When the COVID-19 shutdown began in March of 2020, we had no way of predicting the extent to which the coronavirus would impact every aspect of our lives or that, as a country, we would still be struggling to manage the pandemic years later. Today, we continue to be faced with significant fluctuations in the spread of the virus throughout the country as well as mixed messages from government officials about how to manage the pandemic and about what is deemed to be safe. While safe and effective COVID-19 vaccinations are now widely available to individuals over the age of 6 months, COVID’s ever-evolving nature and new variants mean that we must continue to stay vigilant. In this context, we (and all schools) are being forced to rely on the most updated thinking available to make decisions about the safest plans for our communities.
In the midst of all of this uncertainty, Seneca Academy has been able to remain nimble, act swiftly, and stay grounded in our mission to provide an engaging, challenging, inquiry-based education that supports the intellectual, physical, and social-emotional well-being of all of our students. Our intentionally small size has allowed us to respond to the individual needs of families and teachers while being adaptable and flexible in the face of a complex and rapidly changing landscape. Our amazing village — including our talented and dedicated staff, our thoughtful and strategic Board, and our passionate and committed families — has demonstrated once again its ability to come together and forge a way forward. The operating plan that we are sharing here is the result of many hours of consideration, conversations, and consultations with experts, families, and professionals. It is our hope that the level of detail and flexibility in the plan will allow us to offer the best possible program to your children while remaining true to our mission and responsive to changing local conditions and new research. That said, this plan is a living document, and is subject to change according to emerging guidance from health authorities.
In creating this plan, our team of educational, mental health, and medical professionals took into consideration the regulations and information provided in the Maryland Department of Health and Department of Education’s K-12 School and Child Care COVID-19 Guidance (revised July 2022), the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) guidelines on Safe Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools and COVID-19 Guidance for Operating Early Care and Education/Child Care Programs.
We also reviewed the guidance offered by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health as well as numerous plans issued by other independent schools. Throughout the planning and updating process, we collaborated with the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools and consulted with our local health officials.
Health and Safety Plan
Seneca Academy’s COVID Health and Safety Plan emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies to provide the greatest amount of protection for those in our village that are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated for COVID-19, as well as for those who are immunocompromised or otherwise at high risk for contracting severe COVID and/or Long COVID.
School Commitments and Communication
- Seneca Academy will emphasize the importance of community and “building a village together” in all communications with students, faculty/staff, and families.
- Seneca Academy will promote behaviors that are proven to reduce the spread of illness, including but not limited to: staying home when appropriate, normalizing the correct and consistent wearing of face coverings, having adequate supplies on hand, and proper hand-washing and respiratory etiquette.
- Seneca Academy will teach and encourage positive mental health through the use of anxiety-reducing strategies, mindfulness practices, and developmentally appropriate resources.
- Seneca Academy will closely monitor Montgomery County metrics and will continually reevaluate conditions in order to ensure the safety of our own community as well as the broader community at large.
- Seneca Academy will follow best practices and guidelines for operating schools during a pandemic and will be in close communication with other independent schools in our area regarding these.
Masks, Respirators, and Face Coverings
- Seneca Academy strongly recommends that everyone at school consistently and correctly wear masks when the Montgomery County COVID-19 Community Level is categorized as “high” by the CDC.
- Masking may be temporarily recommended or required in local outbreaks, high risk situations, or, more broadly, when COVID-19 community transmission is high.
- Per CDC guidelines, Seneca Academy will require CDC-approved masks to be correctly and consistently worn by anyone who is a known contact of a COVID+ individual for a minimum of 10 days following their last contact (with the exceptions of eating, drinking, and during brain rest); the length may vary depending on local or state regulations.
- High-quality masks (N95/KN95/KF94) are encouraged. Staff will wear at minimum a disposable surgical mask if they are a close contact.
- Cloth masks must be two or more layers of fabric; must completely cover the nose, mouth, and chin; and must be secured to the head by ear loops or fabric ties. Cloth masks must be laundered after each use; disposable masks must be appropriately disposed of after each use.
- Gaiters and masks with valves do not fulfill CDC face covering recommendations and may not be used at school in lieu of a disposable or cloth mask.
- All individuals participating in a school-sponsored field trip may be required to wear masks while off campus except if eating/drinking, depending on current COVID transmission metrics.
Hand-Washing and Sanitizing
- Each classroom is equipped with a sink and hand soap; all individuals will be instructed to wash their hands immediately upon entry into any classroom.
- Students, faculty, and staff will also have hand-washing built into their daily schedule, including before and after eating.
- Bathrooms will be equipped with signage about hand-washing procedures as a reminder of best practices.
- Though we recognize that hand-washing is the best practice to control the spread of germs, and while hand-washing will be both scheduled and encouraged, there will also be hand sanitizer stations placed strategically around the school building in high-traffic locations. (Please note that preschool students will not use hand sanitizer.)
- All classrooms have windows that are able to open.
- Each classroom is equipped with its own HVAC unit that is equipped with MERV 13 filters.
- Air filters will be changed regularly.
- All students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, must participate in weekly surveillance PCR testing for the duration of state-provided funding.
- Free PCR tests will be performed on campus each week by Capital Diagnostics, supervised by school staff. Results will be submitted directly to both families and the school.
- Parents have the option to obtain alternate PCR testing through another care provider and submit negative results to the school each week.
