Announcing Our Updated Back-to-School Safety Protocols | Aug 13, 2021
Dear IST Families,
This year, Trailblazers will benefit from the closest thing to ‘normal’ that we can provide – a return to our full program, complete with shared activities, sports teams and extracurriculars, and the joy of really being together as they learn and grow. Our important safety protocols aside (which are discussed in detail below), this upcoming year is a return to IST the way we know and love it, and I can’t wait!
Last year at this time, our IST leadership and board of trustees developed our “IST Together” reopening plan and protocols that allowed us to have a healthy in-person school experience. We were able to navigate the ever-changing waters of the global pandemic in our shared effort to keep our students and families safe by constantly monitoring and considering a multitude of sources, guidelines, recommendations and advice. We made it a point to delve into the specific assumptions and conditions that supported each so that we could implement a policy that we felt was best tailored to our school community. Those sources included: American Academy of Pediatrics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, World Health Organization, CDC, Texas Education Agency, Texas Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Texas Governor, and Austin Public Health. In addition, throughout the past year and a half, we’ve been in consultation with Austin Public Health, several other independent private schools, and the Texas Private Schools Association to learn about and share best practices.
For the 2021-22 school year, we’ve built our protocols utilizing the same foundation as last year but enhanced with the benefit of 18 months of experience. We still fervently believe in the importance for each one of us, as part of the IST community, to review the relevant health and safety guidance, talk to our health care providers, and to take personal accountability in taking reasonable precautions both on and off-campus. However, in light of current conditions in our area, including the announcement by Austin Public Health that Austin is in its highest stage of COVID-19 community spread, we have made the decision to adjust our safety protocols to include, among other things, a temporary return to our mask policy from last year, where masks are required for all adults and students in Grade 1 and up.
We feel that these revised protocols, which are detailed below, will provide IST with the best chance to have a successful and healthy start to the school year, while allowing us to deliver the closest to full level of programming as possible. It is our intent is to continually evaluate local conditions as well as our own campus health. If the infection rates within our campuses are low, and the community spread is decreasing, it is our intent to move to our original plan where masks are “optional but supported.”
I know that we are all ready for a true return to normalcy, but I ask that you stick with us in our journey for just a bit longer – we need your help to get to the finish line. With our collective effort last year, we were able to make it through the entire school year with zero instances of on-campus COVID-19 spread. It’s our hope and belief that we will again be able to come together and achieve that same level of success and care for our IST community. We know that this is hard and remain grateful for your support!
Tim Reilly, Head of School
IST Safety Protocols
for the 2021-22
Temporary Mask Mandate,
Grades 1 and up
As the current level of infection in the Austin area is high, we will be temporarily reinstating our mask mandate from last year — masks will be required, while indoors, for students in Grades 1 and up as well as all adults on both the Hudson Bend and Bee Cave campuses.
Please know that our temporary mask mandate is largely in response to the current Stage 5 heightened stage of COVID-19 community spread in our area. As the situation improves, it is our intent to return our mitigation approach to where “masks are optional but supported.”
Masks optional but supported
for Junior Prek, Prek and Kindergarten
As was the case last year, masks will be optional but supported for our Lower School students (JPK, PreK and Kindergarten). This guidance is in keeping with the WHO’s recommendation that children aged 5 and under should not wear masks. It is also informed by our experience with students in these grades from last year, and decided in deference to their social and emotional health as well as their ability to learn and interact meaningfully together. In addition, we will also retain a moderate level of cohorting for each of our Lower School classes.
Students in these grades are welcome to wear masks at their parents’ choosing, and students in masks will be supported by their teachers and fellow classmates with kindness and inclusion. Mask-free breaks will be incorporated into the students’ schedules and masks will not be required while outdoors.
Speaking of the outdoors, our younger students will also regularly make use of our beautiful outdoor learning areas that exist in abundance around our Lower School Building. In addition, our JPK and PK students have a dedicated area of the playground, and our Kindergarten class has an amazing outdoor covered patio which is frequently used as an extension of their classroom – I’d be willing to bet it has the best view of Lake Travis in the area.
There may be certain circumstances in which masks are required, even for our Lower School Students. For example, masks will be required for all riders on any school transportation while the temporary mask mandate is in effect.
