Irish Return to School Plan

More information can be found on our COVID-19 page.
Greetings from NDHS! And thank you for your patience as we have been working on our return-to-school plan and procedures. It's the not knowing that adds to a family's anxiety, never good on any day but especially in this crazy year.
I wish I could promise you that what I'm getting ready to say won't change ... but you and I know the odds of that happening are slim to none. If things do evolve, we'll get information to you as quickly as we can. 
Much as your life has changed, so has ours. I'll freely admit, good ideas we had a month ago we've found to be not quite as good today. All I can promise is that we'll make every decision with student/teacher safety in mind ... not to mention I'm the oldest guy in the building and thus living life in the pretty-darn-susceptible category. We'll be as safe as we can.
We wouldn't have gotten this far without a lot of very helpful input from students, parents and teachers, the local medical community as well as a ton of hard work by our staff. Those efforts will likely get lost once we crank it back up but I do wish to publicly thank them. it's been inspiring to see so many people come together with a singular purpose - educating our kids as safely as possible. 
It's a ton of reading. With five months to get ready, you'd think that's enough time to have considered all angles yet every new day seems to throw another "what if" in our direction. It is our hope that these answer most of your questions but if you have one we have yet to address, please give us a call. 
Some highlights:
>> Hamilton County Schools have some tough decisions in front of them too. As I've said before, what school wouldn't love to have a larger enrollment, but the family feel that we do have is enabling us more flexibility and why we can start together safely socially distanced. Scheduling all of that was an adventure but worth every ounce of effort. I commend our staff - and thank them.
>> We do have an At-Home Learning option that we know some families will wish to choose. By necessity, it will need to look somewhat different from last Spring. Parents told us that, students told us that, teachers told us that. 
     Students will need to be able to "attend" their classes via computer during their normal classtimes. If any family has need of internet services, please contact us as soon as possible so we can help get you set up. Others might need to borrow a laptop, we can accommodate that as well.  
     We completely understand and respect the choice to avoid bigger groups. We're hoping like you are that circumstances improve so you'll feel comfortable returning to campus - especially if you hope to get back to extra-curricular life that's such a big part of the student experience. 
     If interested in At-Home Learning, please contact our Academic Dean Laura Swenson by next Friday, July 24, to discuss what is involved and how it will work. 
>> As of today - Friday, July 17 - our plan is to follow this schedule: 
... Tue, July 28 - 9:00 a.m. - noon -  ID cards are going to be needed throughout the year. If you need a new one - or have never had one - we're inviting our students to drop by to take care of that. It's not at all necessary to get it done then because we'll also be making them during Orientation Days, but we're offering this as a way to help us get ready and help you avoid a line. Also, we will host a Spirit Shop Clearance Sale at this time. 
... Fri, July 31 - At Home Learners can pick up books, at-home orientation schedules, borrow computers, etc (1:00 - 3:00 p.m., NDHS Library)
... Mon, Aug 3 - Freshman Orientation, 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
... Tue, Aug 4 - Sophomore Orientation, 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
... Wed, Aug 5 - Junior Orientation, 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
... Thu, Aug 6 - Senior Orientation, 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
... Fri, Aug 7 - Classes begin for all grades
>> In our earlier survey, 73% of parents indicated a desire to return to school every day. 24% indicated a preference for the 'half on Monday, half on Tuesday' option. 3% indicated a desire for full-time at-home learning.
     With that in mind, we set about from the beginning to figure out a way to get everyone back every day as safely as possible. As you would expect, it involved building a master schedule that factors in social-distancing, a concept not usually on our summer radar. 
     To make it work, quite a few teachers have been asked to sacrifice their planning periods to help make the numbers work. Each and every one accepted the call graciously and I thank them.
>> Our mission is always going to center around the spiritual well-being of our students. Daily Mass will continue to be offered every morning in our Chapel before school at 7:30 a.m. on days when we do not have an All-School Mass.
     We also plan to begin the year by hosting and live-streaming weekly Masses in our theater. We will rotate in-person attendance while the rest watch in a classroom as well as periodically planning to celebrate Mass in our football stadium where all can gather. Needless to say, weather will play a huge role in that. (In addition to whatever other prayers you're saying for us, you can now officially add some for good weather.)
>> Life with or without a mask is a diocesan decision. We have a current plan that we will implement on Day 1, a plan that will be reviewed every two weeks and subject to change as the impact of the virus does. 
