3/8/20 Upper School Trips

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Dear St. Michael’s Parents and Families in Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grades,

Please read and review this email in full. In light of the ongoing spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S., it contains important information regarding our Upper School trips to Crow Canyon, Catalina Island, and Washington, D.C. Please note that, with regard to COVID-19, we have no reason for concern for the health and wellbeing of anyone in the St. Michael’s community at this time.

I want to first communicate with all of you what has been perhaps the most challenging decision I have had to make in the past eighteen months, which is the decision to cancel the Upper School trips (Grades 6-8) this year, originally scheduled for mid-April.

With two children of my own in the Upper School, both of whom have looked forward to these trips for months, as a parent I share their sadness and disappointment, and your sadness and disappointment, in knowing that our students will have to forego this opportunity this year. These experiences in Colorado, California, and Washington hold a very special place in the life and experience of a St. Michael’s student. I went with our eighth graders last year to Washington, D.C., and loved it, and I was excited about joining our sixth graders this year on their journey to Crow Canyon in Southern Colorado.

We all see the great value in these unique travel programs at St. Michael’s. At the same time, in my role as Head of School, and for those administrators and faculty who plan diligently for months for these trips, we have the responsibility—beyond our individual feelings and wishes as parents—of considering a myriad of perspectives, above all the health and wellbeing of the students and faculty in our care.

According to data from the Southwestern Association of Independent Schools, which hosted a webinar this week that we participated in, 20%+ of independent schools in the U.S. to date have canceled domestic travel this spring for their students (with a significantly higher percentage of cancelations for international programs), with the likelihood that this percentage will increase among schools in the coming weeks.

Furthermore, the climate of concern and the collective wisdom, at least among independent schools in the U.S., are strongly suggesting that schools begin preparing for a more sobering scenario, which includes the potential for extended school closures. With foremost consideration for our students and faculty, amid a growing health concern that is characterized by shifting variables and unpredictable outcomes, we believe that a risk-averse, safety-prone approach with school-sponsored student travel is the most prudent approach to take.

Again, with no way to predict the impact of the virus (how long it will last, how many people it will continue to infect, and where, here in the U.S. especially), we could potentially be confronted in five weeks’ time with the closure of some, most, or all of the places of interest in Washington, DC, and with flight cancellations and / or restrictions on travel. (Note: As you have likely seen in the news, a number of businesses have already taken a proactive approach by placing restrictions on, or canceling altogether, all non-essential travel for their employees.)

While we would perhaps benefit from more time to consider a final decision for any one, or all, of the three trips, we are limited by the reservation and confirmation deadlines required to reserve hotel rooms, air and bus transportation, tour guides, and facilities in DC, California, and Colorado. In short, we do not have the luxury of time with this decision. All told, for all three trips, we invest close to $100,000 of parent payments annually to third-party providers. Without a guarantee of all three trips proceeding seamlessly in five weeks’ time, we could (and would if any plans on the destination end changed) forfeit a significant percentage of non-refundable expenses.

As I emphasized in my email to all of you earlier this week, we have been working tirelessly and will continue working tirelessly to stay apprised of COVID-19’s impact everywhere, especially its impact on our St. Michael’s community.

These efforts have included daily discussions with our school’s leadership team, with other schools and school leaders, with our own Board of Trustees, and with professionals in the fields of health and medicine, including our School Nurse, Erika Huff; remaining attuned to updates online through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Association of Independent Schools, the Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools, and our local civic organizations, including the Pima County Health Department; participating in webinars devoted to discussion of the virus’s current and potential impact on schools in the short and long term; and, above all, keeping at the forefront of all of these conversations and decisions the health and safety and wellbeing of our students, your sons and daughters, and of the faculty and staff in our care.

Please note that I will send a follow-up email to parents in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades within the coming week with further details on the potential for alternate local trips for mid-April, along with a note on refunds for families who have already made payment.

We are very grateful to those of you who have offered thoughtful questions, comments, and insights over the course of the past week.

Brendan Sullivan
Head of School

With: Mrs. Amy Divijak, US Faculty and 8th Grade Washington, DC, Trip Coordinator
Mrs. Jennifer Gould, US Faculty and 7th Grade Catalina Trip Coordinator
Mr. Alex Hawes, Upper School Director
Mrs. Erika Huff, School Nurse
Mrs. Charmaine Lang, Director of Finance
Dr. Matt Teller, Associate Head of School, Director of Admissions & Enrollment
Mrs. Sara Van Straalen, US Faculty and 6th Grade Crow Canyon Trip Coordinator

cc: St. Michael’s School Board of Trustees
St. Michael’s School Faculty and Staff