An Informed, Prepared, and Safe Start to 2021-2022!
Dear AIS Community,
I hope you have all had a wonderfully relaxing, engaging, and fun summer break full of personal connections and new learnings. Work at AIS continues throughout the year and our team has been working hard to prepare a fantastic 2021-2022 school year for our students and our community.
Today, I had the pleasure of working with a new group of fantastic educators who will be working with our AIS students to support them in their academic and personal growth, seeking to push their academic and intercultural skills. Our program has grown steadily and impressively over our 20 years of serving the Austin community, and I am excited to kick off a new school year, standing on those many years of success.
It’s hard to believe it, but this means that the first day of school is now only two weeks away on Wednesday, August 18th! We have, of course, been closely monitoring the health situation impacting the globe, with a close focus on data and trends here in Austin. I continue to meet regularly with officials from Austin Public Health, including their Senior Epidemiologist, and a group of volunteer medical professionals who offer their interpretations, expertise, and recommendations to our team. Because we continue to operate within the pandemic context, we will continue with our commitment to be informed, prepared, and safe throughout the school year.
Attached to this email, you will find our 2021-2022 Campus Opening Guide. In it, there are many details regarding the adaptive protocols that will be in place this year. Based on informed guidance from medical professionals, we will be open for in-person learning throughout the school year and, when needed, we will have layered mitigation strategies in place to reduce the risk of viral spread in our school community. Last year, we were very successful at holding in-person classes with no cases of COVID-19 on campus, and it will again be our goal to engage students in our rigorous academic program as safely as possible.
There is an important balance to be found between best practices in teaching and learning, and the health and safety of all community members. These are parallel priorities for us. As the situation improves, we will be able to adapt our protocols by de-escalating some elements such as face coverings, distancing, and cohorting; conversely, we will be able to increase some of these measures of the situation dictates. To have a clearer picture of what this will look like, please see the details for these adaptive protocols on page 9 of the attached guide. Though it will be confirmed before the start of school, I do anticipate that we will be operating at Level 3 for all three elements when we kick off the new school year. We will communicate changes to families as soon as we have made a decision to de-escalate some or all of these elements, based on available data and advice from our group of medical experts.
Some other important elements that I would like to call out for families are the following:
- Last school year, we suspended our Wednesday early release for students. In the upcoming 2021-2022 school year, we will resume Wednesday early release for students in PS-CM2. Though regular pick-up (Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri) should be no later than 3:45pm, students must be picked-up by 2:45pm on Wednesdays, unless they are registered for afterschool care. Please note that due to related staffing and protocol constraints, no complimentary afterschool care is available on Wednesdays between 2:45pm and 3:45pm. Because our unique academic program requires a high degree of collaborative work, Wednesday afternoons are used for our teaching teams to meet and work on important curricular matters.
- Students in PS-GS will enter their classrooms directly from external doors. Students in CP-CM2 will have a reduced number of entrances and will only be using either the upstairs or downstairs entrance on the side of the building. Middle School students will continue to use their own entrance. Please see the map on page 4 of the guide for details about entrance points for students.
- Families will be asked to complete health screening questionnaires at home, via the PikMyKid app, before heading to school each morning. Students will not be permitted to enter campus if they exhibit any symptoms of illness indicated in the attached Health and Safety Protocol Family Acknowledgement Form. Thank you for ensuring that you complete this quick and easy questionnaire each morning before you leave your home. Note: If you are new to PikMyKid, you will receive log-in details in the coming weeks.
- Students must not come to school in the event of illness. Bringing a sick child to school places other students and our staff members at unnecessary and unacceptable risk for contagious illness. In the event that a child is out ill, they will generally need a note from a doctor with a clearly indicated return-to-school date. We strongly recommend using the attached COVID-19 Physician Letter for Students published by the Texas Medical Association to avoid having to return to the doctor for a revised note with a return-to-school date.
- We will resume the coordinated use of some shared spaces such as the library and auditorium. Scheduling of these spaces will happen internally and frequency of use will be informed by current health conditions.
- We have continued to suspend our limited catering service. Please ensure that your children bring school to lunch each day.
- We will resume and phase back in the offering of afterschool activities. Based on health guidance and potential mixing of students from different cohorts in certain activities, it may be necessary for some activities to operate using face coverings. Stay tuned for more details.
- Though the state has mandated that public schools may not require quarantines for close contacts, as an independent school, we will continue our policy of requiring absences for illness and testing/quarantine after close contacts. Our goal is to get kids back in classes as quickly as possible, so we will reach out on a case-by-case basis to guide you to a quick return to class. Please remember that all COVID-related absences are considered excused. As such, teachers will send any material for students who are out on those days.
- AIS is a private COVID-19 testing center and we are able to conduct rapid antigen tests with results available in 15 minutes. Families who wish to do testing (one time or periodically) should reach out to via email for more details. Tests for any person under the age of 18 require a parent permission form to be on file.
- At the recommendation of the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and numerous other organizations, we will prioritize in-person learning this year. As such, there will be no off-campus learning option available to individual students. Our whole-school Distance Learning program will only be re-launched in the event that we are compelled to do so, either by a government entity or in situations of imminent danger.
Because I care deeply for the academic and personal wellbeing of every member of our community, as Head of School, I will strictly hold all of us to the required protocols in force at different times of the year. As such, you will find attached to this email a Health and Safety Protocol Family Acknowledgement Form. Please read this carefully, sign it, and bring it with you to the first day of school. Students are only permitted to attend school once they have a signed form on file. Extra forms will be on hand at the parking lot entrance on the first day of school in case families have lost or misplaced a form.
Finally, in our efforts to be informed, prepared, and safe, we are requesting that all families complete the attached Household COVID-19 Vaccination Status Form. Through this survey, we would like to collect vaccination data to help us have a better understanding of the AIS community context. You may also bring this form with you to drop-off on the first day of school. We appreciate your support in providing this information, as it will at times play an important part in making adjustments to our adaptive protocols during the school year. Please note that state law does not currently permit schools—public or private—to require vaccinations of eligible students; this is an important decision to be made by families in consultation with your child’s pediatrician.
While we had been hoping for a “normal” return to the new school year, I anticipate that there will be more normalcy to the start of this year when compared to last year. An important part of this year’s planning is the ability to dial back some of our protocols when local health conditions permit. There is light at the end of—what has been—a very long tunnel! As we work steadily as a community toward the end of that tunnel, I will reiterate my commitment to you that we will remain informed, prepared, and safe throughout the school year.
I will also be organizing some Family Information Sessions around COVID planning and protocols and will send the dates and times of these meeting in the coming days. You may of course, feel free to reach out to me by email or telephone with any questions you may have in the coming days. Thank you for your commitment to the health and safety of our community. Merci pour votre soutien ! ¡Y muchísmias gracias por ser parte de nuestra comunidad!
Mr. Jacques A. Weber, M.Ed.
Head of School/Chef d'Établissement