SCDS suspended in-person classes on March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic. As of April 28, the U.S. had 1,034,115 confirmed cases and 59,112 deaths. (Photo by Elise Sommerhaug)

Remote instruction scheduled to continue for rest of semester

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed headlines since its origin in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. It rapidly spread around the globe, and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus an international pandemic on March 11.

According to Worldometer, as of April 28, there were 3,134,199 confirmed cases and 217,596 deaths worldwide. The United States had by far the most confirmed cases and deaths — 1,034,115 and 59,112, respectively. 

On March 13, head of school Lee Thomsen announced to students, parents and faculty that the school would suspend in-person classes and events at least through the end of spring break on April 13. That was extended to May 1, and Thomsen announced in an email on April 24 that Country Day plans to continue with remote learning for the remainder of the academic year. That could change if conditions allow, he added.

Thomsen added that many public schools in the Sacramento and San Francisco areas have also postponed reopening until the beginning of the next academic year.

Country Day consulted Dr. Peter Beilenson, the director of the Sacramento County Health Department and a Country Day parent, for medical information and advice, according to Thomsen. 

Standardized testing and AP exams have been postponed and moved online. The SAT scheduled for June 6 was moved to Sept. 26, and the ACT planned for April 3-4 was postponed to June 12-13, according to the organizations’ websites.

AP exams were pushed back one week to May 11-22 and moved online for a shorter period of time. The scoring policies remain the same, director of college counseling Jane Bauman said.

Head of high school Brooke Wells said he thinks colleges will take the pandemic into consideration when reviewing test scores for juniors. 

Meanwhile, all high school spring sporting events have been canceled, according to athletic director Matt Vargo.

“The winter sports banquet, originally scheduled for March 18, is canceled, and the certificates will be mailed to the players,” Vargo said.

Vargo added that the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) canceled all spring sports.

“This will be a big miss,” Vargo said. “(Seniors Rebecca Waterson and Jackson Crawford) would’ve led their teams in their final seasons for swim and golf, (respectively). The tennis team was undefeated and was having their best season in Country Day history, and the baseball team consisted of many seniors, who will also be missed.”

According to Vargo, a decision regarding students’ PE credits for spring sports has not been finalized, although every senior has met the graduation requirements.

Thomsen said end-of-the-year celebrations — including college day, high school awards, senior dinner and graduation — have been changed. Details are being discussed.

“We are planning to hold the end-of-the-year celebrations virtually. However, if that changes, we will happily move it back,” Thomsen said.

“I think China is (safer) than the United States. China is doing great (at) preventing the virus from spreading and has gotten it under control.”

—John Fan

Other events scheduled on campus, including summer classes, the annual auction in May and the Writer’s Workshop in July, have been moved online. 

Wells announced to the high school on April 15 that the summer sessions offered to high school students — pre-calculus honors and biology — will still happen, either in-person or online, depending on the status of the pandemic at the end of the academic year.

Director of advancement Rachelle Doyle informed the school in an April 21 email that the annual auction, which had been scheduled for May 16 at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel, has been moved online on that date at 5:30 p.m.

The event will feature recorded videos and live interactions. Proceeds will be used to build a temporary Country Day Community Fund to bolster tuition assistance for families significantly impacted by COVID-19. 

English department chair Jason Hinojosa, who teaches the Writer’s Workshop, decided to move it online.

“My intention was to provide a measure of clarity and reassurance to both current and potential participants,” Hinojosa said. “It also seemed prohibitively challenging to market a program that would assume one of two different forms. I am cautiously hopeful that the virus will no longer be rapidly spreading in July. That said, it feels prudent to plan for that possibility and to offer a safeguard for members of especially vulnerable populations who may want to err on the side of caution even into the summer.”

Hinojosa added that the course will follow the same curriculum.

“We will exchange manuscripts via email and meet for group discussions via Zoom, but otherwise our plans are exactly the same,” Hinojosa said. “Communicating by video isn’t the same as sitting together in a classroom, though I expect that the workshop will still be constructive, engaging and inspiring.”

