Sent on Behalf of Vice President for Student Development, Dr. Emilye Mobley:
I hope you had an enjoyable, socially distanced Thanksgiving with family and friends. It is hard to believe that the end of 2020 is quickly approaching. It has been a YEAR, and I anticipate 2021 with renewed hope for our school, country, and the world.
While the COVID-19 pandemic remains a concern for all, we are excited that on Thursday, November 19, the GSSM Board of Trustees approved our Spring Semester 2021 Return-to-Residency Plan. Interim President, Dr. Ershela Sims, shared the plan with the school community on Friday, November 20. The purpose of this correspondence is to provide families with additional details for your consideration as you contemplate the residential option for next semester. The school community's safety and well-being remain the priority, and the information provided below supports that primary principle. Before I go any further, I apologize in advance for the length of this letter; giving you as much information as possible to make an informed decision is our responsibility.
As the GSSM Task Force, the five subcommittees that worked along with the Task Force, and the Ad Hoc Committee appointed by the Board of Trustees considered reopening, our commitment was to find a medium between the conditions governing the two-week residencies and the residential experience our students have come to enjoy. Unfortunately, functioning as we usually do would be irresponsible given this public health crisis and the continued escalation of cases in the country and South Carolina. Though the focus of COVID-19 has been on physical health, we also understand that considering overall wellness, including mental health, is necessary as we plan forward. Whether students choose to come into residence or remain virtual, we are committed to fostering engagement and building community among the student body by encouraging participation in athletic activities, service, leadership, programs, and the arts.
It was always the GSSM Administration and the Board of Trustees' shared goal to have all students return to campus as soon as this could be safely accomplished. The conditions for participation and families' commitment to them will be critical for safety and success. Because the conditions and restrictions are designed to support safety and community, students who do not adhere to the COVID-related protocols or the GSSM Discipline and Honor Code will likely be required to leave campus and complete the semester virtually. While we are excited to welcome students back, an unwillingness to cooperate will potentially compromise the community. We are looking forward to opening the residence hall, but it is important to note that the GSSM Administration reserves the right, in consultation with the Board of Trustees, to amend this plan as appropriate based on the best available data. We will continue to monitor state and national trends related to COVID-19 along with DHEC and CDC guidance as well as local activity once we open the residence hall.
The plan outlines two significant periods of residency: January 24 – March 12, 2021, and April 5 – May 19, 2021. Students will have the option to attend one or both of these seven-week intervals. For seniors who choose to remain virtual, they will have the chance to move on campus on May 20 to participate in any senior related activities hosted prior to graduation on May 22. In completing the release provided with this letter, families will initially be communicating their intentions for the first seven-week period. A second release will have to be completed for the second period.
To support safety and wellness, there will be protocols and conditions associated with returning to residence. Some will parallel those associated with the two-week residencies offered earlier this semester. The conditions will operate in direct correlation with what is currently expected of employees and contractors who are working in the building.
GSSM will make every effort to update the school community with timely information about specific health and safety guidance necessary for our students, faculty, and staff. Most established expectations applicable to community members were included in the Return-to-Residency plan. They include but are not limited to COVID-19 testing, temperature checking, symptom reporting, physical distancing, limitations on mass gatherings, wearing face coverings, contact tracing, disinfection protocols, limitations of guests, and requirements when individuals test positive or have been exposed to the coronavirus. These expectations will be updated as needed by GSSM. You can also find updates on the school's website. Adherence to health and safety requirements applies to all community members and extends to all aspects of campus, including bedrooms, bathrooms, classrooms, and common spaces. While GSSM will do everything within our capacity to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, we cannot guarantee that the protocols instituted will prevent the spread of and exposure to COVID-19. Every person will play a role in reducing the risk for themselves and others.
All students should anticipate sharing a room with another student and a suite with two other students. GSSM reserves the right to consolidate spaces once we know how many students will be participating in the first seven-week residency. Govies are expected to abide by all conditions for participation to continue the residency once they are on campus. A summary of the conditions is outlined below:
- Each student and parent must sign a release indicating whether they plan to move into the residence hall on Sunday, January 24. Your signatures also indicate that you understand and accept the conditions as outlined. Any family who does not return the form by the stated deadline will remain virtual by default. Like with the two-week residencies, no late requests will be considered.
- The meal fee for students will be prorated, and the Business Office will provide details.
- Students received their housing placements in November. Assignments will be confirmed prior to January 24. Each student will be given a specific move-in time on Sunday, January 24, and a time allotment for parents to assist students in getting settled. These times will be staggered to allow for the sanitizing of moving carts and distancing in the elevators. Students will be allowed one car (two if the family is leaving one) and two persons to assist them in the building. Everyone who enters the building must don a mask. Anyone who is ill or has been recently exposed to COVID-19 should not come to campus, including the student. In determining whether it is appropriate to come to campus, we strongly encourage individuals of any age to consider whether they have any serious, underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk for severe illness, including COVID-19.
- Absent limited exemptions, face coverings or masks are required for all community members consistent with CDC guidance. This includes traveling on minibuses and in all public spaces. Students must wear a mask unless they are in their residence hall room alone or with their roommate or when eating. The other exception is with permission from supervising staff during athletic activities. Due to the size of the residence hall rooms and expectations regarding physical distancing, there should be no more than three students in a room at any given time, and all should be masked. Anyone who is unable or unwilling to wear a face-covering could potentially be exposing others and should carefully consider those implications.
- Physical distancing (social distancing) will be practiced in hallways, classrooms, and outdoors.
- Students will have to provide a negative COVID-19 test that is taken within five (5) days of reporting to campus. Additionally, all students will be retested within the first 72 hours of taking occupancy.
