Yesterday, Austin Public Health (APH) moved Austin-Travis County into Stage 4 of its COVID-19 Risk-Based Guidelines.
In Stage 4:
Higher-risk individuals (those over the age of 65 and those who have chronic medical conditions) should stay home, except for essential trips such as buying groceries or seeking medical care.
Lower-risk individuals should avoid social gatherings, any gatherings greater than 10 people, and non-essential travel.
Businesses and restaurants asked to voluntarily reduce capacity to 25-50%.
Recommend schools limit attendance at sporting events to players, coaches, and parents.
With the holiday season quickly approaching, the Austin Montessori School Risk Management Team is working to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure in our communities. After much consideration, we have decided to move our Upper Elementary and Adolescent communities to At-Home learning for a period of time after the Thanksgiving and Winter Holidays.
For Early Childhood and Early Elementary children who will return to in-person learning after the holidays, we again ask that families adhere to the APH holiday guidelines. The CDC and Austin Public Health advise against travel and against gatherings with people who do not live with you during this holiday season. Should you have plans to travel or gather with individuals outside of your immediate household during this season, we request that you self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to school.
At-Home Learning for Upper Elementary and Adolescent Levels: The goal of the remote learning period for our older students after the holidays is to avoid a risk of community transmission and increase the chances that in-person learning will remain an option for the remainder of the school year. Austin Public Health is encouraging everyone to minimize social gatherings during the holidays; however, we anticipate increased exposures in a time when local transmission rates are rapidly increasing. We also recognize that many colleges will be sending students home, which could increase family exposure. We hope this quarantine period after the holidays will serve as a "contact break" to mitigate risk. For this to work, we ask for your commitment to follow APH's recommendations: to continue being vigilant by practicing good hygiene, maintaining physical and social distancing, and wearing face coverings to prevent the disease from spreading to help keep each other safe. Avoiding gatherings outside of your household is especially important this holiday season. The City of Austin’s COVID-19 holiday safety recommendations can be found here.
Why are only Upper Elementary and Adolescent Levels moving to At-Home Learning?: The analysis of data around infection rates has consistently shown that younger children are not infected with the virus at the same rates as older children, adolescents, and adults. New research has shed light on the reasons. Children have lower levels of the receptor that SARS-CoV-2 needs to invade cells in the lung. These receptors have been shown to begin to increase around the onset of puberty. This is one explanation for why the rates of infection in children appear to increase around the age of 10. In light of this research, the increase in infection rates in the Austin area, the coming holiday gathering risks, and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to move to remote learning for this population. We also considered the school's ability to take this prudent measure while continuing to provide a positive and effective learning experience for the children in those communities.
Return to In-Person Learning
Upper Elementary: Upper Elementary communities will begin At-Home learning on Monday, November 30, and return to in-person learning on Monday, December 14, 2020. At-Home learning will resume after the Winter Holiday break on January 6, 2021, with in-person learning resuming on January 11, 2021.
Adolescent: Due to the logistics of the model at Gaines Creek, the adolescents will be in distance learning for all three weeks between Thanksgiving and the Winter Holiday break. Remote learning will resume after the Winter Holiday break on January 6, 2021, with in-person learning resuming on January 11, 2021. At-home learning will follow the model used at the beginning of the school year. Guides from the Upper Elementary and Adolescent communities will communicate with families by Saturday, November 28.
Early Childhood and Early Elementary: Our Early Childhood and Early Elementary programs will return to in-person learning on Monday, November 30, 2020. To make this as safe as possible for all, we again ask that everyone adhere to the APH holiday guidelines. The CDC advises against travel and gatherings outside the household during this holiday season. Should you have plans to travel or gather during this season, we respectfully request you self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to school.
BinaxNOW Rapid Testing for Staff: Through the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Austin Montessori School is now a certified COVID testing site. This designation, allowable for independent schools and other groups, allows us a monthly allotment of COVID tests for use with our school community. This program uses BinaxNOW tests, which provide results in 15 minutes and are administered using a nasal swab in the nostril's front area. These tests have been shown to be highly accurate, with accuracy rates of 97-98% for symptomatic individuals. In an ongoing effort to keep our in-person communities safe, we will be using the tests to screen all in-person staff for COVID-19 prior to returning to campus following the Thanksgiving and Winter Holiday Breaks. Our rapid test allotment allows us to conduct weekly rapid test screenings for staff between Thanksgiving and the Winter Holidays. After the holidays, we will test staff on a bi-weekly basis. We also have the capacity to test children who develop symptoms at school with parental permission or request.
I want to thank everyone for your collaboration and partnership so far this year. I am truly humbled by how our community has united to develop and adapt to essential safety practices in and outside of the classroom. It has been a joy and a privilege to be on campus, living, and learning together.
We still have a long way to go, and continued support will be critical to keeping our community healthy in the weeks ahead. Your support means more than you know.
As always, please stay safe and well.