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 many months 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. Conclusive scientific findings and effective public health measures are still evolving, with new data and information emerging daily. While safe and effective COVID-19 vaccinations are widely available to individuals over the age of 12, as a preschool and elementary school our students are as yet unable to obtain them. 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 August 13, 2021), 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 process, we remained in close communication and collaborated with the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools and consulted with our local health officials.
Rights and Responsibilities within the Seneca Community: A Village Compact
We are all in this together. The challenges we face in the coming months will require each of us to adapt our behaviors and use good judgement both on- and off-campus; these issues will be compounded if we do not. Abiding mutual respect and responsibility, trust, compassion, and care are essential to Seneca Academy’s ability to navigate this public health crisis as smoothly and successfully as possible. Our interactions with each other should be self-aware, courteous, and kind. This means complying willingly and fully with rules and policies designed to keep our village safe and healthy. It means thinking of others, appreciating that their risk tolerance might be lower than ours, and adjusting our behavior with sensitivity and respect.
Every member of our village plays an essential role in our collective well-being. Knowing that, we are asking that each one of us commit to the following shared expectations and responsibilities:
- Understand and follow the risk mitigation strategies outlined in the Seneca Academy Health and Safety Plan.
- Conduct a daily screen of your child(ren) or yourself (faculty/staff) for symptoms of COVID-19 and complete an online Health Screening Form before arrival on campus.
- Adhere to social distancing guidelines outside of Seneca Academy and reinforce the concept of social distancing with your child(ren).
- Model the use of face masks when required or recommended when outside of your home and discuss with your child(ren) the importance of wearing a mask/facial covering on campus per school guidelines.
- Keep your child(ren) home from school or stay home (faculty/staff) if they/you present with any ONE of the symptoms on the Health Screening Form. Obtain clearance to return to campus from a medical practitioner.
- Inform the school if you (faculty/staff) or your child contracts or is exposed to someone with COVID-19 and comply with any resulting quarantine or isolation. If someone in your household is diagnosed with COVID-19, follow the protocols outlined in the Health and Safety Plan.
- Avoid unnecessary travel. Where travel is necessary, comply with CDC and state guidelines and recommendations for quarantine.
- Cooperate fully with the Health Department should a COVID-19-like illness or positive case occur in our community.
Each member of the village will be asked to sign a Village Compact agreeing to accept these shared responsibilities.
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 re-evaluate 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 reopening schools.
Health and Safety Plan
Seneca Academy’s 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. These include, but are not limited to: social distancing, wearing face coverings, hand-washing, increased ventilation, surveillance testing, and symptom screenings.
- All students in a given cohort group will not physically interact with other cohorts of students in the building, to the extent possible.
- Students will maintain at least three feet of distance between themselves and other students in their cohort, combined with correct and consistent mask wearing and other risk mitigation strategies.
- Staff will maintain six feet of distance between themselves and students at all times, unless providing direct support to a student, combined with correct and consistent mask wearing and other risk mitigation strategies.
- When in use, desks will be spaced a minimum of three feet apart and/or be separated by physical barriers.
- A physical barrier/sneeze guard will be placed in the front office reception area where it is difficult to socially distance.
- Safe circulation patterns will be established for drop-off, pick-up, and any other time that requires multiple cohorts of students to travel simultaneously on campus.
- Drop-off and pick-up times will be staggered.
- Social distancing will be maintained during preschool and kindergarten brain rest times by strategic head-to-toe placing of students, as far apart as possible. Towels and/or blankets used for brain rest will be sent home daily for laundering.
- Large gatherings (all-school assemblies, special events, etc.) will not occur in person until a COVID-19 Operating Plan is deemed no longer necessary. Monthly Seneca Academy Parents Association (SAPA) meetings will be held online until further notice.
- Parent-teacher conferences will be held in person if social distancing requirements can be met; otherwise, they will be done remotely. A remote option is available for parents who choose to utilize it.
- Seneca Academy will supply PPE to faculty and staff.
- Faculty and staff will correctly and consistently wear masks or cloth face coverings at all times while on campus, with the following exceptions:
- When alone outside;
- When alone in a classroom or office; and
- When eating or drinking.
- The CDC and the AAP recommend the correct and consistent use of masks or cloth face coverings for all individuals over the age of two whenever feasible; the school will follow this recommendation for students with the following exceptions:
- When eating or drinking; and
- During brain rest.
- To start the year, as we assess students’ ability to engage in socially distanced play, all members of the community will wear masks outdoors, including during P.E. class.
- 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.
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, per Maryland regulations.)
- All classrooms have windows that are able to open.
- Each classroom is equipped with its own HVAC unit that uses ultraviolet light and is equipped with MERV 13 filters.
- Air filters will be changed regularly.
- All students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, will participate in weekly surveillance testing.
- Free 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 testing through another care provider or via an FDA-Emergency-Use-Authorized at-home COVID test and submit negative results to the school each week.
- Signage to encourage social distancing and mask wearing will be placed in classrooms and hallways.
