Thaden School has been highly proactive in responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. On this page, you will find our current numbers of positive cases, resources that may be helpful in managing and mitigating the risks of COVID-19, and answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs).
The dashboard below provides up-to-date information about COVID-19 cases in the Thaden School community since the resumption of on-campus programs on October 14, 2020. It is updated Monday to Friday at 4:00 pm as information is reported and verified.
11/20/2020 4:00 pm CST
Active: The total number of positive cases currently within our community, new and existing.
New Today: Daily new positive cases within the Thaden School community.
Cumulative: The total number of cases reported and verified since October 14, 2020, active and non-active.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
We address below a number of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding our opening the Thaden School campus and mitigating risk as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Given the rapidly changing nature of this public health crisis, we will update and amend these FAQs as our planning efforts progress during the academic year.
1. What guiding principles and goals inform the school’s planning efforts?
- Protect the health and safety of our school community while maintaining the high quality of our educational program.
- Comply with local, state, and federal authorities.
- Leverage our distinctive advantages: a low teacher-student ratio and a spacious campus with a variety of indoor and outdoor teaching spaces.
- Develop a flexible educational model that allows students and faculty to shift easily from on-campus to online instruction.
2. When did the academic year begin and how did the start date affect the calendar for the academic year?
3. When and why did the school reopen campus?
We reopened our campus on Wednesday, October 14. The decision to do so was informed by responses to surveys sent to all constituencies – students, faculty and staff, and parents and guardians – and in consultation with other schools, regionally and nationally, that have opened their campuses during the pandemic.
While we recognize that returning to campus on October 14 departs from the CDC and Whitehouse guidelines originally set forth in earlier versions of these FAQs (i.e., that our campus would remain closed for classroom instruction until our home region sees a flat or downward trajectory of cases over a 28-day period as well as a positivity rate at or below 5 percent), we feel this departure is justifiable for a number of reasons:
- Many local schools have opened their campuses without significant outbreaks since opening in late August.
- Our own experience with small groups on campus has increased our confidence in the efficacy of our protocols and our students’ ability to comply with them.
- We have completed a number of improvements to our campus infrastructure that will enhance safety conditions and our ability to offer socially distanced instruction, including the installation of a new ventilation system.
In view of these factors, allowing students to return to campus for classroom instruction on a highly controlled basis is justifiable because it will allow us to serve a compelling educational and socio-emotional need for many students as they progress in their required course of study.
4. How will the school decide when to close campus?
In the event of confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 within our school community, we follow the response framework developed by the Arkansas Department of Education in assessing risk and deciding whether to close our campus. Such decisions are made on a case by case basis in view of many factors (e.g., the nature and number of cases and the potential for contagion within the school community) and with close regard to guidance from the Arkansas Department of Health and other authorities. We also continue to monitor infection levels throughout the region and will close our campus if they escalate to a degree that warrants such precaution. During any closure, we will undertake further risk assessments and precautions that include testing, contact tracing, and sanitization, making reasonable efforts to protect the confidentiality of those involved.
5. What kind of academic program will you offer when you reopen campus on October 14?
We are following a modified six-period, two-week class rotation that allows for continuity between our distance learning and campus-based programs.
It is important to note that the transition from distance learning to our classroom-based program must take place incrementally so that we have time to integrate and harmonize the online and on-campus elements of our academic program and otherwise acclimate to the new protocols and requirements of our campus-based program.
While we will give our students opportunities to move throughout the campus, families should assume that classroom instruction, independent study, and many other activities will take place indoors.
While our campus-based program is running this fall and winter, we will continue to offer our distance learning program, and we expect that a significant number of students of families will prefer that option (see FAQ No. 8). Students who remain in distance learning will be free to participate in athletics and other after-school programs that we may offer on campus.
6. Will the school continue to offer signature programs, intensives, and community-based learning (CBL) initiatives?
Yes, but with some modifications given the limitations of the six-course schedule. In the Middle School, we will embed community-oriented meals, reels, and wheels projects into other required courses. In the Upper School, we will offer signature and CBL courses on an elective basis provided they can be taught effectively in a physically-distanced environment. In addition, we intend to offer two weeks of intensives at the end of the academic year in May. In keeping with previous years, these offerings will have strong community-based and hands-on elements.
7. Will the school continue to offer creative and performing arts?
Yes. We will continue to offer creative and performing arts courses in the Middle and Upper Schools. Our creative and performing arts faculty are prepared to teach their courses both online and on campus. Our theater arts faculty members have identified script materials for small cast and solo scenes that work well in our modified schedule; our visual arts faculty have put together kits with supplies needed for a trimesters’ worth of work that students can use either on campus or at home; and our music faculty are following the Arkansas Department of Health’s guidelines while exploring digital music and online platforms to support students’ development as musicians.
8. Will it be possible to choose the distance learning program as a precautionary measure?
Yes. We recognize that certain families may either require or strongly prefer a distance learning program even when the school determines that it is appropriate to open campus for educational programs. Please note that families that choose to remain in our distance learning program after campus reopens will be expected to do so until classes resume after winter break (January 5).
9. Will students be able to continue with a distance learning program if they stay home for safety reasons?
Yes. As has been our practice in prior years, we will support students who must continue their studies from home during extended absences from school, working closely with their teachers and advisors to develop work plans and systems of accountability that will help them progress in their learning as much as possible. Our classrooms are equipped with cameras that will enable students to observe and, to some degree, participate in classroom discussions and activities from home.
10. Has the school considered running a hybrid model?
We are evaluating the viability of a hybrid model that would reduce the number of students on campus at any one time and, at the same time, allow us to provide more instructional time than we are now providing in our modified campus-based program. We will provide further updates regarding the development and potential deployment of the hybrid model as details become clearer after the Thanksgiving break.
