November 3, 2020
Dear LTS Family,
We are in the throes of pandemic mitigation fatigue. Fatigue weakens our motivation, warps our risk perceptions, and overwhelms our decision-making processes. We are eight months into this pandemic – and now the craved warmth of the holiday season looms.
The Vermont Department of Health warns of the dangers of holiday travel. In the words of Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, “The bottom line is that small gatherings can have a big impact — something to keep in mind as the holidays approach. It is best to not travel at this time. Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home may be the best way to protect yourself and others.”
Vermont leads this nation in preserving our citizens’ health, so these exhortations deserve our attention. In a private conference with Vermont heads of school, Secretary of Education Dan French advised that his most pressing worries surround Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We at LTS can be proud of what we have accomplished thus far. We have succeeded because everyone is doing their part and we have come together to confront the spread of the virus.
To continue to provide in-person instruction, we must humbly discourage you from traveling outside of Vermont, including for the holidays. If you travel outside of Vermont, you must abide by Vermont quarantine requirements when you return. Quarantine requirements will prohibit coming on campus for 14 days (or 7 days followed by a negative PCR test, which means 8 to 10 days). Practically, a student who travels out of state for Thanksgiving will finish 2020 in ABBA distance learning, which, to be sure, is an option in which we are heavily invested.
We also ask that you strongly consider not inviting out-of-state friends or family to Vermont for Thanksgiving. Dr. Fauci recently explained that his adult daughters will not be visiting for Thanksgiving. Stick with your nuclear family. Travel puts people at risk. As provided under Vermont regulations, “if you are hosting travelers under quarantine in your home … you need to stay at least 6 feet from the people who are under quarantine and sanitize heavily used surfaces. People under quarantine should wear a mask in common spaces, use a separate bathroom, eat separately, and otherwise not be in close contact with the people who are hosting them.” Thanksgiving Dinner increases everyone’s risk. Who eats turkey with a mask?
We believe the greatest educational value arises from in-person instruction. That can only happen if we all make our health and safety our collective priority. Our communal health relies on honest information. We are not pulling any punches: in what would be the profoundly disappointing event that I come to believe that our LTS families cannot adhere to the Vermont quarantine rules, we will suspend live instruction between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This aspect of our school’s direction and safety is up to you.
As you know, Vermont updates its cross-state travel map every Tuesday. This map has become more restrictive as infection rates across the Northeast have significantly and rapidly increased. Please note how few counties in the Northeast outside of Vermont remain green and clear of quarantine requirements. Travel within Vermont still does not require quarantine.
We recognize that this season of our lives, at any age, is beyond stressful – and constraints on relationships with family and friends only compound our grief for what we are missing. Our school mental health professionals – Patricia Swayne, Cindi Mowry, and Peg Gregory – are here to support our students and faculty in every way.
So I do not morph into the Grinch who Stole Christmas, we will defer the school’s start after the New Year from Monday, January 4 until Thursday, January 7. Then, the following three days – January 7, 8, and 11 – will be virtual parent-teacher-student conferences for Grades 8-12 by appointment and for Grades 6-7 by invitation. There will be no classes on these three conference days. The first day of live instruction on campus in the New Year will be Tuesday, January 12, 2021. This change means that anyone who travels out of state for Christmas can return to Vermont by Monday, December 28 and then meet a 14-day quarantine period. Likewise, any LTS family hosting visitors can send your guests on their way home by Monday, December 28 and observe a 14-day isolation or quarantine period if need be.
In most cases, the application of State travel and quarantine rules will be straightforward. But for help in analyzing a closer issue, we have set up for you an LTS Travel Council comprising Stephenie Frawley (our School Nurse), Scott Magrath (our Health Officer), and Katie Redding (our Health Communications Manager). To reach the Travel Council, please email Travel@longtrailschool.org. The Travel Council’s interpretation will be final. Whenever the judgment call is more restrictive, let’s remember that the saboteur is the virus, not the State or Long Trail School.
One expert I pay particular attention to is the epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. I leave the concluding remarks to Dr. Osterholm, on NBC’s Meet the Press:
“If you really love your family, you won’t go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas and end up infecting Mom or Dad or Grandpa and Grandma…. This is our Covid year. Let’s accept it. It’s not like last year, and it’s not, hopefully, going to be like next year. But I have seen far too many situations where family get-togethers — even weddings, funerals, family reunions, birthday parties, graduation parties have happened where someone brings the virus into the household, unknowingly. Then four weeks later, at least one or more of the family members are dead. You know, no one wants to be responsible for that. So if you really love the people that you have in your immediate family, think through this. And actually do them the greatest gift of all, and that is distance yourself this year and don’t expose them.”
Every LTS student and teacher are your family too.
Thank you for your continued trust in us.
Stay safe, kind, and hopeful,
/s/ Seth Linfield
Head of School