- Bathrooms will be equipped with signage about hand-washing procedures as a reminder of best practices.
- Students will have their own separate materials as much as possible to prevent the need for additional disinfecting. If they need to share, supplies will be disinfected between uses by different students.
- Students’ personal property (backpacks, coats, lunch boxes, etc.) will be separated from others’ property whenever possible.
- The school will avoid utilizing items in classrooms that cannot be easily cleaned or disinfected.
- 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 will not be permitted to visit campus, other than to drop off or pick up a student or employee, until further notice.
- 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.
- Seneca Academy will continue to offer parent programming online and hope to return to a more normal protocol in the near future.
- As is the usual practice, Seneca Academy’s exterior doors will remain locked at all times.
- Classes will utilize the outdoor National Wildlife Federation Certified Schoolyard Habitat and the pavilion on campus as a learning space whenever possible, allowing for social distancing. Tents have also been purchased to create additional outdoor learning spaces.
- Cohorts will have scheduled individual recess times. In the event that recess times inadvertently overlap due to early arrival or late dismissal to recess, each cohort will socially distance from any other cohorts.
- Each cohort will have their own set of materials with which to play outside (hula hoops, balls, buckets, etc.). These will be disinfected regularly.
- All off-campus field trips are canceled until a COVID-19 Operating Plan is deemed no longer necessary.
Daily Health Screenings
- Faculty and staff will perform a self-screening each day before arriving on campus, including a temperature check.
- All parents will have a health screening form, including a temperature check, 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/cloth face coverings, 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 a student comes to school with signs of illness or develops any symptoms of illness while at school, they will wait for pick-up in a dedicated isolation 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 are encouraged to 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.
- If multiple students are experiencing symptoms of illness simultaneously, they will be separated by physical barriers while waiting for pick up.
- Students who have been sent home due to symptoms of illness may only return to school once they have been cleared by a medical professional to do so. (See Direct COVID-19 Response section and/or Parent Handbook 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 a flowchart delineating the process of returning to the school building.
- All first aid will be provided in the classrooms rather than in the office. Masks/cloth face coverings 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.
- All faculty/staff, all elementary students, and any preschool students staying for lunch will bring their own food to campus.
- 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.
- No other external food will be served on campus until COVID-19 guidelines are lifted.
- Lunches eaten on campus will be eaten in classrooms or outside with proper physical distancing.
- Though members of the community will have ready access to water, students are asked to bring two FILLED reusable water bottles daily to decrease the need for on-campus refills during the day.
Direct COVID-19 Response
- The school will facilitate distance learning for any student who needs to self-isolate due to symptoms of illness, COVID-19 exposure, or COVID-19 diagnosis and is physically well enough to participate.
- Parents should notify the school if their child, or any members of their household, has been exposed to a suspected positive or confirmed COVID-19 case.
- The school will follow the most recent version of the Maryland State Decision Aid: Exclusion and Return for Persons with COVID-19 Symptoms and Close Contacts in Child Care, Schools, and Youth Camps, along with direct and specific guidance from the Montgomery County Health Department, to determine when an exposed or symptomatic individual should be excluded from school.
- If a suspected positive or confirmed COVID-19 case occurs within our community, the school will inform the community and appropriate authorities, including the Board of Health, 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: 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.
- All COVID-19-related absences will be excused.
- Seneca Academy will follow all travel advisories issued by the CDC and local public health officials.
- Any unvaccinated Seneca Academy community member who travels domestically outside of the greater Washington D.C. area (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C.) must quarantine for 3 days post-travel, test for COVID-19 on or after day 3, and obtain a negative COVID-19 test result or self-quarantine for 10 days. See CDC Domestic Travel Guidance for further information.
- Vaccinated individuals who travel domestically outside of the greater Washington D.C. area (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C.) must inform the office so that a plan may be made for their return. See CDC Domestic Travel Guidance for further information.
- As of August 23, 2021, reentry to the United States following international travel to a number of countries (China, Iran, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil, South Africa, and India) is currently only allowed for United States citizens. Students or faculty/staff who do not hold United States passports should not travel internationally and expect to return stateside in a timely fashion.
If students or faculty/staff who are U.S. citizens must travel abroad, Seneca Academy will utilize the following CDC guidelines before allowing a return to the classroom:
- Quarantine at home for 7 days following entry into the United States (unvaccinated only);
- Obtain a negative result on a COVID test taken 3-5 days after entry into the United States;
- Avoid contact with others, wear a face covering, and socially distance (6 ft. or greater) if you must go into public; and
- Take and log your temperature twice a day, and monitor yourself for coughing or trouble breathing.
- In the event that Seneca Academy must return to distance learning for a period of time, students may utilize the Zoom, Google Classroom, and Seesaw platforms for both synchronous and asynchronous learning.
- Preschool students may use the Zoom platform for learning, with parental supervision.
- Attendance will be taken daily for students engaged in distance learning.
- Further information is available in Seneca Academy’s Distance Learning Plan, available below.