SouthLake Christian COVID-19 Decision Timeline

Updated January 15, 2022

The following represents dates of significant COVID-19 decisions made by SouthLake leaders and some of the data informing those decisions. This timeline was constructed from email records and meeting notes. I have not included decisions of lesser significance so this timeline is not comprehensive. In a small number of instances, I list the month of an event rather than the specific day because that is what my notes indicate. I offer these records as a transparent reflection of both the enormity of the leadership challenges our administration faced as well as a testament to how many decisions were made collaboratively and on the basis of specific data from public officials, health agencies, and SouthLake parents who are medical doctors.

December 2019 – Conversations with Mr. David Rowles regarding financial implications of potential coronavirus disruptions. Conversations with Dr. Hank Capps regarding preparations for campus closures with likelihood that coronavirus will spread to our region.

January 2020 – Discussion with Executive Leadership Team (Head of School, Associate Head of School, Division Heads) about preparations for online instruction in event of campus closure.

February 2020 – World Health Organization names the novel coronavirus COVID-19. SLCA faculty meeting asking teachers to begin preparations to teach online after Spring Break; School Board updated regarding possibility of campus closure.

March 1, 2020 – Email to SLCA families announcing our intention to attend carefully to CDC guidelines and to local, state, and federal guidance regarding COVID safety. SLCA Tech Team establishes Google Classroom and Zoom as school distance learning tools, begins training teachers and students accordingly.

March 6, 2020 – Consultation with legal counsel regarding SLCA safety protocols. Business review of relevant provisions of our commercial insurance policy.

March 8, 2020 – Email to SLCA families announcing implementation of distance learning tools and restriction of school-related travel to avoid areas severely affected by COVID-19.

March 10, 2020 – NC Governor declares State of Emergency in North Carolina in response to COVID-19 pandemic. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issue guidance recommending elimination of mass gatherings and closure of schools to in-person instruction.

March 11, 2020 – World Health Organization declares COVID-19 a global pandemic.

March 12, 2020 – SLCA suspends all non-local school-sponsored travel, cancelling field trips, the Intermediate School Disney Trip, and High School trips to Appalachian Service Project and Washington DC. North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association suspends all sports.

March 13, 2020 – City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County both declare State of Emergency in relation to COVID-19 spread in our area. SLCA Executive Administrative Team decides the following:

  • SLCA will close a week early for Spring Break and suspend all school-sponsored travel.
  • SLCA will continue to pay full-time and part-time salaried employees and all essential hourly staff. Non-essential hourly staff will not work, including bus drivers, After School care employees, and teaching assistants. We will care for our non-essential hourly employees if closure lingers.
  • Custodial staff will deep clean the entire campus beginning Monday.
  • Instruction will resume on March 30 in an online format using distance learning tools put in place as part of disaster preparedness planning.
  • Monday March 16 we will host teacher training to finish preparations for distance learning. The training is voluntary for those with underlying health conditions that place them at heightened risk. The tech team will be available during the week by appointment for staff members who need technical assistance with distance learning plans.
  • Tuesday March 17 we will send out our Continuity of Instruction plan to school families.
  • Teachers will work at SouthLake through Friday March 20 in their classrooms or at home. Staff will dismiss for Spring Break on Friday March 20.
  • March 30 we will launch our Continuity of Instruction plan for all grades in all subjects, including PE and fine arts.

March 14, 2020 – NC Governor issues Executive Order closing schools and limiting public gatherings to fewer than 100 people across the state.

March 16, 2020 – SLCA Business Team meets to discuss financial triage plans in the event of signification fallout from campus closure; decides to pay all employees through the end of the week; School Board begins receiving regular updates about all SLCA administrative decisions related to COVID-19.

March 17, 2020 – SLCA Administrative Assistants call all school families to assess needs for online school; Tech Team makes provisions to loan laptops and/or iPads to families without devices or families with multiple children and limited devices; Business Team provides tuition credit for families needing to purchase desktop printers for home use.

March 23, 2020 – NC Governor orders public schools closed through May 15. NC Department of Non-Public Instruction issues same guidance for private schools.

