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COVID-19 School Information & Messages

July 8, Update

Dear Cottage Parents,
 
We are getting excited about the start of school and the chance to be back with you and your children once again! I wanted to offer some Cottage-specific information to accompany the school wide COVID-19 policies that you received last week.  These may evolve in the weeks to come, but I want you to feel confident that we are doing all that we can to have your child’s classroom experience change as little as possible while keeping the safety of all of our community in mind. 
More than anything, I want to reassure you that we are planning to do just what we have always done - love children within a fun and nurturing environment where the focus is on play and the development of independence for each unique child.  What lies at our heart will remain the same.
 
Our plan is to remain on campus for as long as the government allows, which I believe is the best possible situation for children, teachers, and parents to maintain some consistency even if community health is uncertain.  Should the need arise for the other divisions of the school to revert to distance learning, either fully or as part of a hybrid on-campus/distance plan, we will remain in session as usual for as long as we can. 
 
In looking to balance the open-ended learning structure that we love with the need to keep our environments safe, I have realized that we are actually well-prepared to comply with the regulations from the state and the CDC. Because our teachers are already diligent about cleaning and sanitizing and we have a wonderful resource in Eileen Smilari, our school nurse, much of what we will change will come down to details.
 
Examples of the wonderful parts of our program that will not change this year include:
 
  • Children will still build amazing structures with blocks.
  • Babies will still be rocked as they take their morning bottles.
  • Toddlers will still have hilarious conversations at the lunch table.
  • We will still cheer for the garbage trucks from the top of the Jack and Jill hill.
  • Big kids will still conquer the climbing wall, the shaky bridge, and the rope swing. 
  • Children will learn content, emotional skills, how to be a friend, how to speak up for themselves, and how to wash hands.
  • Lunch will still arrive hot and delicious at the classroom door from the Dining Hall.
  • Our kids will still play on the same playgrounds.
  • Teachers will still plan exciting and thoughtful provocations, photograph your kids in action to celebrate milestones, and communicate with you about how the day has progressed. Temporarily, this will be handled exclusively via Hi Mama and email, but we look forward to the time when we can resume face-to-face conversations in the mornings and afternoons. 
  • We will still be a community and I will still marvel at our faculty of amazing role models and advocates for children who will go above and beyond to help the families in our community.  
 
Here are some things that will be new in August:
 
  • Arrival: All children will arrive and leave via curbside carpool on Haring Rd. Parents will not be allowed to walk their children beyond the gate or to the classroom for safety reasons and it is preferred that parents remain in their vehicles at pick up and drop off.
o    Oak and Cypress classes will be a part of the Lower School carpool in the horseshoe driveway and Cottage and Chapel groups will enter through the gate between George Cottage and the Merrick Art Building. If you have children in both areas, you will need to go through both carpool lines. No children will be allowed to enter on the Green Acres side of campus. A map of traffic flow will be shared before the start of school. 
o    Classroom teachers and personnel from Ochsner Health System will be at the gate each morning to greet and help your child from the car after completing the health and temperature screens. Your child will be walked to the classroom by a familiar teacher and will begin the day as usual.
o    In an effort to provide a safe experience for all children at StM and to achieve common hours for our school day, we have changed the daily schedules in all four divisions to allow for morning health screening, extra cleaning, additional passing time, and altered class structures. We will begin screening and admitting children to classes in all areas of the school at 7:30.Our gates will remain open until the universal 7:55 am start time or the majority of children have arrived. Beyond this time, families will be admitted by calling the Cottage office. Someone will then meet you at the Haring Road gate to administer the health and temperature screens and walk your child to his/her room.
 
  • Temperature checks and health screens: Screening will be done for anyone coming on campus and will take place for the children before they exit your cars. You will be asked a number of questions regarding their health over the past 24 hours. If there is any evidence of illness, you will be asked to contact your child’s pediatrician before attending school that day. 
  • Dismissal: At 3:15 pm, the gate between George Cottage and the Merrick Art Building will open in anticipation of our 3:30 dismissal. Lower School carpool will begin at 3:30. Our suggestion is that families with children in both areas visit the main Cottage carpool first before looping back to the Lower School line. Teachers will have walkie talkies to communicate from the carpool line to the classrooms. Each student will be escorted to the carpool line and assisted into the car. 
o    NOTE: In an effort to maintain our health protocols, we will be unable to walk children between the Lower School and the main Cottage to meet their siblings. As with arrival, you will need to go to both locations for pickup.
 
