After abrupt COVID-19 shutdown, Jesuit High School returns to campus with strict virus mitigation protocols
Sacramento school is open
Seven months after in-person classes were suddenly interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jesuit High School Sacramento is prepared to make its return to campus with a hybrid class schedule and heightened safety protocols beginning Oct. 20.
A lot went into Jesuit’s decision to bring back its students. But even with so much to consider when reopening the campus, safety was always the school’s top priority according to Jesuit President Father John McGarry S.J.
“I do not and did not want to [return to campus] unless we are told by the health experts that it is safe to do so and that we have the approval to do so,” Fr. McGarry said. “We now have that approval and we have lots of things in place to help with the mitigation of the virus and lots of things in place to help with the re-entry to the campus and the mental health and well-being of the students.”
A noticeable change is the separation of students into two distinct cohorts: red and gold, so that only half of the student body is on campus at a time. Students in red will attend campus on Mondays and Tuesdays and learn remotely on Thursdays and Fridays; the opposite schedule will be followed by students in gold.
Additionally, Wednesdays will be a day for students to attend office hours with their teachers, engage in co-curricular activities, get tutored, and take time away from the screen. It will also serve as a time for department meetings, standing meetings, and the Jesuit community to practice Wellness Wednesday. This decision, which has also been adopted by St. Francis, pares down the school week to a four-day class schedule with two hours of instruction across two class periods.
This return to campus is optional for students, who can continue learning online for whatever reason. It is asked that students submit a form to the school that states the decision not to return. Students also have the option to withdraw from in-person classes at any time.
Upon arrival on campus, masks covering both mouth and nose must be worn at all times. Each week, mandatory COVID-19 screenings — administered by a team of medical professionals and assistants from Urgent Care Now and supported by a mobile application from a company called Immunify, are to be taken by all persons in attendance.
These weekly screenings consist of a shallow nasal swab, which takes only a few seconds to complete. During the week of Oct. 12-16, all members who planned on making their return participated in their first COVID-19 screenings. Following the swab, students wait in designated tent areas for results to be uploaded to their personal Immunify account. Last week, the average turnaround time for test results was approximately 22 minutes.
If a student gets a positive test result, he will be required to seek further testing at a local clinic, where the person in question will undergo a “gold standard” PCR test, and be required to go into home quarantine while he waits for the results. If deemed necessary, the county will enact contact tracing at the external level as Jesuit conducts an internal investigation within the on-campus community.
The normal campus flow has shifted to reduce contact. The campus now works in a clockwise direction with “12 O’Clock” being the Dean’s Office. Visual reinforcements mark the circular route and staircases with bright green directional arrows painted into the sidewalk or postered onto signs.
Lunch will be split between the student body with designed “A Lunch” and “B Lunch” based on year-level and location. All meals must be pre-ordered by the previous Thursday and pickup locations differ by class level.
Classrooms are reimagined for safety protocols with plexiglass shielded desks in the front rows and six feet apart for all desks. Each room is equipped with an adjustable camera that will be connected to the Zoom call for students who are attending remotely. Although a sanitation crew will be moving across campus throughout the day, it is advised that desks be cleaned with the provided sanitizing wipes at the room’s sanitation station.
Replacing the Student Activities Office is the Care Room overseen by Ms. Jennifer Riffle, the school’s new On-Campus Medical Professional. This isolated space will be used for students who are exhibiting symptoms, COVID-19-related or not. A medical evaluation will be conducted and corresponding protocols will be enacted as needed.
In a year filled with uncertainty and unpredictability, mental health has become more important than ever. The Counseling Department continues to be there for students and the whole Jesuit community in whatever capacity needed. Director of Counseling Services Ms. Amanda Smith details what the Safe Return Task Force Wellness Subcommittee has done in preparation to support the Jesuit Community both online and in-person:
“The Wellness Subcommittee met in the spring and summer to address areas of impact for our whole school community … with focus on areas of social [and] emotional well-being; counseling resources; mental health awareness; spiritual nourishment; equity and inclusion; and creating safe environments on campus,” Ms. Smith said. “We spent a lot of time on student support in each of these areas and finding opportunities to offer resources, outlets and avenues to connect with others during our time away and in preparation for the return to school.”
Ms. Smith also notes that students can attend and participate in various events and activities surrounding mental health and wellness. On Oct. 28, the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) will give his insights on “good mental hygiene and care during this pandemic.” Additionally, Team CARE is a peer-guided resource for students to utilize for support and wellness.
As students prepare to return, Dr. Wood shares what students should be considerate of with respect to each other, the faculty, and mitigating the virus in order to make this transition back safe and successful.
“The first thing I want [students] to be mindful of is that they are returning to a campus that is different than when they left it and that things will not be the same, at least not at first, and just to come in prepared for that reality,” Dr. Wood said. “As they do come back to campus, [I want them] to be mindful of the mitigation practices we’re asking them to do so they keep themselves safe, their classmates safe, and their teachers safe. They cannot take [safety] lightly, or take it for granted –– they can’t even joke about it because we have to take this return seriously.”
The official return to Jesuit gets underway on Tuesday, Oct. 20 where students in red will be arriving on campus to get their COVID-19 screenings done; students in gold will start on Thursday, Oct. 22. A reminder to all is to be socially distant, practice good sanitation habits, and wear a mask.