March 25, 2020 – SLCA Business Team plans to continue to pay all employees, reassigning some staff to support cleaning and facilities improvements while campus is closed.

March 27, 2020 – NC Governor issues executive stay-at-home order. CARES Act signed into law by President Trump establishing the Paycheck Protection Program.

March 30, 2020 – Online instruction begins for all students, all grades, in all subjects. HS Principal begins calling every student weekly to assess academic progress and family needs.

April 2, 2020 – SLCA School Board approves school application for Paycheck Protection Program providing forgivable loans to small businesses and non-profits that retain employees.

April 4, 2020 – SLCA Administration decides to cancel senior trip to Peru and prom, to reschedule junior trip to DC, and to delay graduation. Begins plans to hand deliver yard signs and weekly gifts to graduating seniors.

April 13, 2020 – SLCA launches survey assessing the first two weeks of online instruction.

April 23, 2020 – SLCA hosts virtual Town Hall meeting discussing school’s COVID-19 response, online instruction survey results, and plans for finishing the school year. HS and MS personnel begin intervention with students struggling in the online learning environment.

April 24, 2020 – NC Governor announces schools to remain closed through the end of the school year.

April 30, 2020 – School Board Meeting to discuss federal COVID-19 relief possibilities and the establishment of an Emergency Financial Aid fund to support SLCA families with income affected by COVID-19 closures.

May 7, 2020 – SLCA hosts National Day of Prayer drive-up prayer meeting in school parking lot.

May 15, 2020 – Final day of school online. Kindergarten Graduation held outdoors. Graduation for the class of 2020 delayed until late June.

June 16, 2020 – SLCA Executive Administrative Team cancels travel for Fall 2020, including Global Next trip to Oxford, Windy Gap, and most field trips.

June 26, 2020 – SLCA Graduation Ceremonies for the Class of 2020 take place outdoors in Eagles Stadium.

June 2020 – SLCA Business Team review applications for emergency financial aid and distributes nearly $150k in assistance to SLCA families losing jobs or income as a result of COVID-19 closures. Executive Administrative Team reviews guidance from the NCDHHS and CDC regarding reopening campus to in-person instruction. HOS consults with school parents who are medical doctors to get feedback on reopening plans.

July 1, 2020 – SLCA Executive Administrative Team announces plans to reopen campus five days per week to all students and to follow all relevant local, state, and federal health agency recommendations, including classroom capacity limits, surface cleaning, hand washing, social distancing, and use of CDC approved face coverings.

July 30, 2020 – SLCA School Board formally establishes Clinical Task Force to advise the Head of School on COVID-19 related issues. Task Force is comprised of two medical doctors whose children attend SouthLake, SLCA school nurse, SLCA athletic trainer, and one member of the School Board.

August 1, 2020 – SLCA releases full school re-opening plan document to school families; promises to provide online instruction for those with medical necessity; Online Instruction Coordinator position created and new employee hired to fill the job; Covenant of Cooperation and Hold Harmless document created and released to school families for signature agreeing to follow and support school safety measures; SLCA orders CDC-approved reusable cloth masks for all students and employees.

August 4, 2020 – Faculty Workshop meets for professional development. A Christian Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with Center for Family Transformation conducts training for faculty on crisis intervention and post-trauma pastoral care.

August 10, 2020 – Pastor of SouthLake Presbyterian Church and Head of School begin weekly meetings to keep each entity fully apprised of all COVID-related decisions.

August 12, 2020 – First Day of Fall Semester.

August 13, 2020 – First student COVID cases reported to Head of School by a high school parent. High School closes on August 14 for contact tracing and reopens August 15. Clinical Task Force and Mecklenburg County Department of Health consulted for quarantine procedures. 23 students enter quarantine/isolation. Four students subsequently test positive for COVID-19. Director of Admissions subsequently gets training from Mecklenburg County Health Department to assist with contact tracing.