- Surveillance testing will be conducted periodically, and all families must consent to this testing to be considered for participation. A separate consent form will be provided prior to January 24.
- Students will only be allowed to bring necessary items as students may be required to move completely out of the residence hall between the residential periods. Furniture in student rooms cannot be moved. There will be limited carts and dollies available for move-in located in the Main Lobby. Unfortunately, other students and members of the staff will not be able to assist you with moving, so please keep this in mind as you are packing and preparing. You will receive information from the Dean of Students Office outlining the specifics of what is allowed prior to January 24.
- Students may sign out of the building beginning at 7:30 a.m. each morning unless otherwise communicated. Campus curfew will be 5:00 p.m. every evening. The only exceptions will be activities sponsored by Campus Life or another approved school entity. Building curfew will be 7:00 p.m. on the weeknights and 9:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. To specify, students must be on campus by 5:00 p.m. and inside by 7:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
- Students will be required to stay on campus until designated breaks. Students will be able to leave campus with parameters, but not overnight. If they leave overnight (authorized) for any reason, they will have to quarantine at home for five days before coming back to campus. A negative COVID-19 test result will be required before returning to residence. As an example, if a student travels for a college visit, the five-day period begins after he/she returns to their primary residence. Leaving overnight without permission is a violation of the GSSM Discipline and Honor Code.
- Walking boundaries will be modified and limited; students may travel primarily on Carolina Avenue and College Avenue between 4th and 6th Streets. Campus Life will coordinate "runs" for food, shopping (e.g., Walmart, Sonic, Cookout), and other locations determined later. Mask wearing is required when walking around Hartsville. While students are not prohibited from eating in local restaurants, students should be mindful of the associated risks per CDC guidance.
- All students will be required to QUEST. Optional QUEST may be considered for seniors during the second residency period.
- Students may not travel to faculty or staff member's homes or ride in their personal vehicles.
- Items that are not prepackaged (e.g., baked goods) should not be offered to students. Additionally, prepackaged and prewrapped items should be provided directly to students rather than having them reach into containers for them.
- Food items should be catered. Exceptions should be managed through Aramark. Students cannot use the kitchen to prepare items to sell or share with their peers.
- Students may order food, but it must be paid for at the time of order, and they must be at the main lobby door to receive it upon delivery. Those delivering food cannot enter the building.
- GSSM will not provide transportation for college visits or interviews; this will be the family's responsibility.
- If students want to participate in interscholastic athletics that GSSM is not offering, they are advised to do so in their home communities.
- GSSM faculty and staff should not engage in close contact activities with students, especially without masks (e.g., sports).
- Students who are not in residence may not participate in events like Winter Formal, Prom, or related activities. Students who choose to remain virtual will experience programming similar to what is currently being offered.
- Students will not be allowed to have visitors and/or guests on campus, including parents, guardians, and alumni. This excludes move-in on the Sundays noted as parents are welcome to assist their Govies in getting settled.
- Students will have to submit all prescription medications to Heath Services upon check-in. Our nurses will administer medications in keeping with our medication policy outlined in the Student Handbook.
- All residential students will have to complete the health survey in REACH every morning by 10:00 a.m. on the weekdays and 11:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. If at any time a student feels sick, experiences flu-like symptoms, or is concerned that they may have COVID-19 or any other illness, he/she should contact Health Services. The same applies if they think they have been exposed to any condition that is highly contagious.
- If a student tests positive for COVID-19, he/she will return home immediately for treatment and recovery for a minimum of 14 days. Students will not isolate at GSSM, and a negative COVID-19 test must be presented before re-entry. In these cases, families are expected to arrange to pick their student up within five hours of receiving the call from one of our nurses.
- Students who are found to have been potentially exposed (through close contact) to the novel coronavirus will also return home immediately to quarantine based on the DHEC quarantine policy, which is currently 14 days. Contact tracing based on CDC/DHEC guidelines will identify students who need to return home. Students will not quarantine at GSSM. As noted above, families are expected to arrange to pick their student up within five hours of receiving the call from one of our nurses or her designee.
- All health services policies should be adhered to and supported by families.
- Violations of any of the protocols outlined above (e.g., distancing, mask-wearing, medication policy, curfew, walking boundaries, etc.) or any that may be imposed later to support community safety and wellness, as well as violations of the GSSM Discipline and Honor Code (e.g., any three Level 1 violations, most Level 2 violations, and any Level 3 violations), will likely result in dismissal from the residency requiring that the student remain virtual for the remainder of the semester. If this occurs during the first residency period, students will forfeit their ability to participate in the second seven-week period. For seniors, this also includes the three days prior to graduation.
In early January, students who indicate their plans to participate will receive additional details regarding move-in, life on campus, activities, and the use of spaces. Based on the information provided, we ask that families complete the Release, which can be accessed through GSSM's Online Portal. A sample is provided here, but it is only for your review and information. The form you will submit will be available for both students and parents/guardians on Friday, December 11, 2020. Both a student and parent/guardian signature and date must be electronically affixed to the release by Friday, January 1, 2021, in order for the submission to be received and placement within the residency to be granted to the student. Any forms not completed by the deadline will automatically default to "I do not wish to/I do not wish for my student to participate in the residential experience." As a reminder, once a form has been submitted with a "no" for participation, it cannot be changed to a "yes" for participation. If you have any trouble accessing the release form once it's available on December 11 and/or submitting the form, please contact Mrs. Heather B. Carabo, Program and Administrative Coordinator for Academic Affairs and Student Development.
A detailed academic calendar, along with other academic information, will be forthcoming from Mr. Danny Dorsel, Senior Vice President for Residential. If you have questions or need further clarification, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emilye Mobley, Ph.D.
Vice President for Student Development
SC Governor’s School for Science + Mathematics