Back in mid-August, retired Air Force Brigadier Gen. David Wesley said he’d be surprised if COVID-19 didn’t mess up the safety plans in place as students arrived for an in-person semester at Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal, Virginia.
“As in so many other things, I was wrong,” said Wesley, the affable president of the academy, which offers university-preparatory education in an Air Force Junior ROTC program.
So far, five weeks after the first student set foot on campus, and three weeks since registration, Randolph-Macon Academy is COVID-free, Wesley said.
“We had a couple cases where we had someone who was ill, it looked like COVID, and had three or four symptoms. They were tested, and none of those folks have wound up having the virus, so far,” Wesley said.
Students who felt ill were moved to a separate wing of rooms — food was brought to their room, and they continued classes virtually until testing proved they didn’t have the coronavirus.
Approximately three-quarters of the population consists of boarding students from around the country. The remaining 25% are day students at the academy.
Wesley said returning students and their parents, who pay up to $41,000 for a year of tuition and room and board in the upper school, were highly motivated to follow safety precautions as they arrived on campus.
“It’s not as new anymore,” Wesley said. He’s encouraged by the momentum created by the virus-free beginning of the school year: “If folks can just remain focused on the things we do to protect each other.”
Wesley said the school is maintaining its single occupancy in dorm rooms. “We have some students who want to double up, and we’re looking at the potential to do that,” he said.
To ensure social distancing, there are approximately 11 desks in each classroom and strict limits on gathering sizes in common areas.
“Dining hall is taking longer than we thought it would, but the process remains unchanged. We are staging them through and putting them two to a table. Normally, a table seats eight,” he said.
Wesley said 247 students are currently enrolled at the academy, which he said could easily handle 400 or 500 students were COVID not an issue.
“We’ve reached our maximum capacity, both in terms of classroom space and dorm space, when we’re configured this way. I don’t want to go beyond that, so we’ve got a little bit of a waiting list right now,” he added.
“We’ll probably continue this way for another month or two, and let external events inform us as to when to make an adjustment,” Wesley said. “It’s important to maintain the safety of the students we have.”