August 17, 2020 – Head of School announces cancellation of fall football based on recent COVID cases, the inability to compete while following CDC guidelines, and safety concerns expressed by SLCA staff and parents. All other sports continue, some with truncated schedules, all following CDC guidelines including use of face coverings while indoors. Most sports experience temporary disruptions due to positive COVID tests.

October 22, 2020 – CDC changes its definition of “close contact” from someone within 6 feet of a positive individual for “15 consecutive minutes” to “15 cumulative minutes.” In consultation with the Clinical Task Force, SLCA Administration decides to retain prior definition of close contact (15 consecutive minutes) because the new definition would be nearly impossible to implement and the old definition was working well at SLCA. SLCA agrees to be more nuanced in contact tracing to include as close contacts those with high-risk exposures who may not meet the consecutive minutes guideline technically but were unmasked during exposure.

November 9-10, 2020 – Five students test positive for COVID following two off-campus social events. High School moves online for two days for contact tracing. 30 students enter quarantine/isolation. SLCA Administration announces plans for online instruction for two days following Thanksgiving break as a buffer following holiday travel.

December 2, 2020 – CDC adjusts quarantine protocols allowing close contacts to exit quarantine after 7 days if they have no symptoms and test negative for COVID beginning no earlier than day 5 after exposure. After review of SLCA data and consultation with Clinical Task Force, Executive Administrative team agrees to adopt the shorter quarantine measures.

January 12, 2021 – Mecklenburg Department of Health issues a Health Directive asking residents to stay home for all but essential activities. After consultation with legal counsel and the Clinical Task Force, SLCA Executive Administrative Team decides to continue with in-person instruction based on data showing the minimal risk of in-school COVID spread when using appropriate safety protocols.

February 18, 2021 – 15 students test positive for COVID following several off-campus social events related to the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day. 40 students and two teachers enter quarantine/isolation. High School closes February 18, 19, and 22.

March 16, 2021 – SLCA Administration announces two days of online instruction following Spring Break for students in grades 3-12.

April 12-14, 2021 – SLCA resumes Windy Gap spiritual life retreat for juniors and seniors only, testing all students for COVID in advance of the trip. Limited capacity required by Windy Gap guidelines.

May 13, 2021 – CDC announces fully vaccinated individuals can resume normal activities without use of masks except where masks are otherwise required by local, state, or federal guidelines and regulations. NC Governor subsequently lifts mass gathering and capacity restrictions but keeps in place his executive order requiring masks in Mecklenburg County, shifting decision-making about masks in schools to the NCDHHS “Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit.” SLCA finishes the school year with all safety protocols still in place.

May 15-24, 2021 – Senior Trip to McAllen, Texas. Our typical missions partner Peru Mission is still not functioning, so Administration decides to partner with a similarly cross-cultural mission organization. Students are tested in advance of travel and potential quarantine lodging is established. Many student participants are vaccinated and several others recovered from COVID in the 90-day period prior to departure.

May 26, 2021 – Junior-Senior Prom. All attendees tested within 24 hours prior to event.

May 28, 2021 – Graduation for the Class of 2021 takes place outdoors in Eagles Stadium. No capacity limits and masks not required.

June 2021 – Summer Enrichment Camps begin with relaxed COVID safety measures due to small size of camps, Mecklenburg positivity rate below 5%, and few COVID cases in the SLCA community.

July 9, 2021 – CDC updates guidance for schools indicating that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks except in crowded indoor settings in regions with substantial to high disease transmission (a positivity rate above 5%). Unvaccinated individuals should remain masked. (Positivity rate of 3.7% recorded for this week in Mecklenburg County.)

July 27, 2021 – CDC updates guidance for schools based on surging DELTA variant and evidence suggesting increased transmissibility for both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals. Universal masking recommended to begin school year. Clinical Task Force consulted and concurred. (Positivity rate of 10.9% recorded for this week in Mecklenburg County.)

July 28, 2021 – Head of School posts blog explaining how SLCA makes COVID-related decisions.

