Dear Bullis Families,
I had hoped to end the calendar year with a note filled with only joyful thoughts and wishes for a wonderful vacation. While those sentiments are most certainly included, I also need to discuss this infernal pandemic and our ongoing efforts to educate our students safely and support the community.
As previously reported, on Monday, we tested 689 students and received 2 positive results. Yesterday, we tested 523 people and received 7 positive results. This total of 9 positive results is the most we have had in a week since the start of the pandemic. We are also aware of 5 community members receiving positive test results (either rapid and/or PCR) from outside testing in the past week. I am particularly appreciative of those members of the community who, when aware of COVID exposures and/or symptoms, have tested before coming to campus. I am also grateful to those who have recognized the need to leave school early when they have symptoms. Of the 5 community members who tested positive outside of school, 3 reported absolutely no close contacts within the Bullis community.
Given the huge spread in the greater community, these unfortunate results are unsurprising. The increasingly dominant Omicron variant is apparently many, many times more transmissible than the Alpha or Delta variants.
Returning to School After Break
As you know, Bullis has been at the forefront in the region of keeping our students in school, and we are more determined than ever to educate in person; it is crucial for students’ social and academic development. Sadly, there is much discussion in the community about remote teaching after the vacation. Many experts are expecting a huge wave of infections. And while initial studies from South Africa suggest that Omicron may not lead to illness as serious as Delta (especially for those vaccinated with booster shots), the small percentage who do become seriously ill is still a large number.
We have been considering how we can ensure that the school will stay in session on campus in January, even amid very high community spread. In the first instance, we are making two significant changes in January:
- Monday, January 3rd: No School. Faculty professional development day will be carried out remotely as no one will have been tested on campus yet.
- Tuesday, January 4th: No School. Every faculty member and student must be tested at school. Testing will be available from 8:15 am to 2:45 pm in the Blair Lobby.
- Wednesday, January 5th: No School. (Results from testing arrive throughout the day.)
- Thursday, January 6th: School resumes for those with negative test results, and all faculty and students will be tested in school again.
- Going forward, we will PCR-test everyone twice a week - on Mondays and Thursdays. This will allow us to ensure, as much as possible, that people who are infected are not on campus.
I regret that we will not be in school on January 4th and 5th, but with the massive infection rates and the apparent transmissibility, this seems the most sensible thing to do to keep everyone safe and avoid on-campus transmission after the vacation. Despite everyone’s best efforts to be COVID-safe during the vacation, it is possible that there will still be a high number of positive cases. My premise is that if we continually test, have those with positive results isolate away from campus, and maintain our good protocols, we will avoid on-campus transmission. If we avoid on-campus transmission and isolate those who are positive, we can stay at school. I want to explain our thinking now so that you are not surprised when we maintain on-campus, in-person teaching in January even if test results are higher than we would like.
Threatening Viral Internet Messages
You may be aware that rumors were circulating on the internet yesterday about threats to schools nationwide. Official security sources indicated that these threats had no credibility. Nevertheless, we did arrange for a visible police presence on campus throughout the day. The primary purpose was reassurance for those who were concerned rather than a belief that anything would happen.
What a way to end the year! I'm so sorry that I have to write about these things as we head off into the festive period. I don’t believe that these unfortunate circumstances are emblematic of the year Bullis has had. We have persevered throughout COVID, educated our students safely, provided a consistent community resource, and, ultimately, thrived. This is primarily due to our fabulous faculty, both instructional and operational. Bullis is blessed to have amazing people - students, faculty, trustees, and parents. Thank you all for the abundant support you have given to us throughout 2021.
Chair of the Board, Pat Caulfield, and I will write to families at the very beginning of January. In the meantime, I wish you all a truly rejuvenating, fun, and safe holiday. May it be filled with joy, laughter, and love. I look forward to seeing you in 2022.
Christian G. Sullivan
Head of School