11. What other safety protocols and practices will the school implement when it reopens?
In addition to reducing class sizes to allow for physical distancing, we will implement a variety of safety protocols and practices, including but not limited to:
- Requiring self-screenings before arriving at school and temperature screenings on campus
- Assigning seats in classrooms, dining areas, and study halls
- Installing plexiglass dividers in instructional areas and dining areas
- Wiping down desks, chairs, and other shared equipment before and after class
- Extending time between classes for staggered dismissal and unidirectional hallway flow
- Limiting the number of students in bathrooms
- Placing hand sanitizer stations at each entry point and each classroom
- Increasing cleaning and sanitization at night and during the day, especially in high-touch areas (e.g., door handles, light switches, bathrooms, faucets, and tables)
- Turning off water fountains except for no-touch water bottle filling stations
- Sanitizing buses after morning and afternoon runs
- Establishing a set of community safety norms (see FAQ No. 15)
- Requiring masks to be worn inside buildings at all times (see FAQ No. 17)
- Improving ventilation and air quality (see FAQ No. 20)
In addition, we have released a training guide with detailed information on the safety protocols that our students, faculty, and staff must follow on campus.
12. How will meals be served?
Our culinary team has developed a high-quality meal plan that is delivered safely in accordance with local and national guidelines. Our plan includes these features:
- Family style meals are not served due to contamination risks and physical distancing requirements.
- Breakfast is a “grab and go” selection available at designated pick-up-stations in the Great Hall (Middle School students) and South Hall and Library (Upper School students).
- Students receive individually packaged lunches, the contents of which are customized to reflect dietary restrictions or allergies.
- Lunches are distributed to students in the same designated areas where they had breakfast.
- Seating is limited to two to four students per table with plexiglass partitions for protection.
- Students are supervised during lunch, but other faculty and staff eat separately.
- Menus are available two weeks in advance on the portal. Students needing accommodations for a particular day should contact Director of Culinary Services Michael Kuefner.
- Students are not allowed to bring food from home on campus.
- Meal service for students who are continuing with distance learning is available; the culinary team provides directions for pick-up and delivery each week.
13. Will the school offer interscholastic athletics?
Yes. Practices for volleyball, basketball, cross country, mountain biking, and gravel riding have been underway since the summer and in full compliance with safety protocols established by the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA), the governing body for high school athletics in Arkansas. On September 24, we announced that our student-athletes may also compete in games and competitions not hosted by Thaden School, subject to several conditions specific to each team depending on the nature of the sport. As always, families are entirely free to decide whether they wish for their children to proceed with practices or competitions in view of personal needs and circumstances. We expect to make further decisions regarding spring athletics in January.
14. How many students will be on campus this year?
Enrollment will not exceed 255 students for the coming year, and no more than 200 students will participate in our on-campus program. With the addition of a major classroom building and the opening of the barn, our campus offers more than 100,000 square feet of indoor space as well as a variety of outdoor instructional areas, including the water lab and teaching gardens. Our campus is designed to support as many as 540 students. In this respect, we are well positioned to offer a campus program that allows for physical distancing.
15. How will the school promote responsible behavior on and off campus?
Recent discussions with schools that have already opened their campuses have confirmed that the positive cases within their respective school communities are consistently attributable to social interactions and gatherings outside of their campus-based programs. For this and other reasons of civic responsibility, we ask all Thaden students, families, and employees, including those that have elected to continue with the distance learning program, to affirm that they have read and will respect the Thaden School Community Safety Norms
16. How will social distancing take place on buses?
Students are required to wear masks on buses. They will be seated one per row, and no one will sit directly behind or in front of another student. They will board the bus from back to front and deboard from front to back while maintaining physical distance.
17. What is your policy regarding masks? Will the school provide them?
As a general matter, masks are required inside all buildings and enclosed spaces, including classrooms. While our classrooms and reduced class sizes allow for physical distancing, students will generally engage in discussions and other kinds of learning activities and group work that call for the use of masks as a precautionary measure.
Thaden has provided each student and staff and faculty member with a washable, school-branded mask. Additional masks are available for purchase at the campus store. Families and employees may also provide their own masks. A two-layer cloth mask or double layer neck gaiter is acceptable. Vented or valved masks and bandanas are not allowed. Ensure proper hygiene of masks and wash daily; consider carrying an additional mask to allow changes at midday. The CDC offers this guidance on mask selection and use.
18. Can the school test for COVID-19?
Testing is available through testing centers or in coordination with your primary care provider. Our nurse practitioner, Pam Chrisco, is able to provide limited urgent care including COVID-19 rapid antigen testing on site should a student or employee develop symptoms during the school day. Strep and flu testing, along with treatment, may also be available should the parent or guardian wish.
19. What happens if a student or Thaden employee tests positive for COVID-19?
In the event that a student or Thaden employee tests positive for COVID-19, they should immediately notify our Nurse Practitioner and designated ADH Point of Contact, Pam Chrisco by email or phone (479-245-4626), evenings and weekends included. We will then evaluate how best to proceed with respect to the greater school community, consistent with the ADE response framework outlined in FAQ No. 4.
20. What can the school do to improve ventilation and air quality in enclosed spaces?
We have installed bipolar ionization units in our HVAC system that neutralize and reduce airborne particulates. We have also adjusted the system to increase the flow of outside air and reduce return air.
If you have suggestions or questions that you would like for us to address in these FAQs, please direct them to Lisa Herschbach, Deputy Head of School, or Pam Chrisco (479-245-4626), Nurse Practitioner.
Thank you again for your flexibility and support as we work together to provide a safe and productive campus experience for our school community.