     In short, to begin with, masks are required by all when entering, exiting or moving about the building. Students/teachers may switch to shields only when seated in the classroom and only if they so choose.  
     When the situation improves (but not yet), the Diocese hopes to implement a phase where when all are settled and seated in a classroom, masks/shields can be removed for instruction. And we dream of the day when we need none at all.
>> Temperatures of everyone entering the building will be taken daily in the entrance hallway. 100.4F or above is the line over which one may not cross. Anyone with a fever at that mark is encouraged to seek medical help from your family doctor but must stay at home for 72 hours after the fever breaks (without help from medicine.)
>> The cafeteria routine will of course change. Because Pedestal Foods is requiring their cashiers to change gloves after every cash transaction, all families are being encouraged to check out the "MySchoolBucks" program ( ) where you can add money in advance to a student's account.
     NOTE TO NEW FAMILIES: To set up your account, you will need your child's STUDENT ID#. Please contact our Cafeteria Manager, Joanna O'Brien for assistance.
>> Because of limited class sizes, student schedule change requests won't be nearly as easy as in the past, if they can happen at all. Schedule change requests must come with parent approval. Contact Mrs. Swenson.
>> This isn't super critical but worth mentioning. I don't want to insult anybody but on a good day, a guy's tie is filthy and the perfect collection site for germs of all kinds. So, for at least first semester, we are waiving the tie requirement for male teachers/students.
>> Speaking of things to wear, we are not requiring a uniform mask/facial covering/shield but it is our expectation they will be appropriate, non-political and non-offensive. We will have a large supply of extra masks and a limited supply of extra shields.
>> For months now, school cleanliness has been at the top of our list. High-touch areas are cleaned throughout the day. Classroom desks will be cleaned before each new class sits down. Restrooms / locker rooms will be routinely cleaned by experts in the field using methods both chemical and mechanical and not available to us in the day-to-day. 
>> Nothing outweighs personal hygiene. New hand sanitizer stations are being installed all over the place along with additional no-touch bottle-fill water fountains. 
>> Everyone has encountered the five questions you have to answer before entering a variety of places. We are asking you to keep them in mind every day and if there's a "YES" in your student's life, please keep them home. They'll get caught up. 
>> Should a student test positive, families need to let us know. The Hamilton County Health Dept. has set expectations for how long to quarantine if one has a positive test. They also have expectations for how long to quarantine if you live with someone who has a positive test. Temporary at-home learning would then kick in. 
>> Notre Dame is hiring a part-time nurse who will be on campus every morning.
>> Where possible, our hallways are being converted to one-way flow to help. Yes, it may involve a longer route to class but all doable ... with the added benefit of helping everyone get in their steps.  
Recently I was thinking back to when we first announced we'd be home for a while - two weeks I think was the plan back then. 
At that point, it felt like we were getting ready to tackle a multi-day snow blizzard of sorts. And then it got extended ... and then a little longer ... and then we just kissed it goodbye.
Still, truth be told, it wasn't that long ago that I'd have bet my retirement that we'd all be rolling back in to school here in a couple of weeks, thrilled to see one another, ready to crank up school the old-fashioned way. There was even about a week there when I spent time planning in my head a huge "Welcome Back Party" out on the football field, with music and ice cream, hot dogs and hugs, lots of hugs. 
Needless to say, that's not what I've outlined above. 
Oh we'll have that party for sure. I don't know when exactly, but we will gather together and we will celebrate and we will extinguish that candle that still burns in the chapel. But until then, we live the life we've been given - as smartly and safely as each of us is able. For some, the smart play is at home; for others, a different path feels right. 
I work here because Notre Dame has always been a family but maybe now more so than ever. 
If I let you know we had a family in need - perhaps a fire or a tornado - it's been my experience folks come out of the woodwork to lend a hand and take care of one another.
Now, that taking-care-of-one-another-thing has an added dimension - it's about keeping kids at home if there's doubt ... or if there's confirmation, informing us so we can inform others. Thank you for caring - isn't that what it's really all about?!?!
Early this morning, the Superintendent asked me what our theme of the year was going to be. I hadn't really given that much thought until asked. This too is likely to change but PRAYERFUL FLEXIBILITY comes to mind.
Again, I thank you for your patience. I know waiting can be trying. Know that you are in our prayers, and thank you for keeping us in yours.
George Valadie