Our Future Is Strong, Mask Protocol Update (Edition #18)

Dear Good Shepherd Families,

Thank you so much for taking the time to complete the protocol survey over the past few weeks. Our Protocol Review Team has reviewed the results, and we are ready to announce a change to one of our protocols. 

Mask Protocol for Students:
Overall, our parents are largely ready to move to mask optional. We had 75% who either selected they are already comfortable with a mask optional policy or they would be comfortable when the 5 - 11 year olds could be vaccinated. 

There were two main concerns with this potential shift that emerged from the comments:

  • The biggest concern was making sure students were not shamed for wearing a mask if they chose to do so or for not vaccinating if their parents did not want them to be. Our plan to ease into the new masking protocol allows our teachers time to discuss with students our expectations to support our friends even if their decision is different from our decision.
  • Another concern is whether we will gather COVID-19 vaccination records for students. We do not have plans to collect student COVID-19 vaccination records unless a potential quarantine situation arises for your student. If there is a new legal requirement to collect this data, our plan could change. 

Plan to ease into “Mask Recommended (not Required)” policy:

  • STEP 1: Monday, December 6th - Students in 7th and 8th grades will have the option to remove their masks when they are in their classroom with students from their own grade level. They will still wear their masks indoors in all other situations. During the week after Thanksgiving, our 7th and 8th grade teachers and advisors will work with their students to help them understand this new step and assist them to support their friends who might make different decisions. We will monitor the impact of this step. Please note these students are all over 12 years old and have had the option to be vaccinated since May. 
  • STEP 2: Monday, January 10th - Assuming all goes well with Step 1, we will implement Step 2 on Monday, January 10th, when students ages 5 - 11 have had the option to be fully vaccinated:
    • When outdoors, masks remain optional for all adults and students.
    • When indoors and with students in their own grade level, masks will be recommended (not required).
    • When indoors and participating in activities mixing students of multiple grade levels (Chapel, Community Buddy events, Reading Buddies, etc.), students will wear a mask. Passing periods and hallways will not require masks. 
    • During the week after Christmas break and before Step 2 is implemented, all teachers and advisors will work with their students to help them understand the new mask-recommended protocol and situations when they will still need to wear their masks (when with students from other grade levels). Teachers will also help equip students to support their friends if they decide to make a different personal choice from themselves. 
    • This timing allows for a week after Christmas break for any potential cases from holiday travel to surface. 

Of course, this plan is contingent upon our monitoring of cases in the county and at our school. As we have seen during this pandemic, situations can change quickly. We might need to return to a mask-required protocol at some point in the future. 

Mask Protocol for Employees: 
The masking protocol for adults is a bit different. Depending on the fate of the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), we will be required to ensure any employee who is unvaccinated, or has not reported a vaccinated status to the school, wears a mask indoors and is tested for COVID-19 weekly. This does not mean all faculty and staff members who choose to wear a mask are unvaccinated, as all employees and students will continue to have the option to wear a mask throughout this process. We are continuing to monitor the situation and will keep our faculty and staff updated. 

Mask Protocol for Parents and Visitors on Campus:
Once we move to the “Mask Recommended (not Required)” policy for all students, parents and visitors will also shift to a “Mask Recommended (not Required)” policy. This policy is scheduled to be implemented on Monday, January 10th but is subject to change depending upon the outcome of Step 1, as noted above.

Other Protocols:
In the survey, we also asked about continued COVID-19 testing prior to overnight COE trips, as well as contact tracing and quarantine protocols. While we will be revisiting these protocols in the future, we have chosen to phase in protocol changes with a single factor at a time, beginning with mask protocol, and will revisit other factors after the successful implementation of the new “Mask Recommended (not Required)” policy listed here. At this time, there is no change to our protocols for testing prior to overnight COE trips, contact tracing, or quarantine. 

“Our Future Is Strong” is a series of brief, informative emails/posts which began April 30, 2020 to keep the community informed about our preparations for our return to campus and the ways we will live together as a community during the pandemic. “Our Future Is Strong” will continue periodically on an as-needed basis. We have also posted this series on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) section of our website for your reference.  

Together we are #gsesStrong, 

Julie McLeod, Ph.D.
Head of School