Dear Students and Families,
Happy new year to everyone! With our return only a few days away, I want to offer some reassurances and to reiterate protocols that we have established so that Williston can reassemble as smoothly as possible. We are eager to resume the second trimester and pick up where we left off in December. We know that the holidays were difficult for some in terms of travel, the presence of the Omicron variant, and the dearth of easy access to testing. Whatever your circumstances, I hope that you and your loved ones were safe from any illness.
Students will be receiving more detailed information on the points below, and I want to take this chance to review some important information about our return. While none of us are eager to return to restrictions of the past, the transmissibility of the Omicron variant means we need to take some extra precautions as we reassemble. After the first week of school, we will reassess these policies based on our test results and CDC/local recommendations, and we will communicate any changes to these protocols.
Testing Before Return to Campus
• All community members must self-administer at-home antigen tests before returning to campus. Students should take their tests as close as possible to their departure for campus —and no more than 48 hours before their expected arrival. All students must take a photo of their test results and send it to their advisor no later than noon on January 3. Students may not return to campus without submitting test results.
• Any community member with a positive result should not come to campus. If you have a negative antigen test, but also have cold-like/COVID symptoms, we ask that you obtain a second negative test, either PCR or antigen. With the incredibly transmissible nature of the Omicron variant, we want to err on the side of caution. If you test positive, please isolate per recent CDC guidance and reach out to Health and Wellness for further guidance.
Testing After Return
• We will administer testing to the entire community on Thursday, January 6 .
• Any student who tests positive, and lives within driving distance, must be picked up by a parent or guardian within 12-24 hours. All others will need to isolate in COVID-specific locations on campus. We ask that all families who are not within driving distance think about a plan for a domestic contact or guardian who can pick up a student within 48 hours if needed. If you have questions about this, please contact the Deans Office.
• Our very few unvaccinated community members will be required to continue twice-a-week testing and wear masks indoors.
• Students must wear masks in all indoor settings through at least the testing phase of our reentry. Boarding students must wear masks in dormitories (except in their own dorm rooms). Likewise, until further notice, the only people permitted in any dormitory are residents of that dormitory. Visitors, including family members, are not permitted in dormitories at this time.
• Students must follow the newly revised CDC recommendations for masks by wearing an approved N95 mask, KN95 mask, or KF94 mask, or to double-mask using two surgical masks or a surgical and cloth mask. Given the new evidence that cloth masks are not protective against the Omicron variant, and the fact that proper masks are an incredibly effective tool to prevent virus spread, we will be strictly enforcing these rules on campus!
Community Gatherings, Athletic Contests, and Travel
• All-school assemblies in the Chapel will be suspended until we are through the testing period. Instead, we will be meeting in smaller groups by advisory for assemblies via Zoom.
• As is true for many of our peer schools, Williston will not have athletic competitions on Wednesday, January 5. We are still talking with other schools to determine whether we will have contests on January 7 and 8, and will be in touch as soon as possible about these dates.
• During the initial testing period, all students will be required to wear masks while participating in indoor athletic and afternoon program activities (with the exception of swimming and diving). Masks will be worn at all times inside athletic facilities. Additionally, while we will continue to provide access to locker room facilities, students will be asked to shower at home or in their dorms.
• Only Williston parents and guardians may attend games during the first two weeks. Spectators must be vaccinated, and each must always wear N95 or equivalent masks at sporting events.
• Jan 7 and 8 will be a closed weekend, with no trips off campus.
• Students must wear masks when going into town and may not eat indoors at any restaurant.
During the initial testing period, we will be making a few changes to our dining policy to reduce overall density while eating.
• Breakfast will be for boarding students only; day students should eat at home.
• At lunch, boarding students should take grab-and-go meals back to their dormitories or other designated areas on campus. Day students and Middle Schoolers should eat in the dining commons. Students who have a free period during lunch should eat lunch during the time between the first and second lunch blocks.
• Dinner will be for boarding students only. Day students may eat dinner at school if they have an evening commitment.
• The best protection against the virus remains vaccination and boosters. In addition to requiring vaccines, Williston is now requiring booster shots for eligible community members, and our goal is to have our community fully boosted by February 1. At this time, numerous boosters are currently approved for those who are over age 18 and at least six months from their initial Pfizer or Moderna vaccination or two months from a Johnson & Johnson vaccination. Additionally, 16- and 17-year-olds are available for a Pfizer/BioNtech booster, and we are hopeful that boosters for ages 12-15 will be approved soon. Students should get a booster shot as soon as they are eligible, then upload proof into the Magnus Health Portal under immunizations.
• If students have been unable to get a booster shot, Williston will be holding a booster clinic for all eligible students on January 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Williston community has been amazingly resilient over the past two years in managing the ever-changing conditions brought about by COVID-19. The good news is that almost all fully vaccinated and boosted individuals remain protected against severe illness—the true measure of any vaccine’s efficacy. While it may seem as though we are in the same place this January as last, I take hope in the many advances that have happened in the last twelve months. Ninety-nine percent of our community is fully vaccinated, with many also boosted, which gives us a much greater peace of mind.
I look forward to a smooth reentry and wish everyone my very best for the new year to come.
Robert W. Hill III
Head of School