Head of School Updates
With the changing nature of COVID spread and response, this page is updated with regular updates by Paul Leaman, head of school.
March 10, 2022
EMS Mask Optional Guidelines
Effective March 21, 2022
Guideline Disclosure - March 21 Onward
- Guidelines are subject to change.
- EMS will continue following the guidelines of the CDC, VDH, and local medical advisors.
- The CDC, VDH are the groups we intend to follow in the event conditions change and merit a return to masking practices or other mitigation measures for public health.
- Masks are optional on March 21 except in specifically designated areas. All students, faculty and staff are welcome to mask (or not) based on their own personal comfort. If a parent elects not to have their child wear a mask, no forms or other notifications to the school are required. Each family’s decision will be respected by all members of our school community. For those who wish to continue wearing a mask, please note that N95, KN95, and surgical masks have been shown to provide a higher level of protection.
Considerations to keep in mind
- Staying home when sick will continue being required as this is the best way to prevent spread of any communicable disease.
- Current understanding is that individuals can choose to dramatically reduce personal risk from getting COVID by vaccination and a myriad of mitigation efforts. Personal choice of wearing a properly fitted N95 or KN95 mask provides significant protection.
- Schools are no longer expected to contact trace within a school setting; however, EMS will communicate with faculty and families when we learn of potential exposure from a COVID positive person and manage quarantine and isolation expectations on a case by case basis as we have since the start of the pandemic.
- Other mitigation measures at EMS will continue as we have practiced this school year. Instructional practices, seating arrangements, in classroom activities, etc. can continue as they have when all students wore masks. The only change is that students may choose whether or not to wear a mask.
Mask Optional - Rules to Date
- Effective March 21, 2022, all faculty, staff, and students will have the option of whether or not to wear a mask.
- A placard will be posted by doorways of spaces where masks are required due to specific concerns pre-approved by administration.
- Masking on buses will follow the latest federal/state law.
- Masks will be optional in the auditorium; however, seating will be spaced for the time being. We will continue livestreaming to classrooms the week March 21, 2022.
- In alignment with updated guidance from VDH, a student who tests positive will be isolated for at least 5 days. If symptoms have improved and no fever is present, the student may return on day 6 only if an appropriate mask is worn consistently and correctly on days 6-10. If a mask is not worn, then the student will return after day 10. (This is current policy and not changing.)
- Parents are expected to notify school if a student tests positive for COVID-19. (This is current policy and not changing.)
Feb. 27, 2022
This has been a week of anticipation with me looking forward to watching 80+ students sing and shine as part of Wizard of Oz this weekend and then to the state basketball tournament starting this week for our boys team. The cast and every support person did a phenomenal job! I am so proud of our students and their accomplishments!
On Friday, our principals gave students a personal update on mask policy processes. Click below for these messages.
EMS’s goal throughout the pandemic has been to navigate unknowns together as a community. This has been stretching at times for all of us. . . but we remain together. Our process this week has been listening to every employee and from medical advisors as time permitted. This weekend the CDC has published a quick reference tool, COVID-19 by County to help communities decide what prevention steps to take based on the latest data. Levels can be low, medium, or high and are determined by looking at hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area. VDH expects to make a new dashboard update on March 8.
EMS leadership met Friday afternoon to review all the information at hand. We predict VDH transmission rates to be in the orange (substantial), yellow (moderate), or blue (low) range by spring break. We also hope CDC’s new COVID-19 by County prevention measures will have Harrisonburg City and all surrounding counties in the medium or low level. The CDC’s latest tool is designed to help communities adjust preventative measures based on local public health needs. At EMS, we will continue mask requirements indoors until March 11 with masks being optional when students return on March 21.
When masking is optional, students will still be expected to have a mask available in case they are in a short-term situation where they may need one. During the next two weeks, we will be clarifying these situations. Additionally, this will give teachers and students time to adjust plans and ready themselves for this new day. The school will continue looking to the CDC, VDH, and our medical advisors for future counsel on best practices of wellness and wellbeing for students and employees of EMS.
With anticipation of the next two weeks as we wrap up the third quarter!
Paul Leaman, Head of School
Feb. 18, 2022
I have been so proud of the way the EMS community has moved together through this pandemic with a lot of learning and important social connections taking place. Thank you for your part in this success! I am confident this will continue and I am so happy to serve as your leader during this time.
