Senior Jamie Kornheiser traveled via airplane to New York for the Thanksgiving holiday, albeit in a coronvirus-safe fashion. Photo: Jamie Kornheiser

With winter break quickly approaching, students, parents and faculty are beginning to experience some anxiety regarding the return to school in January. However, Head of School Fred Assaf is committed to the in-person school experience, and he will do everything within his power to protect it.

As indoor sports enter the middle of their seasons, it is important for Pace students to adhere closely to the COVID-19 protocols. “We feel like playing is better than not playing, even if there are some restrictions,” said Mr. Assaf.

Athletes involved in sports where players do not wear masks or cannot remain socially distant are to get tested on a weekly basis according to Pace’s COVID-19 protocol guidelines. Wrestlers and basketball players are among those getting tested whereas swimmers and divers are to stay distant and follow other protocols in order to stay safe.

After the English exam on Dec. 18 and all students are dismissed for winter break, it is up to each individual student to follow protocols and stay safe. Pace students will face more exposure than ever as people travel to see extended family or relax in heavily populated vacation areas. “We have to rely on people’s good judgement,” said Mr. Assaf. “It is impossible for us to monitor people so you have to care enough about Pace and your fellow students to do it right.”

Before the school year, Pace decided to pause all international travel for Isdell Center for Global Leadership study tours. This policy now extends to students’ personal travel. If a student decides to travel internationally at any point for the remainder of the school year, upon their return, they must participate in virtual learning for two weeks before returning to campus, regardless if the student receives a negative COVID-19 test.

It is also important to remember that Georgia itself is experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases as well as relatively relaxed restrictions. “Georgia is an infected area,” said Mr. Assaf. “It is hard for us to limit travel to [infected] areas because that is us.” Reuters reported that 49 states reported an increase in cases last week. South Dakota was the only state that had a slight decrease at less than 1%.

Upon returning from winter break with fresh minds and rested bodies, students prepare for one of the year’s most anticipated traditions: Spirit Week. Amid the pandemic, there is tremendous uncertainty regarding the event; however, Mr. Assaf hopes and believes that it will still take place. “I think of Pace students as being able to conquer Spirit Week and keep everybody safe,” he said. 

While he keeps his hopes high, Mr. Assaf knows that Spirit Week will have to look different if there is any chance students can participate. “I’ve had some really creative suggestions,” he said. “What if every theme had to do with people who wore masks?” It is unlikely that there will be a large gathering of students, faculty and teachers all at once in the Inman Center.

It is still unclear how students will transition back into school after the break. According to Mr. Assaf, it is possible that students will have to get tested, and Pace is discussing using new COVID-19 testing that yields quicker results. 

In the event that students return to school with COVID-19, Pace is prepared to transition to online learning. However, Mr. Assaf wants to assure students that it will only be for a short period of time. “We do not stay out [of school] unless we have to,” he said. “We are absolutely committed to in person.”

“My advice is to be vigilant about keeping up with protocols, and do everything you can to keep us in school,” said Mr. Assaf. “We owe it to our teachers. They have made a tremendous sacrifice to be here in person. We owe it to them to do our best.”

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