come to realize that flexibility and nimbleness will need to be our watchwords as we move forward: with so much information changing so rapidly, we will need to be prepared to adapt to shifting circumstances, perhaps without much advance warning. By engaging in scenario planning at this stage, however, we should be able to take a path that has already been at least roughly charted, and to move between such paths if necessary.
In deciding on the basic scenarios for which to plan, we are taking guidance from the National Association of Independent Schools, the world of higher education, governmental and health organizations, risk management and health experts, and our own invaluable network of peer schools. The collective wisdom of the boarding school community and the New York City school community is particularly instrumental in helping shape our thinking about both the scenarios to prepare for and what form our responses to these scenarios might take.
We hope to have more details of our specific plans to share with all of you in early July. All of the scenarios will likely involve shifts to our typical calendar as well as to some of our practices and policies, but–no matter what scenario we find ourselves in–we plan to continue providing our students with an excellent education, focusing on developing the boys’ musical skills, and working to maintain the strong and close-knit community upon which we build everything else.
Although we will not be in control of all of the factors at play in these decisions, we all feel strongly that prioritizing in-person learning is essential as long as it is possible and safe. We hope to welcome the boys back in September, and to celebrate being able to join together as a community for the first time in months. We also recognize that this year will again be unlike any other and that different kinds of sacrifices will be needed by us all: we thank you all for your continued patience, flexibility, and support, and we are open to hearing any questions or concerns you may have.
We will continue to update this page and send out emails to all community members on changes to this fluid situation and appropriate responses for our community.