Head of Schools says “I think that there is a good chance that we will have to close”


photo courtesy of Lauren Cook

A student practices a virtual school simulation in preparation for a possible closure.

Sebastian Bush and Sofia Guerra

With 17 cases in Pierce county and the previous closures of nearby schools like Lowell Elementary and Wilson High School, the topic of school closure is more relevant than ever before at Annie Wright Schools. Students and faculty shared insights on the potential closure.

Dorms Perspectives

As a boarding school housing 609 students in a single building, many special considerations and precautions need to be taken to ensure the wellbeing of the students and faculty in the event of an imminent closure. “Because of the density of the people living together, it is especially critical to consider the risk of COVID-19 coming into the dorms. Needless to say, it would be very problematic if there was a case here,” Director of Residential Life Jeff Barber said.

Should the school make the decision to close, the dorms are currently expecting to continue to house students. “I can imagine a situation where we’ve stopped hosting classes but the dorms still function pretty much the same, just with students attending classes online,” Barber said. “However, I can also see circumstances when, at some point, the decision is made that it’s not in the best interest of the students to stay in such close quarters, and we would have to send people home.”

Junior Thinh Dang told Inkwell, “I’m from Vietnam and I’m a seven day boarder here…I’ve heard that if it gets really bad we might have to stay at teachers’ houses so we’re not around so many people…[closure] would definitely be a big obstacle for me.”

Administration and Faculty Perspectives

Susan Bauska, Director of Upper School for Boys, had some thoughts about the possible closing of Annie Wright. “Well, first of all, Mr. Sullivan has been pretty clear that his desire is to keep Annie Wright open as long as possible towards spring break, which now is 7 school days away…and another thing that Mr. Sullivan has repeated is, once we close, what trips the switch for reopening? So the more time we can buy to get us to spring break, that buys us a couple of more weeks to assess what is a very unpredictable and fluid situation.”

Christian Sullivan, Head of Schools at Annie Wright, agreed to talk about the possibility of the school closing. “I think that there is a good chance that we will have to close. The Seattle schools closed. I think that there is more and more evidence that people aren’t safe. So sadly, it is a possibility, as I wrote to the parents. I wrote to the parents on Monday that they should prepare for the school’s close.”

In regards to the school’s action after closing or reopening prospects, Sullivan stated that “we’ll have to see.”

As both the Dean of Students and as one of Upper School for Boys’ math teachers, Jeremy Stubbs offered his opinion on the prospect of online education: “I think our teachers are working hard to make [online classes] not terrible, but if online education was the right choice for our students, that’s what we’d be doing. I know my colleagues are super committed…and I’d argue it’ll be great compared to other online schools, but it still won’t measure up to actually being in a classroom.”

Student Perspectives

Inkwell talked to a number of students about the potential of Annie Wright’s closure.

“I think they should close if there is a significant risk of people getting infected. Although it doesn’t really affect kids our age, it could impact some of the teachers or younger kids,” said freshman Nicholas Cefalu.

“If students [test positive] and have recently been at school, [the school] should close,” said freshman Erin Picken.

In regards to the prospect of online classes, students also had a number of opinions.

“I’m pretty neutral towards the idea. Initially, I was afraid of not being able to take IB tests, but it seems like most of that is taken care of. So, if school were to close, I think the online classes would be fine,” said junior Emil Haedt.

Others were concerned about the impact moving school online would have on their education experience and productivity. Junior Ava Filiss said, “I really hope we don’t have to do [online classes], because I know I’m really bad with time management. I know we’d still be checking in with the courses, but it’s not the same as sitting in an actual classroom…which I think is better for our learning.”

Jimena Torres de Fernandez is an exchange student from the recently closed Casvi school in Madrid, Spain, a country now with 1,000 cases. She spoke to Inkwell about whether or not Annie Wright should close. “I think that they should wait and see how the situation goes. In Spain, in Madrid, the situation is heavy, there are a lot of cases, and a lot of hospitals are collapsing, so I think they should wait and see. If there are a lot more  cases, I think they should close.”

Concerns of contact with COVID-19 at Lowell Elementary

Recently, six Annie Wright students who were previously volunteering at Lowell, a school that has been closed due to concerns over COVID-19, were quarantined while authorities deemed if they had been in contact with the unknown coronavirus subject at the Elementary school. Once done with their one day quarantine, these six students returned to school on March 10, but were subsequently withdrawn from classes on March 11. The Health Department deemed them unsafe, and the six students are under further quarantine until March 16. 

When asked for comment, Susan Bauska had strong thoughts. “I think that it doesn’t make a lot of sense because they are planning to at this point reopen Lowell tomorrow, so these kids have been in school all day today. So they are going to go out of school, and then come back to school because Lowell is scheduled to reopen. Unless the Health Department knows anything about the potential longer term closing at Lowell, this particular decision doesn’t make any sense to me,” she said.

Head of Schools Christian Sullivan also weighed in. “You know, I think that the health department is overwhelmed at the moment. This is an officially declared pandemic by the World Health Organization, and they don’t have the resources to cope with something like this. So it is not surprising that they are going to make mistakes. But I am impressed that they were able to catch it quickly and look after the safety of people.”