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SSMT Blog

What SSMT is Doing About Safety – March 2022

SSMT and COVID-19

 

For earlier versions of this post, click here.

Since reopening in September, 2020, 18 months ago, no one – no student, instructor, administrator, clinic client, or visitor – has contracted COVID-19 on the SSMT campus. We have quarantined more than a dozen classes after someone in the classroom contracted COVID-19 outside school, but none of the quarantined students or instructors developed COVID-19.

Since reopening, our building has seen more than 100,000 person-hours indoors. That we have had students  practice massage for five hours in class with a partner at the peak of pre-symptomatic COVID-19, without contracting the disease from that partner, tells us our policies worked.

With the decrease in prevalence as the Omicron surge is subsiding, we have relaxed some of our guidelines. Face masks are now optional for everyone, with an important exception: if you are giving or receiving massage in class, and your trading partner requests you wear a mask, that request will be honored. If a clinic client requests that the student working with them wear a mask, that request will be honored.

These policies are subject to change as conditions in the community change.


  • Ventilation – Air exchanged with the outside environment at least once every 45 minutes
  • HEPA filtration – Air filtered through HEPA filters 7.5-9 times per hour
  • UV-C and Ionizers – HVAC system fitted with the only air purifier approved by NASA
  • Online Instruction – Some science and theory classes are held online
  • Limited Class Size – to accommodate distancing, class size is slightly smaller than before the pandemic.

Ventilation – There is a vent in the exterior wall allowing  outside air into the HVAC system, so fresh exterior air is cooled and pumped into the classrooms (also used as clinic rooms) and offices. Each of the four classrooms has an exhaust fan that draws air up and out of the room through the roof. The entire volume of air in the classrooms is exchanged through these fans every 45 minutes.

Each classroom also has at least one window or door that can be opened to the outside. We often leave these open and compensate with additional air conditioning or heat to keep the room comfortable.

HEPA filtration – There are three HEPA filtration units in each classroom, and similar units in the offices, library, bathrooms, and reception area. These turn over the entire volume of air in the classrooms over 7.5-9 times each hour, passing it through what is essentially an N95 mask for indoor air.

UV-C and Ionizers – SSMT has installed Aerus Air Scrubber units in each of the four HVAC units. These have the same technology used on the space shuttle, and function whenever the unit is cooling (or heating). They pass the air through UV-C light, and produce hydroxyl ions, peroxides, and oxygen anions that are safe for humans, but attach to pathogens, pulling them out of the air, and killing them. SSMT installed the model without ozone, since ozone may have negative effects on health. We don’t expect these commercial grade UV-C units have nearly the effect that HEPA filters (or hospital grade UV-C units) do, but every bit helps.

Online Instruction – Now that we have resumed live classes on campus, most classes are held live on campus. Students will continue to  attend some science and theory classes online. The online classes are streamed live, and include opportunities for participation. SSMT has created dynamic and effective visual presentations to anchor lectures and discussions. Students’ performance and enjoyment of online classes has generally been similar to what occurs in live classes.

Limited Class Size – While it is impossible to practice massage six feet from your client, fewer people in a room improve its safety. Depending on the classroom, the limit before the pandemic was 16-20. The limit is now 14-16. Since the pandemic began, many people have been rethinking their career choices, and choosing to pursue massage therapy.

The increased demand combined with limited class size has caused many classes to have wait lists. People exploring the possibility of attending SSMT are encouraged to begin the process early.

A History of Our COVID-19 Precautions

 

It was almost two years ago that we started taking precautions against the spread of COVID-19. During the second half of February 2020, we were told not to touch surfaces, and we discovered how often we touch our faces.

By the middle of March 2020, I was worried massage therapy schools and massage therapy centers would be important vectors of infection. The biggest risk factors seemed to be proximity and time, and there is no way to do – or teach – massage without large doses of both. I was not sure there was a future for our profession. I could visualize the headlines about a massage therapist having spread the disease to 20 clients, or a Massage Envy being the epicenter of an outbreak affecting hundreds. I could picture an article about thousands of these incidents.

