From the Desk of the Head of School- January 28, 2022

Dear Harding Academy Learning Community,

It is hard to believe that we are already at the end of the first month of 2022! It has been quite a month, with a lot happening here on campus. Perhaps one of the best examples of that activity is the 2nd grade play which was performed for students, faculty, and parents this past Tuesday and Wednesday. It was wonderful to have our students back in the theater speaking and singing in front of their family and friends. 

It was a moment of normalcy that crystallized the urgency with which we need to get back to the regular rhythm, rhyme, look, and feel of the school experience. So, beginning on Monday, February 7, 2022, we will move to a mask optional default position. 

As I have said many, many times: these last (nearly) two years have been extraordinary. In the Spring of 2020, we completely upended the school experience - moving to a totally virtual platform. By the 2020-21 school year, we moved into an in-person and on-campus hybrid virtual/in-person instructional model dictated by social distancing and cohorting. By the beginning of this school year, our school operations have almost completely come back to normal, but we continue to have to manage the implications of positive cases on campus and the disruption that provides. Now, we are coming out of the Omicron surge with the only remaining reactive risk mitigation measures being universal indoor masking and quarantining positive cases. 

As you all know from your own experiences, the weighing of risk has been the defining factor in decision making as it relates to the pandemic. We have received new and updated data, been offered different guidance, seen said guidance revised, seen said data updated - rinse, repeat - and worked to make the best decision for the learning community as a whole. As you have seen from the dashboards each week, our cases are coming down. Additionally, the overall student vaccination rate of our school is 60% (54% in Lower School and 77% in Middle School). Our faculty/staff vaccination rate is 97%. Our data is trending in the right direction. 

Today, we know that, statistically, kids getting infected with COVID-19 presents a low risk to children for hospitalization. Especially in this current surge, it is becoming clearer that while the contagiousness of the Omicron variant is very high, the potency of the impact of this variant is significantly milder than previous variants. When a child is vaccinated, their risk for hospitalization comes close to zero. There is no doubt we will continue to have cases and some in our community will be sick, but even in this most recent surge, our COVID-19 absentee rate never crested above 5% of our student body. This isn’t any different than what schools have always had to manage during the winter months when sickness typically pushes absentee rates up from the norm. 

Families of all but a handful of our students have had ample opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In this context, it is time to shift the risk management back to our families, who make these decisions all the time across myriad categories (to fly or to drive; swimmies or no swimmies; attending a sporting event chaperoned or unchaperoned, etc.). It’s time to move back to normal. 

We will, of course, continue to support faculty, students, and families who choose to wear a mask in school. While Moira Clark and our team of nurses will continue to enforce the guidance around masks and isolation that we have in place for those students or adults who test positive for COVID-19, it is clear that Moira needs to move back to a more normal operating position as well. Over the last two years, she has been on what amounts to a war footing -  accessible at all hours via phone, text and email. I would humbly ask that we all understand that this is not the normal amount of accessibility for a school nurse, and manage our expectations of communication to be during and around the regular school day. Hers has been a herculean set of tasks and Moira has created some really informative and helpful frameworks of action and FAQs that I strongly encourage you to read closely, as doing so will go far in reducing the unsustainable workload Moira and her team has taken on since 2020. 

Thank you for your support of Harding Academy.

Inspiring The Mind  •  Nurturing The Spirit