Latin Upper School to Return to Campus


Beatrice Parr, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Head of School Randall Dunn announced Wednesday that the Latin Upper School will be returning to in-person learning at 25% capacity, beginning October 26.

Under the new plan, each grade in the Upper School would be on campus for two days of the eight-day cycle.

Why the sudden change of plans? “Our intention throughout the school was to be able to be fully in person,” Mr. Dunn said. “And, we stated at the outset that the metrics that we were watching externally to the school shapes our thinking about the virus.”

Medical advisory team member Dr. Jyoti Patel pointed out that these external metrics are looking up. “We have more information about positive rates, how well Chicago in particular is doing, how well families have responded to the pledge and are caring for each other, so we are much more optimistic than we were when we started this process in July.”

In addition to external factors, internal observations made Latin’s administration more comfortable with reopening. “Internally, we feel that the processes, the protocols, there are a lot of things that we’ve troubleshooted that allow us to move forward,” Mr. Dunn said. “And frankly, the sort of feel of the cohort model in the Upper School also gave us lessons as to how it can work and what it feels like.”

Evaluating the Lower and Middle School, which have been back in person at least in part since the beginning of the year, also influenced the decision. “The Lower and Middle School have done a really great job during school,” Dr. Patel said, “and we’ve learned a lot from the efforts we’ve put in those two buildings to what we can bring to the Upper School.”

In light of their successes, Latin plans to bring some of the Middle School policies to the Upper School. Jill Yacu, who serves as school nurse for both divisions, has experienced these policies firsthand. “We have implemented many evidence-based risk mitigation strategies including wearing masks, social distancing, at-home symptom screening before coming to school, decreasing density, and emphasizing good hand hygiene throughout the school day,” she said. “Additionally, our amazing facilities team has improved our building ventilation systems and implemented a rigorous cleaning and disinfection plan.”

Further efforts to reduce unnecessary exposure could impact which classes do and do not meet. “It may be that we are doing some classes together and others still remote where there might be a higher likelihood of mixing with other grades,” said Dr. Patel. “So things like affinity groups or clubs might still be virtual, whereas some of the other courses or the primary courses would be in person.”

But does Latin have enough space to keep students distanced from one another during and between these class periods? Currently, the science center is being used by third and fourth graders. David Koo, chair of Latin’s Board of Trustees, said, “The third and fourth graders will stay in those classrooms because we don’t need those classrooms, and we are confident that we have spaces within our buildings to move those two grades as we ramp up to more than 25% in person.”

And, with hopes to eventually increase to 50% in person, Latin is already looking into options should they need additional space. “We know that will likely require exploring facilities outside of Latin’s current campus, which we are beginning,” said Mr. Koo. These extra spaces could get expensive, but Mr. Koo encouraged the Latin community not to worry about cost. “Financial resources should not be the limiting factor to decisions that Randall and the team make in terms of how to deliver this program,” he said. “Back in May, when we established a budget the board made the decision to have latitude for the school to operate at a modest operating loss, recognizing that we have the cash reserves to support the program.”

The school also recognizes that not everyone will be able to return to the classroom. “There are teachers who have had accommodations based on a variety of issues that will continue to teach remotely when students are in person,” said Mr. Dunn. “At last check, there are approximately 20% of faculty in the Upper School who have exceptions.”

With more than 400 students in the Upper School, the odds that someone eventually contracts the virus seem high. Thus far, Latin has experienced only one in-school case, which has resulted in the entire seventh grade quarantining for two weeks at the discretion of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). The seventh grade has shifted to fully remote learning until October 9.

Latin has since made changes that should prevent the need for additional grade-wide quarantines. “The information that we’ve gotten from CDPH after that has led to changes in terms of traffic and movement in and out of buildings, so I don’t think we will run into that again,” said Dr. Patel.

Another cause for concern is the possibility that students get false-positive COVID-19 test results. According to Dr. Patel, Latin has no choice but to treat these tests as they would any other coronavirus case. “It’s the Department of Public Health, so if the rapid test is positive, it stays a positive despite any further testing.”

The bottom line is, whether or not they expected it, Latin Upper Schoolers will be returning to the building this month. And as Nurse Yacu said, “It will require everyone’s support, flexibility, understanding and cooperation to transition back to in-person learning in the safest way possible.”