  • Aftercare: Aftercare will be held by age level in each of our buildings - infants and ones in the Cottage; twos in the Chapel; threes in LS16.
o    When possible, the children will spend the bulk of their time outside to minimize exposure to the virus and promote physical distancing.
o    When parents arrive, they should call the Cottage office to have their children escorted to the carpool line and assisted into the car. If we have a large number of families arriving at a common time, we may explore having a second round of “carpool” using the open gate and the walkie talkies as above.
o    NOTE: In an effort to maintain our health protocols, we will be unable to walk children between the Lower School and the main Cottage to meet their siblings. As with arrival, you will need to go to both locations for pickup.
 
  • Health Policy adherence: We are going to adhere very closely to our health policy to prevent the spread of any illness, so be aware that even those with mild symptoms who might have been allowed to stay at school in the past will likely be sent home or for further medical evaluation. Keep in mind that after so much time away from group care, it may take a little while for all of us to return to the previous level of immunity. 
  • Face Coverings: Face coverings will be worn by all teachers and personnel. Though not required, children over the age of two will be allowed to wear them, as recommended by the CDC, as long as the child will wear it willingly without teacher intervention.
Success at preventing the spread of the virus depends on continued compliance with guidelines in place from the local authorities and the CDC regarding physical distancing, mask usage, and handwashing. We ask that you continue with these protocols at home to better maintain our community’s health. 
  • Classrooms: Heightened cleaning guidelines mean that some classroom items have been removed or traded, but our teachers are already working to maintain the cozy and welcoming environment that we love! Foam squares will replace rugs; cushions on the rocking chairs have been swapped with patio cushions that can be easily cleaned; a new supply of vinyl babies have been ordered; and sofas, pillows, and any fabric items that cannot be sanitized are in storage. We ask that you help us to maintain the health of our classrooms by only sending the requested easily washable items for use at rest. Toys from home should not leave the car!
  • Physical Distancing: Each class will stay primarily in their main classroom and we will design our spaces and activities to encourage physical distancing as much as possible.  
o    We will begin the year with one class at a time in each space without mixing groups; we hope to be able to combine by age groups inside and outside soon after based on the overall health of the community.
o    To prevent interactions between groups or divisions, we are suspending visits from Upper and Middle School helpers and whole-school events like pep rallies. Access to other areas of campus will be limited to avoid crossing paths with older students and routes for walks or buggy rides will be chosen to minimize non-Cottage interactions. Our younger classes will be placed into buggies or strollers in a configuration that allows for distance between children.
 
  • Playground: Outdoor free play is an important part of our curriculum, and continues to be a priority. Classes will use the playgrounds and other accessible areas on a daily basis while encouraging physical distancing. Individual groups will rotate onto the playground during the morning and afternoon with time in between for cleaning. Once a class leaves the playground, the cleaning crew will clean the equipment properly before another class enters the playground. Opportunities to visit all appropriate outdoor spaces will be scheduled so as to prevent overlapping of age groups. 
  • Limited Campus Access: Access to campus will be limited to employees, students, and essential vendors who will be asked to abide by specific protocols. In a strategic effort to keep our school healthy, all other persons shall refrain from visiting campus, except for daily carpool and student pickup. 
o    Parents will not be allowed onto campus except for previously approved meetings; even then, they will not be allowed into our buildings. This means that some traditional community events will need to change or be rescheduled.
o    We will not have outside teachers for music, Soccer Shots, etc. for the fall semester and Beyond the Bell (after school enrichment classes) will delay any offerings until later in the fall.  We are planning to include many of these activities as part of our regular curriculum.
o    Therapists and other consultants will be allowed to provide services on campus, but will do so in a location apart from our classrooms. Children will be delivered between the classroom and the therapist and back again for each session.
 
