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KMS tasks committee with reopening plan

School prepares to reopen with out vaccine, with new protocols

Staff report

Will school reopen in the fall? That is the question on every parent’s mind after two months of homeschooling with about one more to go before the summer break.

Tao Smith, Head of School, wrote a letter to Killington Mountain School families May 15 addressing this question. His response provides insight to what many other school communities are likely considering as they make contingency plans for a variety of scenarios.

“It is our intent to open our full-term academic program in late August as scheduled,” Smith wrote. “We are also optimistic that a majority of our on-campus summer camps can take place as scheduled. How these events come to pass and with what restrictions will be the job of our recently-formed school re-opening task force, which convened two weeks ago.”

Smith, who will be leaving his post at KMS in June to head up Gould Academy in Maine, has been working closely with incoming Head of School Claire Kershko and collaborating with the heads of other major ski academies in the East, participating in weekly and bi-weekly conference calls to share ideas and best practices. KMS is also taking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vermont Dept. of Health and the federal government, and closely monitoring health and safety agency guidelines and recommendations.

“I want to be clear that there is a tremendous amount that still we do not know about this disease,” Smith cautioned.

“Covid-19 impacts the old and infirmed, as well as the young and healthy… We have no known cure, and it will be at least 12-18 months at the earliest before an effective vaccine will be developed and deliverable to the world population. For herd immunity to be effective, 60-70% of the people in the United States will need to be infected or vaccinated, and scientists will need to be certain that carrying antibodies provides a measure of effective immunity. None of these conditions yet exist, and none will be in place by the time KMS reopens. Therefore, it will be of the utmost importance that we develop practices and protocols around the recommendations from the CDC, state and federal agencies, and that our families accept and support the conditions under which students will be allowed to return. We can anticipate living under the cloud of this pandemic for at least two years,” Smith said.

Despite those unknowns, KMS is still planning to reopen in the fall, barring state or government mandated closures— but life will be different.

“Life at KMS next year will be far different than what any KMS student has previously experienced,” Smith continued. “Changes will impact virtually every aspect of KMS life, including but not limited to arrivals, departures, orientations, academics, athletics, training, travel, residential life, transportation, PPE requirements, classroom and gymnasium density, and myriad other categories.”

Meghan Girardi and Claire Kershko are leading the school reopening subcommittee, which is charged with exploring how KMS may effectively reopen and what precautions and procedures will need to be developed before we can welcome faculty and students back to campus in any form. With KMS summer athletic teams competitions beginning as early as June 20, and its camps, which typically start up in late June on campus, the committee plans to present a working draft document on May 31.

“KMS will plan as best we can with all of the resources at our disposal, but there are no guarantees when it comes to executing our plan,” Smith said. “The need to remain nimble and able to pivot quickly as new information and situations come to light will be paramount for our school and our faculty… Understanding and embracing this uncertainty will be required of every family returning to camps this summer or school next year.”

While the school makes plans to conform with health and safety guidance, protocols and best practices, Smith also knows that families’ comfort levels may vary — and despite new protocols families may be wary.

“The fear, unknown and uncertainty are real, and as this event unfolds and will continue to have a deep impact on all of our lives, it is important to remind ourselves of who we are and what we stand for. KMS values and the value of a KMS education have never been more necessary and more important than it is today. Our core values of adversity, responsibility and character are embedded in who we are and what we stand for. They are what makes KMS students stand out, and will help us to navigate the challenges that lie ahead,” he wrote.

“In times of crisis, the best of humanity presents itself,” Smith continued. “There are some positive lessons from this spring that we should be mindful of, such as the value of being home with family and reconnecting in ways that modern life does not allow. We have learned more about ‘essential’ workers than we previously knew; the invaluable roles that nurses, grocery clerks, emergency responders, and, yes, teachers play in our lives. Calculating what is truly important and meaningful will take on new clarity and definition in the coming years, and it is our responsibility to carry these lessons forward into a new future and for the next generation of leaders and citizens.”

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