Davis Academy Coping with COVID Outbreak

The Davis Academy is coping with a COVID-19 outbreak that has sidelined roughly 20 percent of its faculty and forced changes in which grades of the K-8 school will stay home for distance learning and which will hold classes on-campus.

The language in communications from school administrators to families during February suggested that some parents have not been truthful in reporting exposure to COVID-19 or in following the school’s protocols to prevent exposure and spread of the virus.

As of today, the Jewish day school reported 14 new COVID-19 cases, 12 among middle school students and one in the lower grades – the sibling of a positive middle school student – and one new teacher testing positive.

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At the beginning of this week, the school reported three positive cases among students and five among teachers, with an additional 12 teachers in quarantine.

“The pandemic is challenging for all of us, and we are doing our very best in a very difficult situation,” Amy Shafron said in a Feb. 8 video.

“Data collection and contact tracing indicate in the past 10-14 days that many individuals in the Davis community participated in social gatherings including group meals, celebrations, sleepovers, and/or sports activities which has resulted in increased cases especially among Middle School students,” according to a statement today addressed to “Davis Academy Families” by Amy Shafron, the head of school, and Drew Frank, the associate head of school and principal.

The plan for the coming week has all students at home for distance learning on Monday. Students in the third through eighth grades will remain home the remainder of the week. Students in the lower grades are scheduled to be on-campus, except for those with a sibling in middle school, who will study from home.

To bring all students back on-campus March 1, “During this next week, all students and faculty should NOT participate in any social gatherings or travel including group dinners, celebrations, sleepovers, and sports activities,” while also continuing “extensive risk mitigation protocols” that have been in effect since school resumed last fall, according to today’s statement.

Addressing compliance with the school’s protocols, a Feb. 2 statement by Shafron and Frank said: “The circumstances surrounding the most recent positive cases reported to the school confirm continuing activity and exposure outside of school as well as unreliably reported information provided to the school that is, quite honestly, concerning to us and to the members of our Health & Safety Committee. . . We rely on the honesty and integrity of our families to help us stay in school, yet we have indications that some parents may not be tracking and reporting accurately and honestly.”

That statement also said: “Our contact tracing and tracking have revealed that student risk is clearly greatest from participating in extra-curricular activities outside of school or household transmission. We ask you again to please not have your children participate in extracurricular activities such as dance classes, sports programs, and birthday parties, over the next eight weeks. Even with prior reminders and requests, it is clear that some Davis families are not adhering to the request, placing themselves—and others—at risk.”

In a similar vein, a statement Monday from Shafron and Frank said: “We are aware of a lot of travel by families this past weekend, of Super Bowl and celebratory gatherings, and of continued sleepovers amongst our students, activities which continue to contribute to the need for us all to pull together and sacrifice so we can remain together on campus.”

This past week, all students were off Tuesday and all were home for distance learning Wednesday through Friday, because “ . . .  we simply do not have enough teachers who will be in school this week to provide enough instruction and coverage to ensure a safe, in-person learning environment,” according to Monday’s statement.

“While we hired additional staff members this year to assist with new responsibilities and occasional teacher absences, our policy continues to be that we do not utilize outside substitute teachers who also work in other schools for health and safety reasons. It is understandable and at the same time truly unfortunate that the pandemic is now impacting many of our dedicated and beloved faculty members. As they look out for our children each and every day, we now need to focus our love and respect on them.”

The Davis Academy, billed as the largest Reform Jewish day school in the country, was founded in 1992 and is located north of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody along U.S. 19/Georgia 400. Its website says that the school averages 560 students.

In a video posted Feb. 8, Shafron said that The Davis Academy had experienced 18 positive COVID-19 cases among students, faculty and staff during the previous six months of the academic calendar. That included the relatively sudden onset in early February of 11 positive cases among students and one among faculty in a first grade cohort. That cohort’s families were notified Jan. 31 of the teacher’s positive case.

When the first positive student case was identified the next day, the entire cohort was sent home to begin distance learning, as were the siblings of those first graders, as a further precaution. “Certain cases appear to have been the result of specific interactions outside of school, including group activities, while others are suspected to have been from in-school transmission,” Shafron said in the video.

In the video, Shafron lauded the doctors and public health experts, some of whom are parents of Davis Academy students, who make up the school’s health and safety committee and have been advising the school’s administrators. “The pandemic is challenging for all of us, and we are doing our very best in a very difficult situation,” Shafron said. She acknowledged that differences exist among Davis Academy parents on the best approach and what steps should be taken.

“The challenges from this pandemic one day will be over. Our Davis kehillah and values are everlasting,” Shafron said near the end of the video.