Junior Lilah Shorey takes a wipe to clean her desk after her AP U.S. History class. (Photo by Arikta Trivedi)

$1.18 million helps Country Day through pandemic

A $1.18 million federal forgivable loan has allowed Country Day to maintain its payroll and buy or rent COVID-19-related safety items that helped the school bring students back to campus.

Country Day’s loan was forgiven and paid in full by the federal government, said the school’s Chief Financial Officer Bill Petchauer.

Evidence of the loan’s impact can be seen across campus.

When senior Pragathi Vivaik starts her morning at Country Day, a new infrared thermometer checks her temperature, a plexiglass screen shields her from her teacher and hand sanitizer awaits her at the exit.

Country Day is one of thousands of private schools across the country that received forgivable loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. 

According to federal data*, the SBA approved loans for 13 private institutions in Sacramento County that offer high school education. The loan amounts ranged from $245,000 to  $2.97 million. (See chart below.) However, the actual loan received may differ from what was approved, as was the case for Country Day, which was approved for $1.36 million but received $1.18 million.

The PPP offers forgivable loans as “a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on payroll,” according to the SBA’s website. As reported last year by The Sacramento Bee, Country Day was approved for its PPP loan in April 2020.

Head of school Lee Thomsen said the PPP loan acted as a failsafe.

“At a time when we were looking ahead to the current school year last spring, it gave us the insurance and assurance that we would be able to maintain a full faculty and staff in the event that we had suffered a major loss in enrollment,” Thomsen said.

The loan allowed the school to stay financially healthy and conserve its financial reserve, Petchauer said.

The PPP loans can be used to fund payroll costs, pay for mortgage or rent, utilities, COVID-19 protection, operation expenses as well as property damage costs, according to the SBA’s website.

For a loan to be forgiven, the borrower must maintain employee and compensation levels, use the loan only on allowed expenses and allocate at least 60 percent of the loan to payroll costs. 

Country Day spent its loan on COVID-19 protection supplies, information technology equipment, rental of facilities and storage, additional staffing and retaining all employees’ paychecks, Petchauer said. 

For instance, Head of Lower School Maisae Affour said four staff members have been hired this year: two teaching assistants, a new kindergarten teacher and a remote learning coordinator. 

“We needed extra staffing due to the added cohorts that we created in order to accommodate social distancing,” Affour said. 

“Without the additional staffing, definitely it would have been very challenging because students would have to be unattended.”

For the same reason, the school rented a large tent for the lower school quad.

“In order to accommodate lunch time and snack time during breaks during a rainy season, we asked for a tent so children could be spaced out, unmasked, and eat their lunches and snacks under the tent,” Affour said. “That was a great help in making sure our community is secure and safe.”

In addition to being a space for students to chow down while staying dry, the tent facilitates a number of music and PE classes for kindergarten through fifth grade, Affour said. Pre-K also uses this space for their music and movement class. 

The federal funds helped Country Day pay for its COVID-19 protection plan created during the summer of 2020.

All on-campus personnel needed personal protective equipment, so masks, gloves, face shields and hand sanitizer are available across campus.

“We also recognized that we needed to come up with a way to screen symptomatic individuals prior to coming to school and testing protocols to remove asymptomatic individuals,” said director of the physical plant Jay Holman.

To facilitate this, the PPP loan helped purchase thermometers for daily screenings.

HEPA air purifiers were placed in classrooms to increase air exchange rate, and MERV 13 filters were installed in the HVAC system to remove small particles from the air, Holman said.

The state recommended increased sanitation and limited occupancy for common areas and bathrooms, Holman said.

To limit occupancy in bathrooms, the school rented portable bathrooms, said Head of High School Brooke Wells.

To facilitate social distancing, many desks were taken out of classrooms. As a result, Country Day had to rent extra storage for excess furniture and equipment, Wells said.

For places where social distancing is hard to enforce, such as teachers’ desks, plexiglass partitions were installed for added protection.

“All of these layers of protection allowed us to open our doors in the Fall of 2020 and remain open with zero cases of on-campus transmission of the virus,” Holman said.

To ensure all families have internet access at home, the school purchased video equipment, computers and hotspots, Petchauer said. 

For senior Pragathi Vivaik, the measures Country Day has taken to keep the campus safe gave her confidence to return in person.

“There wasn’t a specific thing that made me come back. I just see them doing all these things and I think, ‘it looks like they know what they’re doing.’”

— By Ming Zhu

Originally published in the May 25 edition of the Octagon.

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