August 1, 2021 – COVID Safety Plan for the 2021-2022 school year released to SLCA families relaxing most safety protocols while keeping in place contact tracing, quarantine protocols, surface cleaning, hand washing, and use of face coverings while indoors. All sports and field trips will proceed according to pre-COVID practices as long as current conditions allow.

August 8, 2021 – SLCA hosts Town Hall with Clinical Task Force doctors for all families to hear more about SLCA safety measures and the science surrounding use of masks and vaccines for COVID prevention.

September 13-17, 2021 – SLCA resumes Windy Gap Spiritual Life Retreat for Jr. High and High School Students, masking indoors as per Windy Gap requirements, and testing all students for COVID prior to departure.

October 24, 2021 – Head of School announces that when positivity rate drops to 5% or lower, SLCA will move to mask optional for all students and employees. Head of School also announces no vaccine mandates for students or employees unless required by law.

November 5, 2021 – Positivity rate for Mecklenburg County drops to 5.5%. Head of School announces mask optional policy schoolwide beginning Monday, November 8.

November 10, 2021 – SLCA Executive Administrative Team hosts Town Hall to discuss Church-School relationship and other issues parents wish to discuss. Mask usage and proposed OSHA vaccine mandate issues were raised by parents and discussed with administrators present.

January 1, 2022 – SLCA Administration announces return to mask mandatory policy as Mecklenburg County positivity rate rises above 30% and 13 COVID cases are reported to SLCA from infections during the holiday break. SLCA also adopts new isolation and quarantine protocols announced by the CDC. At their own behest, the Elders of SouthLake Church unanimously approve the school’s COVID safety protocols and the School Board is notified of the decision prior to the January 1 announcement.

January 14, 2022 – Between January 1 and January 14, a total of 13 employees and 53 students test positive for COVID, most from holiday gatherings and family exposures. While there are no classroom clusters, basketball operations shut down due to positive cases on Varsity, JV, and Middle School teams.

COVID Leadership

SouthLake Christian Academy Update – December 2021

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

I hope you each had a blessed Thanksgiving with good food and time with family and friends. We have only three weeks until Christmas break. I often hear parents say “the days are long but the years pass quickly.” That feels true to me, particularly this year.

Today we welcome Coach Cheron Farley who joins our staff as full-time Director of Football and Baseball Operations and PE Teacher. Coach Farley has been associated with SouthLake athletics since 2013. He brings significant coaching and business experience to SouthLake, and he was recently inducted to the Lincoln County Sports Hall of Fame as a standout player on both football and baseball state championship teams. Welcome Coach Farley.

Congratulations to Rebekah Leonard who recently completed her Certificate in School Management and Leadership, a program jointly sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Harvard Business School. Mrs. Leonard was selected for the first cohort of the program which began October 2018. The multi-course program helps school leaders apply business practices to an educational setting for more effective leadership. High-caliber professional development like this takes time, money, and effort on the part of our employees and makes SouthLake a better school. Thank you Mrs. Leonard.

Last month I participated in a press conference recognizing one of our very fine third-grade students Autumn Solesbee. This fall, Autumn participated in the national Drive, Chip, and Putt competition against thousands of qualifiers from across the US and Canada. Autumn won the final stage of Regional Qualifying in her age group. She also finished 9th in the US Kids Golf World Championships and won the Best Pee Wee Golf Swing in the World contest. But the best part of Autumn’s story is that she is adopted, something she will cheerfully discuss with anyone. The LPGA did a story on her for adoption month, and in her press conference, her charisma and positive attitude was a remarkable reflection on her, her family, and her school. Well done Autumn!

Let me give you a few reminders about our continuous enrollment process. SouthLake students remain enrolled from one year to the next (as long as they meet academic and conduct requirements) unless parents tell us they plan to withdraw. We utilize this process as a convenience for the 93% of students who return to SouthLake each year. Enrollment fees are drafted in advance of the coming school year, allowing us to hold a seat for your student and make financial preparations for the coming school year. Here are a few key dates for you to remember:

  • January 1 – new tuition numbers released and financial aid application opens. Tuition increases for next academic year will be less than 5%.
  • January 15 – deadline to inform us of your intent to withdraw from the school or make alternative payment arrangements for upcoming enrollment fee billing.
  • February 15 – enrollment fees for the 2022-2023 academic year will be auto drafted from the account on file with our FACTS payment system. Unpaid enrollment fees may result in cancelled student enrollment. Spots will then fill from the waiting pool.

