Head of School’s Notebook: The Ride

October 2, 2020


In the Spring of 1975, a few months after Space Mountain opened at Disney World in Orlando, my family left our chilly denizens in New England for a few days in the company of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and the gang.

Other than the roller coaster at Whalom Park, originally built in 1893 in Lunenberg, Massachusetts, a rickety wooden structure that soared a few dozen feet in the air, I had never been on anything like Space Mountain. No one had. And the signs along the way suggesting those with heart conditions and pregnant women should not ride didn’t buoy my confidence.

I got in, strapped directly in front of my father near the nose of our capsule, but I was more apprehensive than excited. There is a slow procession on the ride, so you begin by going past mission control and then you slowly climb up, up, up, until you are in launch position, facing precariously downward. In front of you is darkness with the twinkling lights of faraway stars. All of a sudden, I was petrified.

Then we launched. I remember the taste of terror in my mouth, the sudden jerks one way or another, which I couldn’t prepare for because I couldn’t see, the surety that I was headed to my doom. I screamed. I know I did. My father told me I did. The whole time.

I don’t think of that ride very often. It is something that I would rather forget. But I thought of it this week as we plunged into the abyss of doubt and worry brought on by faulty COVID-19 test results. The funny thing about fear is that even when the reason for it is taken away, we don’t always trust our newfound safety. Once the possibility of danger is suggested, it remains. And that’s hard to shake, whatever roller coaster we get off.

What we learned today is that there is no current COVID threat on campus. We retested all of those who received what turned out to be inaccurate positive results on Wednesday morning. All, who until this moment have been in isolation, produced negative test results over the last two days. We tested 28 close contacts, currently in quarantine, and they too tested negative. These tests were done using the highest sensitivity equipment available in the state. As luck would have it, one test had to be repeated because of an administrative glitch, so we have one student waiting for final clearance. Hopefully, the air-conditioning in the Mesa Clinic softens the blow.

Most importantly, in consultation with the County Department of Public Health and our own Medical Director, we have determined that there is no infection on campus. Certainly good news on the eve of our first weekend on campus.

In the next few days, we will be conducting an extensive review of our current testing partner, Merso Labs, and will be considering options that might help us avoid the very challenges we had this week in the future. In this effort, too, we are partnering with the county to determine what went wrong and why. No doubt I will address those very issues in a subsequent communication.

Until then, though, we can all enjoy the reassuring evidence that this particular ride is over. Surely that is a comforting thought as we work our way through another school year on the Mesa.