That didn’t happen. Certainly, COVID-19 has spread in massage treatment rooms, and schools. I know of several cases of each. In each case though, at least one guideline was ignored, or followed incorrectly.  And those cases have not been the big story; the spotlight instead is on bars, restaurants, and large indoor gatherings. Massage therapy schools and offices are relatively safe when reasonable public health guidelines are followed.

The precautions recommended by public health professionals have regularly changed over the past two years, and everyone on the planet has made choices about which ones to follow. It has sometimes been difficult to navigate the information tsunami, and figure out what best applies to a massage therapy school or practice. If you want the Cliffs notes, it’s simple: well-fitting masks, ventilation, and filtration. If you live somewhere that it’s legal and practical, add boosted vaccination to that list. If you want the details, read on.

Before suspending live classes on March 13, 2020, Sarasota School of Massage Therapy (SSMT) spent several weeks acting on the best information available. That this information turned out to be woefully inadequate was counterbalanced by the relatively low numbers of infections in the community. It’s not that spraying Lysol everywhere, washing our hands constantly, and avoiding putting our hands on our faces worked – it’s that no one brought the virus into the school to test our procedures.

Over the next six months we conducted science and theory classes online, and did not return to the classroom until the Florida 2020 summer wave had abated. During those months in school purgatory, an enormous body of research was published, and thankfully, provided without a paywall. One of the bright spots during this pandemic has been the ready accessibility of everything published by The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, BMJ (formerly British Journal of Medicine), the Journal of the American Medical Association, Science, and others. The world owes a debt of gratitude to these journals for keeping us informed. Their annual subscription fees are usually more than $150 each, and individual articles can cost $40 or more.

New England Journal of Medicine - Coronavirus Resource Center
The free availability of research findings during the pandemic has been invaluable.

The procedures recommended by epidemiologists based on research published in these journals has changed slightly since SSMT resumed classroom instruction in September 2020, but the basic outlines have not. We credit those safety procedures for having prevented the transmission of COVID-19 in our school for nearly the past year and a half, through three large surges, including the latest Omicron wave, which has infected about 40% of Americans, and is likely to infect another 20% before the end of March.

Since September 2020, 16 people have entered the school building during their most infectious period, unknowingly infected with SARS-CoV-2, hours before developing symptoms. They spent five hours in a classroom, with classmates and instructors, breathing in the same room, and often with a classmate practicing massage between one and five feet from their noses. That’s over 150 people, and over 7,000 people-hours of CDC-defined close contact, and not a single known transmission. Well- maybe one, but I doubt it.

In each case of exposure, we sent those exposed to a 14 day quarantine (recently decreased to ten days), and each quarantined person submitted PCR results from a swab taken on Day 5 (occasionally later). None of the over 150 people quarantined developed symptoms. While one tested positive, that person was likely exposed to infection elsewhere in the community.

Each of the safety procedures discussed below is imperfect. We knew from the beginning that some were likely more useful than others. Each is considered a piece in a larger system; the Swiss cheese model. If virions escaped a mask, they would also have to escape a variety of air purification and ventilation systems to get into a respiratory tract. As far as we know, not enough of them did so to cause infection.

Face Coverings

When we first returned to the classroom in September 2020, we required everyone in the building to wear a mask. The mask needed to either be a school-supplied ASTM Level 3 surgical mask, or a multi-ply cotton, or cotton/poly blend. All masks needed to have a nose-wire, and be as well sealed as possible all around.

Surgical masks come with different ratings. At the bottom of the scale are the unrated surgical-mask-look-a-likes: blue paper masks meant to protect from dust. These offer little protection from SARS-CoV-2. An SSMT graduate caught the disease from her client while both were wearing these.

Next come PM 2.5 rated masks. These are considered medical grade, and are often used in hospitals – but not in COVID wards. The 2.5 in the rating means they have been tested to filter out particles down to 2.5 microns. Many virus-containing droplets can be filtered out by these masks, but others are ten times smaller.

ASTM Level 2 and Level 3 masks filter out over 98% of droplets down to .3 microns. This is the “magic number” at which all medical grade masks, including N-95’s, are tested. The most difficult particle size to filter is .3 microns, until you get much smaller. Particles at .1 micron tend to zig-zag, a characteristic known as Brownian motion, so they get trapped more easily. A mask that can filter over 98% of particles at .3 microns does even better with particles both larger and smaller – though Oxygen and Carbon dioxide molecules, which are over 1,000 times smaller, are not filtered.

