COLORADO SPRINGS. After an extraordinary year of learning to educate during a global pandemic, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Colorado Springs are excited to welcome their students back to campus in person for the 2021-2022 school year. School administrators have worked with health guidance experts to develop a plan for the year that addresses the students’ mental, emotional and physical health.
COVID protocols for all of the schools for the coming year cover immunizations, face coverings, quarantines, hygiene and more. These protocols were developed by a panel of local health experts that includes an infectious disease pediatrician who reviewed working with the recommendations of the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, the Tri-County Health Dept. and the El Paso County Health Dept.
“In developing these protocols, we are trying to protect our students’ physical, spiritual, emotional and mental health while ensuring that they are growing academically,” said Sheila Whalen, Superintendent of Schools of the Diocese of Colorado Springs. “It’s a delicate balance.”
Robyn Cross, principal of St. Mary’s High School, agreed. The protocols she said will be in place to protect the students’ physical health, but the importance of returning to more traditional school environments and activities is important for the students’ mental health.
“What we’re doing takes the precaution for the student’s physical health, but adolescents’ mental health throughout the pandemic has been an issue,” Cross said. “Our goal is to return our students’ school lives to normal as much as possible.”
Health experts agree that the vaccine is the best defense against the COVID-19 virus, and the vast majority of our teachers and staff are fully vaccinated. But COVID immunization will not be required for either students or staff.
Face coverings will no longer be required for staff members or students. However, anyone who wants to wear a face covering will be supported in that decision. The one exception to the no-face-coverings protocol will be when students or staff are on a school bus. Per the state of Colorado mandate, masks must be worn on school buses.
Our teachers will continue to encourage good hand hygiene, and schools will continue to disinfect touchpoints, such as doorknobs, light switches and shared supplies, throughout the day. Use of air purifiers and increased ventilation will also continue.
If a member of our community tests positive for COVID-19 or is presumed positive, that person will be asked to isolate for 10 days from the symptom onset. Additionally before returning to school, the person should be fever free for 24-hours and symptoms should be improving. A fully vaccinated person who has been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus will not have to quarantine. If the exposed person is not vaccinated, the schools will work with the local health department to determine close contacts and if they need to quarantine.
The schools will resume field trips, allow visitors and volunteers back into the school, and lower schools will limit the mixing of classes. Athletics will also return to pre-COVID seasons and spectator allowances.
Both the diocesan kindergarten through eighth grade schools and St. Mary’s High School are prioritizing providing the best in-person learning environment that recognizes the schools’ unique identity as a faith community.
“Based on our experiences last fall with virtual students in a hybrid environment, we learned that there is no substitute for in person instruction,” Whalen said. “So, we will make adjustments as necessary to keep our students in person in our schools.”
The health panel working with the schools, will monitor local numbers of incidence and hospitalization and the schools will modify the protocol plan accordingly.
“It’s important to base our decisions on local numbers,” Whalen said. “Our health experts can look at the story behind the local numbers. This allows for a more complete picture of what is happening in our community. Our local data supports the procedures we’re putting in place and we’ll continue to monitor the data daily.”
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)