- Surveillance testing may be required at other key times during the year, such as before/after special events or when returning from school breaks.
- Electrostatic sprayers with a cleaner labeled to kill coronavirus will be used to disinfect classrooms at the end of the day.
- The building will be rigorously cleaned by professionals nightly as well as over the weekends.
- All cleaning products will meet or exceed EPA disinfection criteria and will be stored safely and correctly.
- The school has the capacity to add deep cleanings as necessary.
- In accordance with current best practices, individuals who are not enrolled at or employed by Seneca Academy must wear a well-fitting mask when inside the building in the vicinity of students or staff and complete the school’s Health Screening Form before coming on campus.
- Maintenance workers will be allowed on site for essential work only and will be required to follow the school’s health and safety practices as stated in this document, including completion of the Health Screening Form before coming on site.
- As is the usual practice, Seneca Academy’s exterior doors will remain locked at all times.
- Visitors may be asked to take a rapid antigen test before participating in on-campus special events.
- Faculty and staff will have a health screening form to fill out daily before arriving on campus.
- All parents will have a health screening form to fill out daily for each student enrolled at Seneca Academy.
- Seneca Academy will train all faculty/staff on the proper use of PPE (including gloves, masks, and face shields), proper hand-washing technique, and appropriate environmental cleaning practices.
- Seneca Academy will keep Certified Medication Technicians on staff who will work under the jurisdiction of a delegating nurse.
- Seneca Academy will have staff members trained in CPR/First Aid, per the requirements of the Maryland Office of Child Care.
- If an individual begins showing signs or symptoms of illness outside of school hours, the school must immediately be notified via the school’s designated texting line. The school will respond with pertinent guidance about protocols.
- If a student comes to school with signs of illness or develops any symptoms of illness while at school, they will be masked and wait for pick-up in a dedicated space that is directly supervised by a Certified Medication Technician. This space has direct access to its own bathroom.
- If students have allergies or other health issues that could be mistaken for a COVID-19 symptom, parents should have their medical professional provide a note delineating the symptoms and guidance on when the presence of those symptoms should require clearance from a medical professional.
- The school is required to call parents/emergency contacts to immediately pick up their child if the child begins exhibiting any symptoms of illness. Parents will be expected to pick up their child within the hour of being called.
- Students who have been sent home due to symptoms of illness may only return to school once they have fulfilled requirements to do so. See Direct COVID-19 Response for more information.
- Any students or faculty/staff that must leave school and/or stay home due to symptoms of illness will be provided with information in writing delineating the process of returning to the school building.
- All first aid will be provided in the classrooms rather than in the office, if possible. Masks and gloves will be worn by faculty/staff when providing first aid.
Food and Drink
- All faculty and staff will be informed of students’ food allergies/sensitivities and trained in proper protocol for allergen exposure.
- Lunches and snacks will either be brought from home or purchased in advance from a third party as organized by SAPA.
- There will be no sharing of food or drink between individuals.
- Preschool students will be served snacks daily by the school, per Maryland Office of Child Care regulations, unless they have food allergies, in which case they will bring their own snack to campus.
- Elementary students are asked to bring a reusable water bottle daily.
Direct COVID-19 Response
- The school will facilitate distance learning beginning on the second full day of absence for any student who needs to self-isolate due to symptoms of illness or COVID-19 diagnosis, and who is physically well enough to participate.
- The school will follow the most recent version of the MDH/MSDE Guidance for COVID-19 Symptoms, Isolation, and Quarantine, along with direct and specific guidance from the Montgomery County Health Department and the Maryland State Communicable Diseases Summary, to determine when a symptomatic individual should be excluded from school.
- Parents must notify the school if their child has been exposed to a suspected positive or confirmed COVID-19 case, or if any member of their household tests positive for COVID.
- Symptomatic individuals may return to school once all of the following are true:
- they have tested negative on a rapid antigen test;
- their symptoms have improved;
- they have fulfilled all Communicable Diseases Summary requirements; and
- they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.
- Upon return, they must correctly and consistently wear a CDC-approved mask at school until they have tested COVID-negative on a second rapid antigen test taken more than 48 hours after the first negative test.
- Click here for a flowchart detailing the return process.
- An individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 may return to school once all of the following are true:
- at least 5 days of isolation have elapsed;
- their symptoms have improved; and
- they have tested negative on a rapid antigen test.
- Per CDC guidelines, if they return before 10 days have elapsed from symptom onset or diagnosis (if asymptomatic), they must correctly and consistently wear a CDC-approved mask until they have tested COVID-negative on a second rapid antigen test taken more than 48 hours after the first negative test.
- Click here for a flowchart detailing the return process.
- Known close contacts of COVID-19 positive individuals must correctly and consistently wear CDC-approved masks for a minimum of 10 days following their last contact (with the exceptions of eating, drinking, and during brain rest); the length may vary depending on local or state regulations. See Face Coverings section for more details.
- If a suspected positive or confirmed COVID-19 case occurs within our community, the school will inform exposed individuals and appropriate authorities, including the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, taking into account local, state, and federal privacy regulations. The school will comply with all guidance and instructions from public authorities, which may include but are not limited to: required masking, monitoring health conditions of exposed students, contact tracing, a temporary closure of the school for cleaning, and/or a period of distance learning for one or more classes.
- Seneca Academy will follow all travel advisories issued by the CDC and local public health officials.
This document was last updated in August of 2022.