ASTM Level 2 or 3 surgical masks filter out 98% or more of particles at every size that matters – but they leak around the edges. Hacking their fit can increase their effectiveness significantly.

ASTM Level 2 and Level 3 masks have identical ratings for aerosol filtration; their difference is in liquid filtration capacity, against blood borne pathogens. We use Level 3, but you really could just as well spend less, and use Level 2.

The problem with surgical masks, or cloth masks with a surgical filter in a pocket, is not their filtration capacity, it’s leakage. Even the best fitting Level 3 mask leaks around the edges.

A fit-tested and seal-tested N-95 mask doesn’t leak. The problem with N-95’s for the general population is it is rather difficult to get a proper fit and seal. An ill-sealed N-95 can leak even more than a surgical mask. N-95 masks create greater resistance, making it more difficult to breathe, and forcing any exchanged air to more readily take the path of least resistance – through the leak. If you know how to fit and seal-test an N-95 it is by far the best choice – if you don’t, you are probably better off with a Level 3 surgical mask hacked to improve its fit by tying the ear-loops, tucking the pleats, and tying the back around the head instead of the ears. Double-masking also decreases leakage.

The way most people wear them, a surgical or multi-ply cotton mask decreases the risk of the wearer by about 50%. A mask on an infected source protects those around them by more than four times. The combination of masks on the source and the target decreases the virus exchanged more than 8-fold. 2 hours of contact between two well-masked people is likely safer than 15 minutes between two un-masked people at the same distance.

In addition to a well-fitting mask, we initially required students to wear a school-supplied face-shield that sits on the base of the neck/shoulder girdle. Many epidemiologists were recommending these as an adjunct to masks. Any large particles that got around an imperfectly fitting mask would be blocked by the shield. A shield alone would fail to prevent the buildup of aerosols in the room – the mask was for that.

Over the past 18 months our face-covering requirements have changed several times. It became clear aerosols were the problem, and shields were not particularly helpful. We went to double masking, and then to single-masking for the fully vaccinated. In the spring of 2021, when the data showed fully vaccinated people to be well protected against infection, in addition to symptomatic disease – and the community was experiencing a relative lull in infections – we allowed the vaccinated to go mask-less. When the Delta variant broke through that protection to an extent, we reverted to masks for all.

We eventually moved to require school-supplied ASTM Level 3 surgical masks for all. We realized it was too difficult to know what everyone’s cloth mask was made from, and whether or not there was a surgical grade filter in its pocket.

Ventilation and Air Purification

COVID-19 is a disease mostly transmitted through indoor air. Transmission is possible at crowded outdoor events, and theoretically possible (but vanishingly rare) from surfaces, but the vast majority of people catch COVID-19 breathing indoor air.

When SSMT resumed on-campus classes in September 2020, neither the CDC nor the WHO had acknowledged the aerosolized nature of the virus, though there was an increasing call from epidemiologists for them to do so.

HEPA Filters are like N95  masks for the room

There was enough evidence from early in 2020 (the restaurant AC-mediated infections in Wuhan, the choir practice in Washington state in which a single infected singer likely passed the virus to 52 out of 60 others in the room, etc.) We took the advice of the epidemiologists who wrote an editorial in JAMA in May 2020 suggesting the use of HEPA filters in all public indoor air spaces. We purchased units for every classroom, corridor, bathroom, and office; enough to achieve at least six air changes per hour. When the Delta variant was found to increase the amount of virus shed, we bought additional units bringing the air changes up to 7-9 per hour. We like Levoit filters for their combination of clean air delivery rate, quiet, and value. Blue-Air and others also get good reviews.

When we designed our facility, we put recessed hydrocollator bays in each classroom, with exhaust fans that vented through the roof. The idea was to prevent the buildup of moist hot air in our Florida classrooms every time someone opened a hydrocollator. These can be turned on and off with a switch, when someone opens a hydrocollator. During the pandemic, we have left them always on, and poked another hole in the building to bring fresh outside air into the corridor through a duct. The air vented to the outside through the hydrocollator vents creates a negative pressure, drawing fresh air in from the corridor, under the door. This add another 1.3 air changes per hour – and helps decrease carbon dioxide levels, which HEPA filtration does not.