  • Meals: Snacks and Lunch will be brought to the classrooms, as usual, and children will eat in their rooms at tables spaced to preserve distance between eaters. Each child will have an individual water bottle or sippy cup to be used during outdoor play and that is accessible in the classroom.  These cups will be stored and transported in containers that will prevent contact between personal items.
  • Supplies: Each classroom will have a supply of learning materials, toys, and art tools to be used exclusively within those rooms. Toys and high traffic items will be removed and cleaned after use and art supplies will be provided in individual amounts to discourage common use. All items in the classroom are chosen for ease of cleaning and sanitizing will be an ongoing practice throughout the day.
  • Cleaning: We have increased our cleaning crew to be able to meet the demands at this time. 
o    Restrooms and high touch areas will be cleaned hourly by trained cleaning staff using CDC recommended cleansers. They will check for adequate supplies of soap, paper towels, and hand sanitizer, as well.
o    Diaper areas will be cleaned per our usual sanitation protocol after every child. 
o    As much as is possible, children will use the restroom or have their diapers changed within their primary classroom to avoid cross-class interactions.Classroom teachers will also continually clean and sanitize toys, high-use materials, and furniture, and will monitor all children and areas of their classrooms for additional needs. Teachers will change clothes (for themselves and their children) should items become soiled or covered in bodily fluids. 
 
  • Hand washing: Students will be encouraged to wash their hands with soap and water using the proper procedure when entering and exiting the classroom as well as before and after diaper changes and before and after snacks and lunch. They will also be encouraged to wash their hands every 1 to 2 hours while in the classroom. If hand washing is not accessible, hand sanitizer will be used under strict teacher supervision.
 
  • Communication: We do not want to change the closeness that you feel with your child’s teachers, but this year, parent communication will rely on documentation and conversations via HiMama, email, or old-school phone calls since we will not be able to have the face-to-face meetings of the past.  While we hope to resume these in-person conversations soon, I have no doubt that our teachers’ relationships with children will grow just as they always have and that they will work to discover ways to have those same solid connections with you. You are always welcome to call me directly - 736-9901 - or to email me at any time with concerns or to share exciting or fun news!
 
  • What to do…
o    If your child is sick - Stay home. It is important that everyone works together to keep our community healthy. While we know that this may be inconvenient, especially for working parents, it is vital to maintaining the overall health of our children.  
o    If your child gets sick while on campus - We will notify you at once about any perceived illness, especially when accompanied by fever or any respiratory symptoms or if it is determined that the child should be isolated. Should this be the case, your child will stay with a Cottage teacher in the isolation area adjacent to the nurse’s office.  It is expected that you will respond promptly to this notification and will come within the hour.  If you believe that it may be difficult for you to respond quickly, please make sure to share with us the contact information for someone who may be more readily available. Upon arrival, you will be alerted about what will be required in order for your child to return (length of exclusion; possible doctor’s note; proof of medication or treatment given; etc.).
o    If your child is exposed to someone who is sick on campus - We will send a notice to any families whose children are exposed to any illness while at school.  For typical childhood illnesses (Fifth Disease; Hand, Foot, Mouth; RSV; Lice; etc), we will continue to follow our protocol of alerting parents via note and email with information about the disease, any symptoms, and recommended steps for prevention or action.  For more contagious illnesses, we will notify you once we are made aware and will let you know what requirements we must follow regarding quarantine, medical follow-up, testing, and date of return.  Note that should your child be exposed to COVID-19, you will also hear from the Department of Health with further information.
 
I know that this is a lot to throw at you at once, but I want you to have plenty of time to digest it and to realize that what truly makes the Cottage special will not change. Children are resilient and will adapt to our new protocols quickly.  I understand that it may take a little longer for you to feel comfortable with this “new normal,” but our summer program has helped us to see that this structure still allows for a lot of fun and is not as restrictive as we might have thought.  The kids have already embraced carpool, even the infants and ones, and I think it may actually grow to be something that we love for the independence that it brings. 
 
I am available to answer any questions that you have and am grateful for the nervous excitement that comes as we approach the start of a new year. Enjoy the rest of your summer!  I look forward to the great experience to come!
 
Together We Are Saints!
Holly
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