Immediately after learning that an employee at Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Kensington, Maryland, tested positive on Dec. 9 for COVID-19, school officials there contacted parents to alert them of the situation and put into operation a contingency plan that was established before the start of the school year.

“We will remain cautious, and I have directed all ‘close contacts’ (of the affected employee) to remain home and attend school virtually tomorrow,” Tommy Corrigan, principal of the Montgomery County school wrote in an e-mail to school parents on Dec. 9.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, the employee tested positive for COVID and contacted the school, and the school alerted Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Schools Office officials and parents that same day.

When notified that the employee tested positive for COVID-19, the school immediately required the employee to quarantine for 10 days. The employee may return to school after exhibiting no symptoms for at least 48 hours. “Thankfully, the employee is feeling fine physically and healthy at the moment,” Corrigan wrote in his e-mail to parents.

In preparation for the new school year during the COVID-19 pandemic, each Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Washington developed its own reopening plan, had that plan reviewed by the archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Office, and resumed classes in the fall in a manner that they determined was best for their local school community. 

The archdiocese’s Reopening of Schools Task Force issued a document, “Onward Together in Faith,” to guide Catholic school communities in their reopening plans. That report outlined three possible return-to-school models: distance learning, where all instruction would be offered virtually; blended learning that combines in-person and distance learning where strict health and safety measures are enforced and students and staff are screened daily before entering the building; and modified classroom, where schools would be open for in-person instruction, and where face coverings are required at all times, classroom set-ups provide for social distancing and students and staff are screened daily before entering the building.

In addition to those three options, the Catholic Schools Office also offered a “Temporary Transfer Program.” In this program, parents who would prefer distance learning only for their child could work with their school principal and the Catholic Schools Office to transfer to a school offering virtual instruction full time until the parent is comfortable returning to in-person instruction.

About 26,000 students attend classes at 91 archdiocesan and independent Catholic pre-kindergarten through high schools located in the Archdiocese of Washington. Of the Catholic schools in the archdiocese, 15 percent are following the distance learning model, and 85 percent chose the blended learning model or the modified classroom option.

Kelly Branaman, Secretary for Catholic Schools and Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington noted that “in the 85 percent of our schools operating in some type of in-person learning, our rate of positive cases (of COVID) within these schools continues to be low.”

“Since August, we have managed a total of 79 total positive cases out of our 52 archdiocesan Catholic schools, and that includes teachers and students,” she said. “Currently, we only have four open cases following the Thanksgiving holiday.”

“We are confident our established protocols continue to be successful in keeping our students and staff safe,” Branaman added. “Due to the diligence in following our opening guidelines and safety protocols, principals, families and our Board of Education have all reported that locally practiced procedures are going well.”

Approximately 375 pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students attend Holy Redeemer Catholic School. The school follows stringent safety protocols that include students directly entering their classroom from an exterior door and not using the hallway unless to use the restroom; requiring the use of face masks at all times; classrooms prominently marked with six-foot social distance parameters; larger classes using the school gymnasium and a modular trailer in order to guarantee appropriate social distancing; special subject teachers rotating to students’ classrooms so that students do not have to change and share classrooms; and splitting the rather large kindergarten class into four separate classes.

“I want to compliment Mr. Corrigan on the management of not only this incident, but the safety protocols and procedures the school is implementing on a daily basis,” Branaman said.