A fan in the duct draws air out of the classroom through the roof.

In the spring of 2021 we ordered openable windows to replace existing windows. Those finally arrived and were installed in December. We leave those open even when the weather is unpleasant, and compensate with additional heat or air conditioning.

Open windows – and ducts bringing outside air directly in – are inefficient means of ventilation. We will be looking at a heat pump, to exchange indoor and outdoor air without bringing 95˚ summer air or 45˚ winter air  into the classrooms.

That there hasn’t been a national movement to subsidize the installation of heat pumps and HEPA filters in public indoor environments boggles my mind. We ask people to wear masks, but we don’t ask businesses to clean up the air their customers breathe. We spent trillions to stay home in the spring of 2020, and spend more money every time people are isolated, quarantined or hospitalized, but it hasn’t occurred to us to support a preventative measure with a long-term benefit, that requires nothing of the public.

Ventilation is the best way to deal with aerosolized pathogens.

We also put UV-C units in our five HVAC units. This was rather expensive, as we bought the best units we could find, and I am not convinced they make much difference.

The germicidal UV-C units used in hospitals draw air through a long tubular duct filled with UV-C light. The small time air in a commercial HVAC unit passes by a UV-C lamp pales in comparison. A few pathogens are probably killed, but if I had to choose one of our ventilation/purification methods to skip, it would be this one; in terms of cost /benefit calculus, it comes up the weakest.

Disinfection

We have always wiped down surfaces with a germicidal agent. When we resumed live classes in September 2020, we expanded the list of surfaces and moved to a twice daily disinfection of all surfaces. We continue to do this mostly because it is appropriate infection control, though we understand it is more likely to prevent MRSA, flu, and other pathogens, than it is to affect COVID transmission.

COVID-specific disinfection is largely hygiene theater, and can be more damaging than helpful. Spending ten minutes packed into an unventilated, unfiltered jetway, waiting to board an airplane, only to be given a disinfecting wipe by the flight attendant at the threshold is a great example of the destructive distraction that is hygiene theater. There is nothing wrong with the wipe per se; it is just the mistaken sense you have done something useful, while ignoring the important things that need to be done.

Despite the length of this piece, those things are simple. Deal with breathing, using masks, ventilation, and filtration. Pay attention to the quality of each. Use N95’s if you are confident in fit and seal; ASTM Level 2 or 3 otherwise, with the pleats tucked, and ear-loops tied at the mask, and clasped on the back of the head. Ventilate as much as you can manage. Filter indoor air with HEPA filtration, with at least six air changes per hour.

Of these, the first to go may be masks. It is certainly premature to be dropping them now, as many states are doing, while Omicron is still rampant. We still have no data on the risk of Long COVID from Omicron, and the risk of spreading this potentially debilitating disease in a classroom, when masking dramatically reduces the risk, makes dropping them now a mistake. That calculus may change sometime in March or April, and it may not.

I see no reason for ventilation/HEPA filters to end, and hope if there are any permanent changes we make because of the pandemic, it will be a permanent improvement to the quality of indoor air.

Dozens of SSMT students, instructors, clinic clients and staff have contracted COVID-19 during the past two years, but they all caught it outside our facility. One of those students died. It breaks my heart to picture her face, and realize her death was entirely preventable. If she had followed the procedures we follow at SSMT in the rest of her life, and if she had been vaccinated, she would almost certainly be alive today.

Amidst all the conflicting and changing guidance, what has been clear all along is this is a disease transmitted through public indoor air. Masks, ventilation, and HEPA filters, along with proper screening, quarantine, and isolation protocols, have proven effective at prevention. None of these measures are perfect, and someone might yet contract the disease on our campus (there is a chance someone already has).