Last year, we observed strict cohorting between grades. This meant that a student in one class generally did not interact with students in other classes. Given the normal level of collaboration in study and play between our Trailblazer classes, this precaution was especially challenging. This year, we are eliminating many of these barriers for our G1-G8 students as we return to our full programming.
While Austin remains at a heightened level of COVID community transmission, we may take some precautions like utilizing the car line for afterschool pick up (versus dismissing from the gym), utilizing outdoor classrooms for lunch and not having everyone together in the assembly hall for PYP weekly assemblies. Please keep your eyes out in upcoming days for detailed emails about daily schedules and procedures for drop-off and pick-up.
In addition and as mentioned above, for our Lower School Students (JPK, PreK and Kindergarten), we will continue to utilize several of the cohorting procedures from last year:
- Lunch: will be held in their indoor classroom or their outdoor classroom as weather permits
- Recess: K is on their own, but JPK and PK will be together on the same playground for morning recess, but separate for the afternoon recess
- Restrooms: JPK and PK will share the large bathrooms, but will go at separate times. Kindergarten will have their own assigned bathroom
- Learning Specialists:
- Music will travel to the classrooms
- STEM will take place in the lab but their class times are staggered so they will not be passing each other
- Spanish and Mandarin will travel to the classrooms for JPK and PK. Kinder will walk to the Spanish and Mandarin classrooms
- Students will travel to PE since most PE classes are held outside. Inside classes will be in the gym but will not be mixed
- Early Bird Dropoff: Lower School students will be separated from Upper School students by at least 6′
- Club Trailblazer: Lower School students will be separated from Upper School students by at least 6′
- Note re: Art and STEM Afterschool Clubs (Kinder only): Kinder students will NOT be kept apart from other Upper School participants and will be required to wear a mask while inside while our temporary mask mandate is in effect.
We plan to offer our full slate of extracurricular activities including our early bird drop-off program, before school and after school clubs, and team sports. The same protocols that apply during the school day will generally apply before and after school. For example, while our temporary mask mandate is in effect, masks will be required indoors for most clubs. The only exception is Club Trailblazer, which will be split so that the Lower School Students (JPK, PreK and Kindergarten) can remain inside while unmasked. All other clubs, including those in which Kindergartners may enroll (e.g., Art and Stem), will require masks while inside during the mask mandate.
You can view a list of our extracurricular activities and registration details here.
Quarantining / Close Contacts
We learned last year that the precautions we took, which included masking, cleaning the air we breath, and use of outdoor space can greatly minimize the probability of COVID-19 transmission on campus. Because of this, in-classroom exposures in which both parties were masked will not be required to quarantine unless an extenuating circumstance exists where two masked individuals were known to have been in prolonged close contact. Further, vaccinated individuals that are exposed to a COVID-19 case will not be required to quarantine. We will evaluate off-campus exposures on a case-by-case basis.
Although we are no longer required to conduct contact tracing, we will continue to do so. Parents of close contacts will be notified, even if they are not required to quarantine. In addition, we will provide the opportunity for anyone who is identified as a close contact to take a rapid test administered by Nurse Hannah (with parental consent). It is our hope that this will support our goal of preventing interruptions in students’ attendance while increasing our shared peace of mind.
Please note for our Lower School Students (JPK, PreK and K): unless the students are masked, close contacts of a COVID-19 case will be required to quarantine for up to 10 days if they remain asymptomatic. With respect to extracurricular activities, if a Lower School Student participates in an indoor extracurricular activity while unmasked, they would likely have to quarantine if another student in that activity tests positive for COVID-19. We will continue to refine our quarantine protocols throughout the year, and Nurse Hannah will work with parents to determine the necessity and length of the quarantine period.
Please be assured that our teachers will work with any students that must miss school due to illness or quarantine.
If an individual who has been in school is test-confirmed to have COVID-19, IST will notify its local health department, in accordance with applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations, including confidentiality requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Areas that are heavily used by the test-confirmed individual will be closed off until the non-porous surfaces in those areas can be disinfected.
