HMI Semester Update: Information about COVID-19 preparations and Semester 44 schedule

March 11, 2020
A message for current families

Dear HMI Families,

I know I promised “no news is good news” over this expedition week, but I am interrupting my promise to share news with you on HMI’s plans for the wellbeing of our students, employees, and Leadville community as COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States. There are now approximately 17 confirmed cases in Colorado.

As of today, there are no suspected COVID-19 cases in Lake County, though it is entirely possible residents already have the virus and do not know it. Our Department of Public Health, with whom we are in communication, fully expects the virus to arrive soon, if it has not already. We are very lucky at HMI to have a young and generally healthy population–this vastly reduces the likelihood of the most severe consequences of contracting COVID-19. According to the most current information, medical experts tell us that some of our employees and students might experience flu-like symptoms should the virus arrive at our doorstep. 

Having noted this, we recognize that news coverage is disconcerting. Our goal is to continue to make decisions based on what is best for our entire community while acknowledging the anxiety many are feeling. We all respond differently to health concerns, and each of us undoubtedly has different circumstances to consider. For these reasons, I know some of you might find our decisions too aggressive; others receiving this email might wish we were being more proactive. Either way, thank you for trusting HMI as we try to support one another, our Semester 44 students and families, and every member of our community.

We hope the guidelines outlined below—subject to change as conditions and recommendations warrant—reassure you. The possibility that a member of our community could contract COVID-19 is real, no matter our efforts to reduce that likelihood. At any time, should you come to believe that it is in the best interest of your child to return home, we will support this decision and allow your child to continue academic studies online.

We have decided to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control, our physician advisor, and the Lake County Department of Public Health (who are in regular contact with their state counterparts) in determining how to proceed with Semester 44. As of this writing, these people and organizations do not believe it is necessary for us to make modifications to our overall schedule, Family Weekend, or Spring Break plans. However, circumstances are extraordinarily fluid. If our advisors change their recommendations, we will modify our plans. Here are a few things to consider:

Family Weekend

At this time, please begin to make alternate plans in the event we need to cancel or greatly modify Family Weekend, something we are actively planning for. This could happen up to the date of Family Weekend itself if the guidance we are following changes at the last minute or other factors make hosting Family Weekend impractical or inadvisable. 

Please do not attend Family Weekend if you:

  • Will be travelling between now and Family Weekend to an area for which the CDC and/or State Department have issued Level 2, 3, or 4 alerts
  • Have likely come into contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 
  • Have likely come into contact with anyone who has had direct contact with a COVD-19 patient
  • Are feeling at all ill
  • Are among the populations who are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. 

Spring Break

In deference to our employees and families who have made long-held and difficult-to-change plans, we expect Spring Break will proceed as scheduled. This will remain the case as long as the CDC and public health officials do not issue advisories against non-essential travel for the general population or other circumstances simply dictate the choice is one we need to make for the success and wellbeing of our students. If traveling with your child or returning to a heavily impacted area is disquieting to you, you might consider remaining in Colorado for the week or having your child stay in-state with a family member or friend or in a less-impacted area.  

We will require students to self-quarantaine and/or postpone their return from Spring Break if they:

  • Will be travelling over the break to an area for which the CDC has issued Level 2, 3, or 4 alerts
  • Have likely come into contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 while away from HMI
  • Have likely come into contact with anyone who has had direct contact with a COVD-19 patient while away from HMI
  • Are feeling at all ill

In these instances, we will use online learning platforms to ensure these students keep up to date with their coursework.  

We are also exploring the possibility of students remaining on campus during Spring Break if circumstances warrant this step. We will not make this decision today, but it is obviously one we need to consider in the light of extraordinary fast-moving events. As information becomes clearer, we will make these decisions and share with you promptly.

On-Campus

Before and after Spring Break, we will take additional precautions to limit the spread of all viruses, including COVID-19. We have extra soap, hand sanitizer, toiletries, and bleach-based cleaning solutions on campus, and will, on a daily basis, reminding everyone to use wash and use hand sanitizers as a matter of routine. 

A community member testing positive for COVID-19 will not automatically lead HMI to close. We reached this conclusion after consulting with our physician advisor and the Lake County Public Health Department, as well as members of the Semester School Network and other boarding schools in the Association of Colorado Independent Schools. These schools are employing similar methods for supporting both ill and healthy students should some contract COVID-19. In addition to quarantining students with COVID-19 symptoms, we would also deep clean our facilities. Beyond a few days, however, our campus is not equipped to support long-term quarantines. If necessary, we will need a family member or other adult to come to Colorado to take over support. If necessary, HMI can provide financial support for travel. Please contact me if you have any concerns about being able to care for your child in the unlikely event a quarantaine becomes necessary. 

What would cause HMI to close for a period of time during Semester 44? We will defer to the guidance of the CDC and Lake County Public Health first and foremost, in addition to always seeking to use our best judgment to determine what is sustainable for our school and students and in line with the wellbeing of our community. 

I know that this is a long email, and a lot to process. I hope that it has helped you to see the ways in which we are seeking the best possible information from the most reliable sources, and using research and empathy to guide our decisions. As always, your child’s wellbeing is our top priority. Students return to campus late Friday afternoon. At that time, we will update you again on the expedition and our plans to support both the physical health of your children and to be there for them as they come back to campus and learn about recents COVID-19 news.

I am grateful for your partnership in these challenging times. Please contact me with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Danny


Daniel O’Brien

Head of School

High Mountain Institute

hminet.org

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