When a student calls in and says “I just woke up with a fever, and the feeling of an elephant on my chest, and I was in class last night,” they are sent for a PCR test, and their class, and any exposed instructors are sent home for quarantine. When no one else develops symptoms, and when all those exposed test negative by PCR, and when this happens again and again, we figure we have found a way to responsibly run a massage therapy school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

 

What SSMT is Doing About Safety

SSMT and COVID-19

 

December 31, 2021 update

Since reopening in September, 2020, 16 months ago, no one – no student, instructor, administrator, clinic client, or visitor – has contracted COVID-19 on the SSMT campus. We have quarantined more than a dozen classes for 14 days after someone in the classroom contracted COVID-19 outside school, but none of the quarantined students or instructors developed COVID-19.

Since reopening, our building has seen more than 100,000 person-hours indoors. That we have had students  practice massage for five hours in class with a partner at the peak of pre-symptomatic COVID-19, without contracting the disease from that partner, tells us our policies have worked.

Because of the current Omicron surge, we are eliminating the mask exemption for the fully vaccinated. We hope that early in the new year, it will be found that the usually mild cases of Omicron are less likely to develop into Long Covid than previous variants, and we will be able to loosen these requirements. This wave is expected to peak in January and be over in February. We look forward to that. In the meantime, if you choose to enter our facility, thank you for honoring the safety procedures below. They have been slightly modified due to the current surge.


Original Post, Oct. 2020:

This has been quite a year for everyone on the planet. For anyone like me, who has built a life – and a living – out of close human interaction, it has been a time for deep reflection.

Close contact with people increases the risk of infection from COVID-19. That risk increases further when contact is closer than 6 feet, and even further when it occurs indoors for durations longer than 10 or 15 minutes.

It is impossible to give or receive massage from 6 feet away, in 15 minutes, or limit classes to such a short duration.

Fortunately, we know more about how to minimize risk, even when meeting indoors for hours, than we did last spring.

SSMT reopened for live classes September 8, having held only theory classes online since March. We used the time live classes were paused to follow closely what scientists were learning about COVID-19, and how to minimize its chance of spread. We watched as other massage therapy schools around the country resumed live classes over the summer, and were pleased to note that – with a few precautions – spread in the classroom seems rare.

While we have watched other schools, open during the summer 2020 surge, send students home for quarantine because a student tested positive, we did not see a single case where a positive student spread the virus to others in the school. All the schools we’ve been in touch with require masks, some have air purification, but none have all the safety measures SSMT has adopted.

While there is no guarantee that any close human interaction is safe from spreading COVID-19, SSMT has adopted every measure that has worked in other schools, and other settings. Each measure is described in detail below the list. A few of the procedures below have been edited to update the most recent changes we’ve made to our policies.

  • Ventilation – Air exchanged with the outside environment at least once every 45 minutes
  • HEPA filtration – Air filtered through HEPA filters 5-7 times per hour
  • UV-C and Ionizers – HVAC system fitted with the only air purifier approved by NASA
  • Face Masks – Everyone in the building is masked always, with an SSMT-supplied ASTM Level 3 surgical mask .
  • Disinfection – SSMT disinfects all surfaces twice each day with the most non-toxic disinfectant on the FDA’s approved list.
  • Physical Distancing – Except for trading partners and practical instructors, everyone maintains at least six feet of distance – and often much more
  • Online Instruction – Some science and theory classes are held online
  • Limited Class Size – to accommodate distancing, class size is limited

Ventilation – There is a vent in the exterior wall allowing  outside air into the HVAC system, so fresh exterior air is cooled and pumped into the classrooms and offices. The four classrooms have exhaust fans that draw air up and out of the room through the roof. The entire volume of air in the classrooms is exchanged every 45 minutes. These rooms are also used as student clinic rooms.

HEPA filtration – There are two HEPA filtration units in each classroom, and similar units in the offices, library, bathrooms, and reception area. These turn over the entire volume of air in the classrooms over seven times each hour, passing it through what is essentially an N95 mask for indoor air.

UV-C and Ionizers – SSMT has installed Aerus Air Scrubber units in each of the four HVAC units. These have the same technology used on the space shuttle, and function whenever the unit is cooling (or heating). They pass the air through UV-C light, and produce hydroxyl ions, peroxides, and oxygen anions that are safe for humans, but attach to pathogens, pulling them out of the air, and killing them. SSMT installed the model without ozone, since ozone may have negative effects on health. We don’t expect these ionizers have nearly the effect that HEPA filters do, but every bit helps.