It is Friday afternoon and I’m still in communication with our medical advisors, leadership team, and faculty about the timing of our next steps toward lifting the mask mandate at EMS. I’m sure our next steps will be too slow for some and too quick for others; however, I do believe these next steps are important for our community and can be done in ways that honor, respect, and keep everyone safe. Please stay tuned later this weekend for an update on EMS’s plan forward.
In the meantime, I encourage you to read the attached VDH Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools, dated Feb. 11, 2022. It is a 15 page document, so below is my “Paul’s Cliff Notes” summary.
VDH Philosophical Shift: We are at a different place in the pandemic than in the past.
- K-12 students can (and should) be vaccinated and this is the #1 proven effective mitigation for preventing serious illness and hospitalization.
- There are better therapeutics now for treating people who find themselves significantly ill.
- All mitigation measures make a positive difference; however, VDH prioritizes vaccination; staying home when sick and getting tested; physical distancing; and reporting illness with contact tracing as the top four efforts. Masks as prevention have dropped to the bottom.
- Mask wearing has mixed reviews within the medical community. While masks may reduce some transmission when students are in close proximity, others can argue masks create heightened anxiety resulting from the sense of constant fear over them for spreading and/or contracting disease. Parents should have the right to choose whether masks bring their child comfort or instill fear.
Responses to COVID-19 illness: These have not changed (See Flowchart on p. 8)
- Vaccination Status: Isolation, quarantine, and masking requirements vary based on one’s vaccination status for children who become ill or a close contact.
- Testing remains an important tool for screening and determining whether an illness is COVID-19.
In summary, VDH (see their four pages of reference documents) has determined schools as places parents can have confidence that vaccines and other mitigation practices combine together to create safe learning environments with or without masks.
Individually, we’re at different stages. Please look for more information on EMS’s plan forward by Sunday evening. Thanks for your patience so we can move forward together as a community that respects, honors, and learns from each other!
Paul Leaman, Head of School
Jan. 28, 2022
EMS COVID-19 Counts
Some public school numbers have been published in the newspaper and interest has been expressed in learning a similar report from within EMS’s community. These numbers are EMS’s current (1/28/2022) count for quarantines (Close Contacts) & isolations (COVID Positive)
To date, we still are not aware of any COVID transmission linked to being at EMS!
COVID Testing Options
- Routine Screening: Students, with parental consent, may join faculty and staff through a saliva PCR weekly screening. Please look for an email from Mr. King next week if you are interested.
- Diagnostic and Close Contact Testing: EMS has been resupplied with BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Home Tests. These are ONLY to be used for teachers, staff, and students attending in-person instruction who begin exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and/or who are identified as Close Contacts to a verified case of COVID-19. These tests must be proctored through NAVICA, an internet-based COVID Testing service.
EMS, in consultation with our medical advisors, will lean heavily into the counsel provided by the CDC and VDH. This document responds to FAQ’s following Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order 2 and gives important information for school leaders and communities.
Jan. 21, 2022
Guidance from the CDC & VDH from January 6, 2022
Clarity for best practice in quarantine (staying home guidelines when you are a close contact) and isolation (staying home when you are COVID-19 positive) were distributed to schools on Thursday evening. EMS will do our best in following their guidelines as explained in these two links.
EMS will also communicate with your family in cases where we believe your student may have been exposed to COVID-19, or determined to be a close contact at school. We also aim to give you clear instructions for your particular situation at that time.
We continue to feel good about our mitigation efforts at school; however, we also rely on your diligence in keeping students home when any COVID-like symptoms occur. With the Omicron variant, symptoms are often cold-like (scratchy throat, fatigue, congestion, runny nose, or cough) and extremely contagious. Please pay attention to these and stay home if these suddenly arise. We NEED to be able to keep our faculty and staff well for school to function.
The CDC, VDH, and EMS continues to strongly encourage vaccinations and booster shots to help strengthen one’s immune system against this virus. Please consult with your primary care physician if you are unsure about your best response to COVID-19 and this public health concern.
- Booster update! Everyone 12 and older is now eligible for a COVID booster shot at least 5 months after they become fully vaccinated.
- Visitar Vaccines.gov or vase.vdh.virginia.gov to find an appointment near you.
- Now is also an important time for the best possible mask protection for others and yourself. Use of well fitting 3-ply surgical masks, double-masking (for example, top a surgical mask with a cloth mask), or wearing N-95 or KN-95 masks are believed to reduce omicron transmission better than a cloth mask alone.
Thanks for your help and support getting our second semester rolling!