AIS Communiqué Regarding COVID-19
Dear AIS Community,
In the January 31st issue of our Friday Flash, we shared with you preliminary information about our monitoring of the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-2019). In that message, we included a link to our Crisis Management Matrix for Contagious Diseases. I am writing to you today to provide an update on our continued monitoring of the situation and preparations for a potential outbreak in Austin. The links in this email will take you to numerous resources related to COVID-19.
WHAT WE KNOW. As explained by the CDC, “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.” The vast majority of reported cases are overseas and a limited number are present in the United States. The CDC has explained that current evidence indicates that, “there is no evidence that children are more susceptible [to COVID-19, and that] most confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported from China have occurred in adults.” For more information, please consult the most recent COVID-19 factsheet published by the CDC.
SCHOOL CLOSURES. Our school is in contact with a number of organizations that provide guidance support to schools during pandemics, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and Austin Public Health (APH). In addition to these agencies, we rely on the support of French government entities including the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These agencies are providing regular updates to schools, including AIS. As outlined in our Crisis Management Matrix for Contagious Diseases, school will close in the event that we reach a risk level 4. AIS also typically aligns itself with the Austin Independent School District with regard to school closures.
ONLINE LEARNING. Over the past two months, we have seen a number of mandated school closures in the international school network. In the event of mandated school closures in Austin, AIS will continue to deliver its academic program through online learning platforms. We are currently testing the online learning platforms available to us and documenting the process by which teachers, students, and families would engage in online learning. In addition to the organizations listed above, our school receives support through its accreditation by the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS), and membership in the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the Texas Private Schools Association (TPSA). Our online learning protocols are also supported by our association with International School Services (ISS) and the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE), among others.
SPRING BREAK TRAVEL. Currently, the CDC recommends travelers avoid all non-essential travel to Level 3 countries, which currently include China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy. The CDC also recommends precautionary travel in Japan and Hong Kong. If you will be traveling to any of these destinations during the upcoming Spring Break, we ask that you and any family members that share the same household not return to campus until 14 days have passed since your return to the US. Any absences in this category will be marked as excused in attendance records.
SCHOOL TRIPS. Currently, AIS has not planned to cancel any of its local field trips, but is prepared to do so at the direction of local health authorities (i.e., CDC, DSHS, and APH). Our CM2 (5th grade) trip to France is scheduled for the dates of April 21st through May 2nd. Our trip is registered with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education who send us regular, daily, updates about travel to and within France. Both ministries have asked schools to postpone trips planned for the month of March 2020 and will provide updates regarding April trips as the situation evolves. CM2 families will receive direct updates about travel as they become available.
STAYING HOME WHEN ILL. It is imperative that students and their household members not come to campus if they are sick. Any AIS community member who has contracted a contagious illness must be symptom-free, without medication for 24 hours before returning to school. If your child will be absent due to illness, please send an email to our receptionist who will mark your child with an excused absence for the day. Individuals who arrive ill to campus will be asked to leave and return only when cleared to do so.
GOOD HYGIENE. Please remember that the best way to combat the spread of illness is through simple, preventive measures. The CDC suggests a few simple things you can do to help keep yourself and others healthy:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
We will continue to remind our students of good hygiene practices in school. Please reinforce this at home by discussing and practicing good handwashing techniques with your children.
HAND SANITIZERS. While soap and water should be your first line of defense, hand sanitizers may help to kill some germs on your hands. AIS is coordinating a generous donation of hand sanitizer stations from the Strüb Family, which will be deployed at key points on campus once they are received from the supplier. Once available, we encourage you to use these as needed to disinfect your hands. For more guidance and information about good hand hygiene, please consult the CDC’s Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use at Home, at Play and Out and About Factsheet.
DISCUSSING COVID-19 WITH YOUR CHILDREN. There is understandably increased anxiety related to the emergence of this new strain of novel coronavirus. It is important to remain calm and fact-based in your discussions with your children in order to not induce further stress or anxiety. In order to minimize anxiety, help students remain focused on learning, and avoid misinformation (including stigmas), our faculty and staff will only provide fact-based, non-speculative responses to coronavirus-related inquiries. NPR recently published a resource called Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus, which you may wish to use if and when discussing COVID-19 with your children.
ONGOING TRAINING. The evolution of COVID-19 means that the situation is fluid and changes daily. In 2012, I was a school leader in a region (Saudi Arabia) and school community directly affected by the 2012 novel coronavirus MERS, and in 2009, I worked as a leader in a school in India that was closed by the H1N1 swine flu pandemic. These experiences provided good insight and on-the-ground training for leading a community through an epidemic, including managing the many moving parts during such an event. That said, I am impressed with how much more exchange of information and resources there are in 2020 as compared to years past. Members of our staff and I are not only in regular communication with the organizations and authorities listed above, but we have already taken part in several training opportunities to help deepen our understanding of this evolving event.
Thank you, as always, for your care and commitment to our AIS Owl community. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly.
Mr. Jacques A. Weber, M.Ed.
Head of School/Chef d'Établissement