By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Editor | Published November 12, 2020
ATLANTA—Administrators at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta, the Office of Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and Archdiocesan Task Force on COVID-19, are closely monitoring an increasing number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus among members of the high school community.
According to a parent update from Dr. Edye Simpson, principal, on Nov. 10, the total of active positive cases reached 49.
The archdiocesan school was to remain in a virtual learning setting with no extracurricular activities through at least Friday, Nov. 13, with the possibility of an extension of quarantine times.
Cases first surfaced in the days after an off-campus Halloween party was held. School officials learned that 80 members of the school’s sophomore class gathered at the party.
School President Steve Spellman had also addressed sophomore class parents and all parents in a series of communications.
“We are thankful to those families who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to support our school in keeping our student body safe and healthy. This quarantine is most frustrating for you and us, to suffer a setback and lose the invaluable face-to-face learning environment we’ve been fighting so hard to maintain,” he wrote on Nov. 6.
Siblings and family members of students were encouraged to quarantine to reduce further spread of the coronavirus in the community at large. Contact tracing was also undertaken with individuals experiencing symptoms asked to send an email including details on when they last visited campus.
Since schools resumed in August in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, safety measures have included mandated masks for all faculty, staff and students; social distancing at all times when possible; daily temperature taking; air purifiers throughout the campus, plexiglass shields, hand sanitizing stations; frequent disinfecting of all high touch surfaces in restrooms; disinfecting of all desks between each class period during the day and evening hours and sanitizing of all classrooms with a hydrostatic disinfecting sprayer.
Simpson stated in her update that parents would be notified of any new cases emerging. The Department of Public Health has been notified of the cases.
Spellman shared with the school community in August that they never wanted a repeat of what transpired in the spring with the loss of capstone events for the Class of 2020.
“I am disappointed that despite the extraordinary effort and exorbitant expense to the school to ensure a safe environment, we have instances where safety protocols are totally ignored off school grounds,” he wrote in a Nov. 4 update. “Please know that this is not a political or ideological undercurrent or a subject of debate, but one of pure caution to protect our 1,100 students and 150 faculty and staff.”
He asked for help from parents by not allowing mass gatherings, especially ones where masks are not being worn.
The school reopening guidelines set by the archdiocesan task force came from a commitment to follow medical facts and data for a safe opening. The task force members include medical, legal and educational professionals who continue to advise the Office of Catholic Schools during these times as guidance is made available by the CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health. The 24-page document issued in early July by the task force to reopen schools follows “reasonable and prudent” contingency planning. Schools will enforce “layers of infection prevention” to keep students, teachers and staff safe, as outlined in the document.
Each school also has its own task force.
According to the Office of Catholic Schools, despite the increase in positive cases this week of COVID-19, its overall percentages remain low. Since August, only 1.4% of all archdiocesan students and 2.9% of all faculty and staff have tested positive for the virus since beginning of school year.
The Office of Catholic Schools is under the direction of Superintendent Hal Plummer. He issued the following statement on the work of all involved:
“Our Catholic school leaders, faculty, staff, and the vast majority of parents are demonstrating outstanding commitment to keeping our schools safe during this pandemic—safe for both in-person learning and for student participation in as many extracurricular events as possible. But let me be very clear about this: the strength of their dedication to this extremely challenging enterprise is nothing short of heroic. The small sacrifices they are all making both on and off campus, such as wearing masks, avoiding large crowds, washing hands frequently and social distancing, are paying great dividends for our students and community this school year and beyond. Sure, we’ve experienced some bumps in the road toward a return to 100% in-person for all our students, but with the help of God’s grace we will continue to pursue it despite all obstacles, including those posed by some inconsiderate decision making outside of school.”