My report on classroom instruction this month comes from Mrs. Lucy Lepeley’s High School Spanish class. My hour observing her class passed by in a flash; rarely have I see such high levels of engagement from a class. Originally from Bogotá, Colombia. Mrs. Lepeley demonstrates complete knowledge of the language and teaches idioms and subtleties of pronunciation as only a native speaker can. From the moment class began, students were immersed in Spanish. They began class reciting and translating the date, Bible verse, and quote of the day. They moved seamlessly into the complicated topic of the subjunctive mood which Mrs. Lepeley taught two different ways before breaking the class into small groups to work on syntax. Barely a minute passed without Mrs. Lepeley calling on students to answer questions or read their work aloud; students had better stay awake and alert. New languages introduce students to new cultures and competencies that will serve them well after SouthLake. We are blessed to have strong teachers in our foreign language programs.

Finally, I would like to give you a brief summary of our town hall meeting last month. Approximately 117 people attended. Rebekah Leonard convened the meeting and served as moderator, asking attendees to direct questions to a panel of administrators that included me and our Division Heads Becky Makla, Jennifer Thomas, and Mark Apgar. Pastor Dan King read scripture (James 1:19-20) and began the meeting with prayer. The first half of the meeting focused on the future of the church-school relationship. I walked attendees through the history of the discussion, reasons for restructuring, and terms of separation. Questions from the audience centered on the appraised and tax value of the property, the role of debt in the decision, concerns for securing the long-term Christian mission of the school, and the proposed structure of the School Board. In particular, parents asked for a clear understanding of the process by which new Board members will be nominated and selected, something we will certainly provide when the time comes.

The second part of the meeting was an open forum and we took questions on critical race theory (CRT), the Christian mission of the school, mental health, vaccine mandates, and mask policies. As to CRT, the question was posed to our Board asking for their views on the subject. Some Board members spoke in opposition to CRT while others acknowledged they do not yet understand CRT enough to have formed an opinion. All articulated support for teaching history thoroughly and accurately. With respect to the Christian mission of SouthLake, parents expressed the desire to see us remain a Christian school in the reformed tradition, a desire our Board and administration share as well. We addressed a question related to mental health services for students and we outlined the layers of support we provide, including small class sizes, case management for students in crisis, a Licensed Practicing Counselor who visits campus each week, and professional training for teachers to recognize trauma. We also outlined the various expressions of religious life at SouthLake, including Bible classes and chapel for each grade, developmentally-appropriate Bible curriculum, mission projects, retreats, Bible studies, special events, and campus religious organizations. Parents expressed concerns about vaccine mandates. We reiterated that we do not plan to require COVID vaccines for students or employees during the next academic year unless we are legally required to do so. Some parents asked for longer-term promises and others asked us to defy any national mandate, things I declined to promise. Near the end of our meeting, a few parents made strong statements in opposition to our mask policies this year, while others expressed support for using the tools needed to keep us on campus.

Now that I’ve had a few days to process the meeting, two things stand out to me. First, opposing viewpoints were shared openly, heard carefully, and discussed with civility. I want to emphasize this point because it is no small matter. We owe it to our children to model civility, and for the most part, we have done so. Second, we have more in common than what divides us. We all want our students to receive a sound Christian education in a safe environment. We will sometimes disagree with one another. This is to be expected, for such is the nature of living and working in community. We remain committed to listening to our critics and doing all we can to foster unity even through disagreement. I have no illusions that a town hall will magically mend the divisions plaguing our society and sometimes bleeding over into our school. But I am enheartened by the ways our community engages differences with transparency and mutual respect.

Blessings to you and your family as you begin the season of Advent.

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.
Head of School
SouthLake Christian Academy

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