Every week I write this letter, and every week I wonder what more could possibly be said in the following week’s letter. And then come twists and turns that create new urgencies in sharing a message with USN families. This week surely is no exception — right this minute there feels like more reason to communicate than there has been for a while. So let me at the outset ask you to please consider this a sincere invitation to encourage all families within your circle of influence to read and consider. And I’ll endeavor to make these few minutes worth your time and attention — but I’m as serious as I can be, still wanting to generate more light than heat in terms of our response.
Quick overview — we returned from Winter Break without the widely predicted surge in cases at schools. We saw little activity on that front for about three weeks. And then in the last several days, we’ve seen an uptick, with an unfortunate handful of cases scattered across the High School and a small group of cases in two Middle School grades — both with substantial quarantine implications. Those handfuls can shut us down. While we can’t of course say so definitively, it does almost seem that we’d collectively started to feel like we could ease up a little out there — even as we have been adhering to what has worked well in mitigation efforts at school. Just to state the obvious, this is absolutely no time to let up — at home, at school, and in the community.
What has served us well so far is a three-part compact, starting with USN doing everything we know how to limit transmission risk at school, families staying up to speed with relevant public health guidance to limit risk away from school, and a baseline commitment to open communication between home and school. If we can count on all three legs of this table, we can serve up USN education successfully. But if one of those supports is absent, we lose that stability.
I can recommit to a daily and relentless effort here to keep our promise to you on that first point, understanding the importance of what we’re doing together. And I sense a strong commitment coming from USN homes on the second point. But I also understand that a few lapses in effort, on anyone’s part, can generate significant downstream effects. One well-intended small social gathering can generate 25 quarantines. One unguarded mealtime can cost a large group of other people another week of in-person school. One decision to travel out of town can, however unintentionally, knock out a large portion of a program here at school.
On that topic of travel, as I’ve been trying to communicate since at least August, and through Fall Break, Thanksgiving, Winter Break, and prospectively looking to Spring Break—the truth is that the details matter. We haven’t promulgated a travel ban because some shopping trips locally can be riskier than some journeys out of state. Where you go, how you get there, whom you’re with, what you do when you get there—all that matters considerably. The CDC
continues, though, to advocate self-quarantine for seven days in most cases, and that’s a really good place to start.
What we’ll do now at school, given our experience across the months, is to look for chances to create conversations in advance of those travel or other types of planned absences—in the spirit of partnership and support for community well-being
. It’s not hyperbole to say that our Health Team does this work 24/7, much as I wish they didn’t need to, but such is life in a pandemic—keep a good thought for them. And their insights, their balanced approach, their awareness of the most recent research findings—all are second to none. But what makes this work is your willingness at home to let us know what’s happening on your end—to ask ahead of time. Reach the team by emailing email@example.com
or calling 615-277-7380 between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on school days.
The simple fact, in my observation, is that at this point many organizations have adopted, by their inactions, a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. Maybe it’s fatigue, maybe it’s a sense of invulnerability, maybe it’s a me-first kind of desperation. And that’s not going to be the case at USN—our responsibilities preclude that happening. What we need, and what we’ve needed all along, is that open communication. And I’m grateful for the way people have reached out proactively along the way, for everyone’s benefit.
If experience is our guide, we’ll weather this recent uptick the way we have others thus far, and we’ll take to heart this reminder that we need to recommit, daily. It’s humbling to realize that more than two-thirds of the hours in student, faculty, and staff lives are spent away from campus. We count on each other during those hours just as much as we do here on campus. And as encouraging as the decreases in citywide numbers surely are, we are not done yet.
I’ll talk to anyone, anytime, for any length of time in support of this message.
And yes, we can do this,