Two Sides of the Same Coin

This week the pressure is on to deliver two superficially conflicting messages. First, the
hardworking volunteers and staff here at school want to be sure everyone knows about
the Fall Fest coming in two weeks— Friday evening, November 4– complete with a high school play performance to cap off the festivities. And second, concerns about the uptick in COVID cases grow increasingly audible, prompting questions about what we should be doing in response. Contrary to what you might think, these two messages can and should coexist, and here’s how:

At the conspicuous risk of dredging up hard memories, let me empty my cup about what happened when the virus emerged back in 2020, back when a number of us were washing our groceries and setting our mail aside to decontaminate. That was tough stuff. Schools vowed, almost unanimously, to follow CDC guidance to the letter. Past that, we invested in special equipment for cleaning door handles and scrubbing indoor air—it was a kitchen sink approach. It was all we knew. We spent untold hours and many full days doing meticulous and imperfect contact tracing. In my case, back then across the street from Vanderbilt Medical Center, we volunteered for a saliva-based testing trial protocol for anyone interested.

And what did we learn in the ensuing year, after quarantining hundreds of students for the equivalent of thousands of school days? It turned out that in-school transmission proved exceedingly rare, and it almost never happened outdoors. What we documented instead were cases acquired at home, resulting from prolonged direct exposure, and often from parent to child. Sleepovers were culprits more than study halls. Our caution was, in hindsight, completely understandable, but once vaccines arrived and masks were available at scale, perspectives changed, and we understood the reality of endemic following pandemic.

That’s all to say that we’re in a different time, learning to live with this virus, with its mutations, and to take it seriously in a new way. The CDC no longer recommends contact tracing, nor does it tell us to take illness lightly. The clear and unalterable wisdom centers on a simple and essential message— monitor for symptoms and stay home when not feeling well. Test when you’re not certain whether it’s flu or COVID or allergies or some other bug. This, after all we’ve endured, is the real new normal. And life goes on. What’s the alternative?

Schools need to live that message and avoid ever creating the impression that faculty, staff, or students should come in when sick— period. That’s the best way to stave off ever having to take a collective break to stop a larger wave from forming. What each of does affects all of us—and it always will. Let’s commit to putting these lessons to work and learning as we go. Hence the email message from us earlier this week asking for teamwork. Get that bivalent booster—I just got mine last week and it’s great to read about the robust protection it offers from emerging variants.

Meanwhile, preparations for our Fall Fest in two weeks continues in earnest. Please answer the call for volunteers and circle that date. Getting families together to appreciate the goodness of this school community is a healthy thing in its own fundamental way. We can do it and do it right— outdoors under the stars. From all I can gather, this should be something extra special, so get your scrip in advance and thanks in advance to everyone who’s pitching in on all fronts, grade by grade, feature by feature.

Take a moment to appreciate our HS varsity girls volleyball team, newly crowned KIF Champs. They’re off to O’ahu next week to represent us, having earned that opportunity through a season’s hard work, culminating in a marathon match on Tuesday where they rallied pretty amazingly when the chips were down. Watching them excel in front of a great crowd reminded me both how important these competitive moments are for students and how important it is for us to share times together, safely. 

Enough for now—see you on campus,