From the Head of School: Resuming In-Person Instruction

January 6, 2022 / 4 Shevat 5782

Dear Golda Och Academy Community,

Let me begin by thanking our faculty and staff, students and parents for their positive attitude and flexibility as we have pivoted to address the latest challenges of the pandemic. Although there were many Covid cases in the community over break, we can be grateful for the mildness of most infections, the success of our “beta” testing in school last Sunday, and the high quality of remote instruction during this week of gateway testing. Our gateway tests this week came back with a lower positivity rate than was reported over break. 

Looking ahead, we will resume in-person instruction on both campuses as expected on Monday, January 10. Studies have shown the importance of in-person learning on not only the academic but also the social and emotional levels, and we are deeply committed to student wellness across the board. Students and staff who are still isolating after positive tests will receive accommodations for remote instruction.

We intend to continue universal weekly surveillance testing through January. Please schedule your tests either through our BackToWorkSystems provider or through any of the options available across the community. We know that it has become challenging to schedule tests and that turnaround times are often slower, but we expect these experiences to improve and hope that the current wave of infections will soon recede.

Given the highly infectious nature of the current variant, we will take extra precautions in school to limit the spread of the virus. Our prior mandate for all staff and visitors to be fully vaccinated will now include a booster requirement. We have delayed the high school musical and paused inter-school athletic competitions for one week. Stay tuned for updates on other extracurricular programs. 

The weather will be colder next week, but we will still eat outside except when conditions are very wet and windy, so please dress your students warmly! Masks continue to be mandated in school; indeed, we encourage our community to “upgrade” mask practice by using the highest quality masks that can be tolerated by students and by wearing masks consistently in public. 

Our student vaccination rates are currently 95% in the Upper School and 80% in the Lower School. Many students are now eligible for booster shots, and we are pleased by recent news of approval for children aged 12-15 to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech booster. We encourage all booster-eligible students to proceed with their third shot and update their records in Magnus. Those who are age-eligible but do not receive the booster shot, may in the near future be required to quarantine following exposure.

Unfortunately, we still have many unvaccinated students, and this is a cause for great concern. We worry for the health of these students and also for the health of their vaccinated classmates and teachers who are at risk of breakthrough infections, especially for those with health conditions that make this virus especially dangerous. The percentage of patients hospitalized with Covid who are children has risen dramatically in America, and almost all seriously ill patients are unvaccinated. 

Several new studies of the now nearly 9 million children aged 12-15 who have been vaccinated confirm the safety of these vaccines and the dangers of remaining unvaccinated. I recommend viewing this ten minute video from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which reviews the data about Covid vaccines for kids in great detail. We implore those who are still hesitant to speak with their physicians and follow their guidance. Once the FDA and CDC move to full approval of the vaccine we will also move to require it for our students by the fall, if not sooner. We will continue to follow the best medical advice available from our own physicians, the NJ Department of Health, and national bodies such as the AAP, CDC and FDA.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge the toll this ongoing crisis has taken on our social, emotional, and spiritual lives. It is easy to be drawn into the details of logistics and lose sight of the sheer exhaustion and sadness of living with so much illness for so long. We plan to address the emotional and spiritual aspects of the pandemic as a community in the coming months.

With blessings for the health and resilience of your family and with gratitude for the kindness and support that we all share for our students.

Rabbi Danny Nevins