Face Masks – Since March 2020, there has been much research on mask effectiveness, and we have followed it closely. It is now clear that ASTM Level 3 surgical masks protect both the wearer and others, though imperfectly. While there is leakage, wearing a rated, well-sealed mask decreases the odds of contracting COVID-19 by half, and decreases the odds of spreading it by more than half. With everyone masked, the odds of an infection  spreading decrease by more than 80%. Students, instructors, administration, staff, and all visitors to SSMT wear face masks, with a nose-wire, that covers the nose and mouth, and fits without gaps all around.

Disinfection – SSMT disinfects all surfaces twice each day with Oxivir, a hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectant. It is a potent virucide, non-toxic to humans. (We do this mostly for general hygiene; scientists no longer think COVID-19 is spread from surfaces).

Physical Distancing – We ask everyone in the building maintains at least six feet of distance – and often much more, except when doing massage. Partners practicing massage are more than six feet from others at the next massage table.

Online Instruction – Now that we have resumed live classes on campus, most classes are held live on campus. Students will continue to  attend some science and theory classes online. The online classes are streamed live, and include opportunities for participation. SSMT has created dynamic and effective visual presentations to anchor lectures and discussions. Students’ performance and enjoyment of online classes has generally been similar to what occurs in live classes.

Limited Class Size – To accommodate distancing, class size has been limited, depending on the classroom. Update June 19, 2021: We have started eleven classes since the pandemic began, including groups that started online in the spring and summer of 2020. Because of the limited size, nine of the eleven classes have had wait lists. People exploring the possibility of attending SSMT are encouraged to begin the process early.

Voter Registration is Easy – and Open Until February 18

SSMT enthusiastically encourages all students, graduates, staff, and all other eligible Florida citizens to register to vote by clicking here.

Primary elections for the Democratic and Republican Primaries will be held in March; you have to be registered to vote. Registering is really easy. Click here to register, print a paper registration form, or pick one up at the SSMT Front Desk or Admissions Office. We will gladly stamp and mail your completed form for you if you’d like!

Register to vote now!

Open House Discovery Experience

Join us for our Open House Discovery Experience on Friday, December 13th from 1:15 to 4:00pm.

Meet and mingle with graduates, current students, faculty, administration, and potential employers as you enjoy complimentary chair massage and refreshments, as well as a complimentary class on Treating Headaches and a short informational session. Discover more about our massage therapy program and the opportunities that exist for LMT’s.

RSVP by calling us at (941) 957-0577. We hope to see you there!

November is National Scholarship Month!

Scholarships and grants are gift aid; money that does not need to be repaid. Sarasota School of Massage Therapy students may qualify for a variety of scholarships and grants.

SSMT offers need-based scholarships to students who qualify, and the US Department of Education offers two types of need-based grants to SSMT students who qualify.

You can find out if you qualify for any (or all three) of these grants with a single, free, online application, the FAFSA.

These amounts are based on several things, including your income (and parents’ income, if you’re a dependent student), family size, and other factors. Just enter the SSMT school code (016937) when you complete the application, and SSMT will receive the information we need from the Department of Education to determine the amounts of any federal aid you may qualify for (including the two grants). It will also allow us to determine the amount of SSMT’s need-based scholarship you may qualify for.

Identifying Student Loan Scams

Graduates and students often receive phone calls, emails, and mail about loan forgiveness. While it sounds great, how do you know if it’s a scam? As it turns out, most of the time, it is.

We’ve heard horror stories about students paying for help with their loans, only to find out what they paid is lost money, and their student loan balance didn’t change. Or worse, their student loan balance increased and the payment is now late, because they were working with a scammer and not their real loan servicer.

Some recent false claims the Department of Education specifically mentions include:

“Act immediately to qualify for student loan forgiveness before the program is discontinued”. The Department of Education and loan servicers will not participate in aggressive advertising like this.

“Your student loans may qualify for complete discharge. Enrollments are first come, first served.” While there are discharge options due to a total and permanent disability, it’s never first come, first served.

If it sounds like you have to hurry or you’ll miss out, it’s a scam.

