Campus Closure, April 2021

Campus Closure, April 2021

Over the last week, as one surveys the hills surrounding us, tell-tale plumes of smoke have signalled forest fires burning through the tinder-dry Himalayan woodland. They are always a feature of this time of year, and thankfully they rarely get close enough to campus to be of concern, although close enough to have empathy with those living in their path, and to be prepared should they get nearer. Last night the heavens opened and doused the flames, bringing sweet relief to the Uttarakhand foothills.

Across India, the last week has seen the threat of Covid-19 spread with renewed vigor. Like the forest fires, the worst impact is still a ways from campus, but close enough that we have had to really consider the risk rapidly approaching us. In this case, we can’t rely on nature to provide such an instant solution as last night’s downpour.

On Thursday we made the difficult decision to send the Grade 10 and 12 students on campus home. This is the second time in 13 months we have had to close the campus to students, and both have proved to be exceedingly complex and challenging calls to make. A convergence of external factors has led us to this decision, which we strongly feel is in the best interests of our students. This week the International Baccalaureate announced that in-person exams are cancelled across India, leaving us without the exception which had allowed us to remain open despite schools across Uttarakhand being ordered to close. The situation in India has deteriorated rapidly, with exponential growth in positive cases, with some models anticipating 500,000 daily new cases before the end of April. Even in Dehradun, which has yet to feel the full force of this second wave, hospitals are at capacity. There is a real possibility that India goes into lockdown, either nationally or with extensive local and state lockdowns, within the next week or so. Ultimately the risk of students remaining on campus outweigh the benefits, and we have been left with no safe and sensible choice but for students to return to their families. When we shut down campus in March 2020, among all the uncertainty of that time, circumstances very quickly provided affirmation of our choice, and we expect that to be the case again over the coming weeks.

The news has been particularly difficult for the Class of 2021, who are now just six weeks away from their Graduation, which will now be a virtual event rather than the in-person celebration they hoped for. We are pleased with their response to these adverse circumstances, pivoting and helping to organise a special farewell event on Sunday to mark their last time together on campus as Woodstock students. Once more they’ve demonstrated their resilience in the face of adversity and have adapted to make the most of a less than ideal situation.

In the last newsletter, I remarked that while we are now closer to the end than the beginning, we must be mindful that things may get worse before they get better. This is one scenario where I would rather not have been proved right. We also announced that we are confident we will be able to invite all students to return to campus, in a staggered manner, at the start of the next academic year. We stand by this and still expect students to be able to be here in person in July and August. We can draw on the experience of other countries which have already experienced and overcome their second waves, and which, 100 days or so after locking down, have now been able to open up again. We continue to plan for students’ return, and wholeheartedly believe that we can realise this, even as the pandemic rises up for what we hope is its final act.

To remember the phrase adopted by many across the global earlier in the pandemic, ‘this too shall pass’. In the meantime, I hope you and your families stay safe and healthy, and I thank you all again for your continued partnership in your child’s education over this most challenging year.

Dr Craig Cook, Principal

Photo: Craig Cook

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