September 22nd Update

Dear Athena Families of Primary Students,

We are writing to give you reminders as well as an update to our mask protocol for Primary students in the classroom. In a nutshell:

All Primary children need to bring a clean mask to school every day (or five on Mondays);

The guides are conducting lessons around masks, why we wear them, and why they are important to keep ourselves, our friends, and our family members safe;

The guides will be asking all the Primary students to wear them while they are working inside the classroom when sitting close to other students;

They do not have to wear them while working in the outdoor environment, on the playground, exercising, napping, or when socially distanced. Masks are optional during drop-off and pick-up.

As promised, we are giving a month’s notice to ramp up to these new protocols before we start to implement it for the Primary students, and we are customizing the approach in each class to meet the needs of the group and to meet individual needs. This should also give everyone time to find masks that they are happy with. In these first few weeks of school, the children have demonstrated a tremendous capacity to adapt, and have shown us that wearing masks are easy for them, but if, and only if, everyone is doing it. It has been difficult to explain to some children that they need to keep their mask on when other children are not. And it is difficult for teachers to model it for all, enforce it for some, and not enforce it for others. It sends a confusing message to the children if we tell them that masks help keep us safe in a pandemic but not everyone is doing it. It is our job to be clear and consistent in our messaging with the children to be effective and to earn their trust and respect.

We have spent many weeks thinking about this decision, listening to parents, discussing amongst our team, gathering input from teachers, reviewing research, listening to experts, and learning from our observations in the classrooms.

We are a school that puts the health and safety of our community first. I need to be able to look my teachers and my families in the eyes and tell them that I am doing everything in my power to keep them safe while in our care and on our campus. It is a responsibility and commitment I do not take lightly.

The bottom line is new research suggests that to rely solely on identifying symptoms and taking temperatures is insufficient to minimize the possible viral spread amongst children, and children to teachers and families. Instead, infection control measures need to focus more on the strategies of 1. Mask Use, 2. Hand Washing, and 3. Distancing. Because there is no way to guarantee distancing between children of this age group, wearing masks is our most powerful weapon against an outbreak at school. If we know that it is important to wear masks when we are not able to distance to keep ourselves and our friends and family members safe, then we should all make the commitment. And if increasing our mask use helps the teachers and other children in the pod not get sick, then we won’t have to have temporary classroom closures and can provide a better educational experience for your children.

Most children present with mild or no symptoms for Covid-19, but have the potential to carry and shed high viral loads even before symptoms develop, and that when present, the symptoms are non-specific and overlap considerably with non-COVID-related illnesses.

Identifying infection in children will become even more challenging during allergy and flu seasons this fall. The only way to truly mitigate the possible spread of the virus for the safety of all, is to implement a campus-wide mask or face shield requirement.

To be clear, these findings and recommendations contradict the research from the early days of the pandemic but much has been learned since. For these reasons we have re-evaluated our position.

We encourage you to read the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which strongly urges all children ages two and older to wear face coverings.

To those of you with concerns:

Some may feel there is insufficient and inconclusive evidence to support this decision. But after extensive review of literature and expert consultation, there is more than enough evidence to support putting safety first.

Some worry our children are missing out on normalcy. And yes, these times are not normal. But getting back to school was our first step towards restoring normalcy, which is a process we have to take in steps. And teaching our children to live with, and to protect others in a pandemic, is part of our responsibility and is embedded in our curriculum.

Some of you have commented on the weariness of having children wear masks all day long. We are only asking children to wear them during their work period and if they are inside, not all day. And we take frequent breaks from the masks, and rotate time outside where we have them take them off. Think of it as intermittent mask wearing and for relatively short periods of time.

Some feel that it is an inconvenience to remind your child to bring or wear a mask. It will be more of an inconvenience to families if we have an outbreak at school and have to close down the classroom for a period of time. More mask wearing will also help prevent the spread of the flu and other common illnesses, which would be a net positive for attendance. And we will do all the work at school to remind the children (right now the older children are taking care of the reminders for us!).

Some worry about unique challenges individual children may face. Our job as Montessorians and educators is to treat each child uniquely, to hold them as our North Stars, and to evaluate what is in each child’s best interest. If we need to make accommodations and/or exceptions for certain children for certain reasons, we will. And for some children, a kid’s face shield may work better than a cloth mask.

Some of you have voiced concerns for the teachers if we require masks. The teachers are on board and feel that having children wearing masks in their classrooms is in support of their health and safety. They are prepared to create systems for mask wearing in the classroom. They feel it would be easier to have a system that applies to all (or most) of the children, so that it becomes part of what the community is doing together.

It is my privilege to run a school that is a model of health and safety in the community. If we all do our part to look after one another now and into the fall and winter, perhaps we’ll be able to lift the requirements by spring. If we continue with half measures, we may inadvertently and significantly prolong the time we all have to take these measures.

Mask resources, Athena student-approved: Martex Health, Bailey Blue

Face shield resources: Little Lives PPE

To learn more about the facts and science behind this decision, ask questions, as well as learn practical tips for keeping your family safe, please join us for:

Our third Community Gathering with Athena’s leadership team and Sera Bonds of Waking Giants:

Tuesday, September 22, 2020 from 1:00 to 1:45 p.m.

Join Zoom Meeting:

Click Here

Meeting ID: 824 8012 0263

Passcode: 102180

We will post a recording of the session on the private YouTube channel accessible via the COVID page of our website.

For those of you that cannot attend either session and wish to speak with one of your admin team, please call the office and the appropriate team member will return your call as soon as possible. Please note that we will not answer individual emails regarding this change. In addition, please direct all concerns to your administrative team. The teachers will not address mask concerns with you on an individual basis; we ask that any special considerations be directed to a member of admin.

In health and gratitude,

Lisl Friday