The move online has benefits, according to Hinojosa.

“We didn’t have concrete plans for a guest speaker before the workshop moved online, though it was a possibility,” he said. “Shifting the program online made it much easier for our guest speaker — a very talented and accomplished author named Maria Kuznetsova — to join, who is currently affiliated with Auburn University and therefore based in Alabama.”

Hinojosa added that moving the workshop online will attract more participants.

“Previously, the applicant pool was limited to people living in Sacramento or willing to commute to Sacramento for the duration of the two-week program,” he said. “Now the applicant pool has widened to include anyone with internet access and a fiction manuscript.”

High school publications are also forced to adapt. The Octagon will mail print issues instead of distributing them at school. Medallion editor Yumi Moon, a senior, said methods of distributing yearbooks are being discussed. Editor Anu Krishnan, a senior, said the Glass Knife, an annual literary magazine, has moved online. Submissions will be posted as blogs on a website.

Country Day also hosts many international students, and Wells said he is unsure if they will be able to return home over the summer.

“We are very cautious about that situation because it could be very hard for them to return back to school when summer has ended,” Wells said. “Right now, international travel is very restricted — either leaving or coming back to the United States. If they were to go back home for the summer, we would work with our team in China and immigration attorneys to make sure they could continue their high school experience here.”

Despite these warnings, juniors Stephanie Ye and Joanne Tsai plan to return to their homes in China and Taiwan, respectively, for the summer. None of their family members or friends back home have tested positive, they said.

Sophomores John Fan and Daisy Zhou have left for China. 

Fan left on April 18 for his home in Changzhou, near Shanghai.

“I think China is (safer) than the United States,” Fan said. “China is doing great (at) preventing the virus from spreading and has gotten it under control. Also, people who get the virus in China can get treated immediately.

“People in China are not quarantined, and their lives are back to normal. I really want to hang out with my friends and have fun.”

Zhou agreed and returned to her home in Chengdu on April 24. 

“My parents were living in a coastal and tropical town when this pandemic happened, so it didn’t affect them much,” Zhou said.

“During Chinese New Year at the end of January, there was much less celebration than usual because of the virus. But since then, the situation in China is getting a lot better. (In) the last three weeks, every city is out of quarantine, students are starting to attend school again and restaurants are opening. Almost everyone has stopped wearing masks, and life in Wuhan is back to normal.”

Ye plans to return to Changzhou in mid-May.

“The situation in my hometown was never as bad as other big cities in China,” Ye said. “My town was only quarantined for a week in February, and during that week, my parents were cautious. They didn’t step outside of the house, worked from home and had groceries delivered to our house. 

“After that, things have been pretty normal, and the government didn’t require a quarantine for most cities — it was just personal quarantining. They did limit the movement in and out of cities and required people to wear masks, though.”

Tsai, who’s originally from Taiwan, plans to return in mid-May. 

“The government has (stated) that when people come to China, they are forced to quarantine in a hotel in Nanjing without their families for the first 14 days in order to prevent the spread,” Tsai said. “In Taiwan, if you are coming internationally, you only have to quarantine with your family at home for 14 days, so it’s not as bad.”

However, junior Hermione Xian, who’s from China, plans to stay in the United States for the summer.

“I live with my grandparents, cousin (freshman Garman Xu), mom and aunt here, so I don’t really need to go back,” Xian said. “I think it’s too dangerous to fly, and I definitely don’t want to get the virus. But, if I was living with a host family, I would go back to my family in China.”

Thomsen said he plans to communicate with the school community regularly.

“Even though we are not in school, we still send out the Friday emails, updating the school about changes and adaptations,” Thomsen said.

“We also started something called town halls, which is where faculty inform parents about changes or concerns and answer any questions on a Zoom call. We plan to have that around once a week for lower, middle and high school parents.”

Originally published in the April 28 edition of the Octagon.

— By Sanjana Anand

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