As we kick off the new year, I am pleased to take this opportunity to pause and review the great work of OC Catholic Schools. One of our guiding principles throughout this pandemic has been transparency in communication and progress. As such, I am pleased to share a snapshot of the impact of the pandemic on our schools.
In the spirit of transparency, OC Catholic Schools has maintained a dashboard on our website since October which is updated daily and reports current active COVID-19 cases among students and staff. (www.occatholicschools.org/covid-19-dashboard/) As noted on the dashboard, there are 16,264 students and staff on our 35 campuses across the diocese. As of press time, 50 students and 15 staff members have known active cases of COVID-19. The entire OC Catholic School community prays for the safe and speedy recovery of our infected students and staff members. These students and staff members as well as others who have recovered from the virus since our campuses reopened in September, represent 0.4% of our on-campus school population. In comparison, current Orange County infection rates are about 3% of the county’s 3.1 million people. We are proud that our rate is well below the county rate. It is also important to note that there has been no transmission of the virus at any of our schools. We welcome this level of transparency as another effort to protect and promote the common good of our community.
OC Catholic Schools continue to take proactive steps to maintain safe and healthy working and learning environments for our students and staff. These proactive steps, which are in line with the California Department of Public Health and Orange County Public Health Agency best practice recommendations, include: face coverings required by all staff and students in third grade and above at all times while on campus; physical distancing in classrooms and throughout the campus; reinforcement of hand hygiene practices; and screening of campus visitors during school hours. Many campuses have installed Plexiglas barriers and upgraded air filters for indoor settings. Outdoor space is also being utilized for teaching and learning. Additionally, our schools continue to conduct contact tracing, allowing potentially exposed parties to be immediately notified. Students remain home for 14 days from exposure.
Our goal continues to be to remain open for in-person instruction. Research supports the benefits of in-person instruction for the social and emotional wellbeing of students, especially in times of crisis. Additionally, in-person instruction is the best way we can ensure equity and access to all of our students on a daily basis. We recognize that the virus continues to pose threats to our communities, so if schools are required to return to distance learning at any point during the year, principals, teachers, and staff will be ready to pivot on a dime.
I continue to be filled with awe and gratitude for the gift of our teachers and staff who have been stretched in mind, body, and spirit. Because of their great sacrifices and love for our children, we have been able to maintain in-person instruction. Please be extra kind to your school’s educators. Your gratitude goes a long way in making it all feel worthwhile.
As we continue to navigate this extraordinary year, we give thanks for the moments of grace in our midst. St. Augustine reminds us that grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them. It is through God’s grace that we will be able to continue the good work of Catholic education in the Diocese of Orange. Thank you for your prayers and companionship on our journey.