If your IST student tests positive for COVID-19, you should let Nurse Hannah know immediately, and she will help you to determine your safe return to school utilizing our re-entry criteria (at least 24 hours have passed with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications; improvement in symptoms; and at least ten days have passed since symptoms first appeared or, if asymptomatic, the positive test date). As mentioned above, our teachers will work with any students that must miss school due to illness or quarantine.
Although we are no longer required to notify families of positive cases on campus, we intend to continue being as transparent as possible. To that end, emails will be sent by campus to notify families of any on-campus COVID-19 cases. In addition, we will also send emails to anyone in the same classroom as a positive COVID-19 case during the contagious period (48 hours prior to symptom onset, or positive test).
As mentioned above, contact tracing will be done for any close contacts and they will be notified, keeping in mind that quarantining of masked students or vaccinated students will not be necessary unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Daily Health Screening
We found that families meaningfully evaluating their children’s health at home every day is an effective first line of defense. In fact, we found it to be much more effective than a daily electronic form or car line temperature check. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we all make the commitment that if any of us is sick, we stay home. If your student has begun experiencing any of COVID-19 symptoms in a way that is not normal for them, they should stay home.
We know that there are still other illnesses that share symptoms with COVID-19. As always, you should consult with your doctor if you have any medical questions.
Vaccines are not required for staff or students. That being said, there is consensus at the local, state and national level that vaccines are our most effective defense against the COVID-19 virus for eligible individuals. In fact, 95% of our staff and teachers are vaccinated, creating a learning environment that provides a greater measure of safety. Within our Lower School, 100% of our teachers and learning specialists are vaccinated.
If your student has been vaccinated, and you would like to provide that information, we will provide a mechanism for you to do so. Nurse Hannah will gather and compile COVID-related health data from our community on an ongoing basis through the year, and student vaccination information is helpful in that regard.
Practices for a Clean and Healthy Campus
We will continue with many of the changes and enhancements we have made to our campus and campus operations during this time, as well. Last year, IST invested in technology to clean the air indoors. Every office and classroom is equipped with a HEPA air purifier, and we added ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) to the air conditioning systems on both campuses. UVGI has been identified as an advanced air cleaning technique for addressing COVID-19, with a proven track record against bacteria and viruses such as influenza. As we did last year, our teachers will continue to work with students to prioritize hand and face hygiene.
Our students will be provided with delicious and healthy lunches from our new lunch vendor, each of which will be individually boxed and labeled with the student’s name. We know that many of our students enjoy eating outdoors in the sunshine, and we encourage this wholeheartedly!
Our beautiful outdoor classrooms are also ready and waiting for students. Each grade has dedicated outdoor learning space so that our teachers can provide their amazing lessons in a beautiful outdoor setting when weather (and allergy season) permits.
One of the things we have missed the most is events where we can be together as a community. We are still planning to have events this year and we look forward to having our families on campus. At present, we are planning to move forward with outdoor events where we have plenty of space to spread out on our two amazing campuses.
We are also tentatively planning to have indoor events but will be evaluating each event on a case-by-case basis and will make the determination whether to offer a virtual option in addition to or in lieu of an in-person indoor event.
All of our safety protocols, including our temporary mask mandate, will be applicable for all events that take place on campus. Families should understand that these events are optional, and we encourage families only to attend if they are comfortable doing so.
As our community begins this school year, it is vitally important that we communicate clearly, promptly, and with responsiveness. We will keep this community updated on all aspects of our shared role in this year, from protocols to specific health and wellness considerations on both a classroom, campus, and school-wide basis.
In turn, we encourage you to do the same. When school starts, Nurse Hannah will be your point of contact for COVID-related matters just like Nurse Charlotte was last year. To make it easy, you can simply email [email protected]. If your child is sick, Nurse Hannah will help you determine when they may safely return to school.
As we move forward into this school year, I am both excited and hopeful. We have shown how strong, resilient, and responsible we are as a community. I have no doubt that we will continue to work together, evaluate changing circumstances, and adjust our protocols and shared behavior to maintain the safety, health, and happiness of our students. I have said this many times, and it is always true: I am honored to be a part of this amazing community. I know that together, we will have a wonderful year.
(Last Updated 8-13-2021)