OHS Taskforce Implements Strict Guidelines

Mask requirements, social distancing among other requirements

By Sarah Youngblood

Oak Hall School has been preparing for a safe return to school since March and has new protocols for this school year in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while giving students a proper, positive learning environment. The school devised a task force, led by Head of School Dr. James Hutchins, to procure a plan of action for the 2020-21 school year. This task force includes a multitude of staff and faculty members as well as a medical advisor, Dr. Mary Grooms to give advice from a medical standpoint. The final, but fluid, plan was published July 7 and they continue to ensure that everything is running as smoothly as possible.

Oak Hall’s Director of Auxiliary and Operations, Jeff Malloy, is also the chairman of the taskforce. His main task was guiding the rest of the committee to ensure all faculty, staff, and students would be safe upon their return to school. Malloy noted that the re-entry plan had a test run during the summer camp program the school hosts every year. The school’s summer program ran for seven weeks with one occasion where it was shut down for four and a half days “in an abundance of caution” Malloy explained. 

“It is for these reason we have grade level cohort groups in the Lower School, assigned seating the the Middle and Upper schools, and a sign-in system for general areas in use by high school students.”

– Jeff Malloy on extra steps Oak Hall is taking to ensure contract tracing is possible.

The school is following all Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. Students, staff, and faculty members are required to wear face coverings inside all buildings on campus at all times but may remove masks outside as long as social distancing guidelines are followed. Social distancing guidelines pertain to within the buildings as well, and teachers are instructed to monitor that students are keeping proper distance from each other. Every morning students, faculty, and staff must go through a mandatory temperature check where they are given stickers which allow them to enter the buildings. Any person that has a temperature of 100 degrees or higher will be sent home. There are numerous hand sanitizer stations in each division’s building as well as inside each classroom. In order to reduce traffic in the hallways, the Middle and Upper Schools have implemented a two-bell system that lets out two grades at a time and alternates which grades go first every week. In the Lower School, the school’s website explains that “fourth and fifth grade lockers will be grouped by class to reduce cross exposure.” All information on the procedures can be found on Oak Hall’s website via https://www.oakhall.org/covid19 . This plan of action is constantly being reviewed in order to keep families updated on the latest developments.

In the event that there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the school’s community, Oak Hall states that it plans to seek guidance from the Alachua County Health Department. The infected person will either be sent home or kept home and the school will be prepared to disinfect and possibly close a classroom, division, grade, or office depending on the recommendations of the health department. “There are certain thresholds within the Oak Hall Community that would trigger a need to shift to online continuous learning at the class, division, or school level,” Malloy said. “We would look at [the] class, division, or school positivity rate as well as an overall rate of on campus students, faculty, and staff that either have the virus or are impacted by quarantine,” he continued. When asked about whether there have been any confirmed cases on campus or within the community, he assures that “we are monitoring some situations, none of which are currently a direct threat to our community.” Malloy, along with other faculty members did training through the Johns Hopkins Contact Tracing Course. “This course helped us learn the right questions to ask and how to track positive cases that are a direct threat to our community,” he noted. Because of the training, the school implemented “grade level cohort groups in the lower school, assigned seating in the middle and upper school, and a sign-in system for general areas in use by high school students,” Malloy explained. 

Signs are abundant around campus, reminding students, faculty, and staff to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash their hands

Oak Hall seniors Caroline Jurecko and Amelia German feel safe returning to school, “…as long as everyone wears a good mask and wears in correctly,” German said. Like German, Jurecko is happy to be back, but notes the adjustment period has been difficult, especially with the congregating of students on campus.  She hopes the teachers will “do more to minimize large crowds of people in the hallways,” she said. German agrees with the problem of congestion in the hallways and adds that teachers should be better monitoring which grades are released from class at the correct bell, although she still feels that “everyone’s in the hallway at the same time even with the multiple bells.”

Malloy feels the transition has been much easier than he originally envisioned. He understands some of the challenges, however, are that students want to be with their friends, which makes it harder for them to maintain the required six feet of distance. The other challenge Malloy claims has “simply been making people understand that their decisions on the weekend could directly impact the success of the school year for us.”