Shalhevet cracks down on mask wearing as some students, staff test positive for Covid

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BP Photo by Nettie Wolkind

BREAKTHROUGH: Students lined up for PCR tests in the cafeteria last Friday. Covid testing was required for both the boys and girls soccer and basketball teams and optional for everyone else. Two students, both seniors, tested positive, along with a staff member – all of them vaccinated.

Starting Monday, Dec. 20, Shalhevet officials began “expecting” students to wear masks while indoors, after three Covid cases were discovered in the Shalhevet community over the weekend.

School officials announced the expectation in a schoolwide e-mail post yesterday afternoon, noting that it had been official school policy all year.  

For the last weeks, it’s no secret that we’ve been more lax than our stated policy, and while we’ve remained very safe and healthy, the time has come to recommit ourselves to county guidelines and expectations,” stated the email, which signed by Head of School Rabbi David Block and Chief Operating Officer Ms. Sarah Emerson. 

“For my personal role in not always leading by example in that regard, I truly apologize.”

The email said that the three positive cases were two seniors and one faculty member, none of whom were named.

All three people were fully vaccinated, according to the email, and “All have very mild symptoms and are doing well” so far, Rabbi Block and Ms. Emerson wrote.

PCR: Senior Nadav Golfiz was tested last Friday as a part of mandatory Covid testing for the basketball team. (BP Photo by Sam Elyzasadeh)

Early this morning, Ms. Emerson announced an additional three Covid cases: two more students, and a staff member “who is not a teacher.” None of the individuals were named and their vaccination statuses were not specified. 

Meanwhile, Rabbi Block also posted to Schoology yesterday evening, requesting students to be very aware of masks themselves. It said nothing about consequences for non-compliance, but referred to last Friday’s Town Hall discussion about adherence to dress code. Penalties for dress code violations were also presented.

“Starting tomorrow, we all have to be very vigilant about wearing masks whenever we’re indoors,” wrote Rabbi Block, in boldface and underlined. “In all classes, in the hallways, etc. I know it’s hard (for me, too), but this is part of what we discussed on Friday regarding playing our part in this larger community. 

“PLEASE, don’t put your teachers in the uncomfortable position of having to police this and [having] to remind you constantly to put your mask on or to have it cover your nose.”

Still, officials were not alarmed about the three cases.  More than three-quarters of students are immunized, as are 97 percent of faculty and staff.

“As a reminder, we always expect to have a few COVID cases,” stated the email, “and our existing policies (including our vaccine mandate), together with our recommitment to mask vigilance, ensures that we are well-prepared.”

There had never been any penalties for not wearing masks at school, and over the months fewer and fewer students had complied – even last week, when California mandated indoor mask-wearing throughout the state due to the Omicron variant.

There also had been very few cases at school, officials said. 

Beginning Monday and going forward until further notice, all faculty, staff, and students who enter my classroom will be required to wear a mask at all times.

— Dr. Keith Harris, History Department chair

History department chair Dr. Keith Harris emailed his students Sunday morning, informing them that masks would no longer be optional in his class.

“Beginning Monday and going forward until further notice, all faculty, staff, and students who enter my classroom will be required to wear a mask at all times,” wrote Dr. Harris.

“Your mask must completely cover your mouth and nose,” he continued. “There will be no eating allowed for any reason under any circumstance. Anyone who fails to follow these rules will be asked to leave.”

People who were exposed to the three who tested positive were notified Sunday afternoon in an email from Ms. Emerson, and Shalhevet arranged a window at Doctor Now from 4:30 to 5 p.m. for anyone who wanted to get tested following their exposure. 

Mask-wearing compliance appeared much higher at school today, with at least three-fourths of students wearing masks. At last week’s Town Hall, by contrast, fewer than a quarter of students were masked. 

This is a developing story and will be updated when more information becomes available.