“Student alerts: Your student loan is flagged for forgiveness pending verification. Call now!” Again, the Department of Education does not aggressively advertise. If it sounds like something a used car salesman would say, it’s likely to be a scam.

If you receive communication like this, always call your servicer directly. Call the number listed on your monthly bill or when you log in to your online account; do not call the number listed in that particular solicitation.

If you don’t know how to reach your servicer, call SSMT! We can provide you with an accurate phone number.

Never call a number. or click a link, in a solicitation email. Call your servicer or SSMT.

Always verify the authenticity of any solicitation you receive about your student loans. Most of the time, if you received communication via any method, there will be something in your online account as well. If you received an email or regular mail, but there’s nothing related when you log in, it might be a scam.

Your loan servicer, and the Department of Education, will never ask you to pay for help. If you’re eligible for loan forgiveness, a discharge due to disability, or anything else, while you may have to provide documentation, it’s the law that you’re eligible. They cannot and will not charge a fee to determine if you’re eligible. And if you are eligible, they cannot and will not charge you fees to process the request.

They also cannot and will not charge you any fees for processing a deferment or forbearance request or for changing your repayment plan. Under the law, borrowers may be eligible (under certain circumstances) for a deferment, forbearance, or changing their repayment plan. While it’s not guaranteed that you are eligible, your servicer will never charge to give you information, or to process your application, for any of these things.

We’re here to help! If you need information or just want a reassuring “second set of eyes” to check out the communication you received, just ask us. We’ll help you determine if it looks like it might be a scam, and we’ll help you reach out to your real loan servicer.

Possible Storm Closure Information

Update Monday 9/2/19 11 AM

SSMT will be open all week.

There is no longer any risk of hurricane force winds on the gulf coast of Florida. There is a slight chance of tropical storm force winds (less than 20% from Venice to Bradenton); if that materializes, we will revisit this.


Update Saturday 8/31/19 8 AM

The forecast now likely spares Sarasota and Manattee Counties. At this point we are planning to be open on Tuesday, but this is still subject to change as the forecast becomes clearer.


Original Post:

It looks like southwest Florida will likely experience the effects of Hurricane Dorian. If we close the school, this post will be updated to reflect that. School closings will be announced on the school’s voice mail and  the class facebook pages, in addition to this post.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) currently predicts the storm to pass north of us. The NHC points out that their forecast this far out (over five days for Sarasota) has an average error of about 200 miles, which means the storm might not affect us, or the eye might cross the state, pass right over us, and head into the Gulf.

We could be experiencing tropical storm force winds, and heavy rain, for 3 full days, beginning Sunday.

The greatest likelihood at this point is that we will experience tropical storm force winds while a major hurricane batters the east coast. The current prediction is for the worst damage to be on the east coast, and north of us.

Even though we are likely to be spared the worst of it, there is a very good chance (the NHC currently has it at 65%) that we will experience at least tropical storm force winds and a lot of rain. The ground is already soggy, and it won’t take much to uproot trees, and down power lines. We could experience heavy flooding and loss of power.

We urge everyone to prepare for for a significant storm. If your pet is not current with vaccinations, it may not be taken at a shelter, so get your pet vaccinated before the weekend.

Back To School

Heading back to school can be stressful for both kids and parents. Scrambling for school supplies, shoes, backpacks and uniforms; meeting teachers; hauling multiple boxes of crayons, scissors, and paper to classrooms – all take a toll! Yet, while the slower pace of summer is enjoyable, the consistency of the school year can provide relief for some families, and allow time for new projects.

So what about going back to school yourself, even if you have your own kids in school? The majority of SSMT students have children under 18 at home, and they not only find it manageable, but many also say their kids are inspired by seeing their parents studying and pursuing their dream. Our next classes start in September, so you can get through the August rush with your kids before focusing on your own education.

Our massage therapy students who attend day classes either take advantage of a Before-Care Program at their child’s school or they have a family member drop the child off in the mornings. Many schools in Manatee and Sarasota counties have low-or no-cost Before School programs. SSMT day students finish class at 1:00 – before their children have been dismissed for the day. Most evening students have help with their kids from family members while they attend classes – just three evenings per week.

Your children can also affect your own financial aid eligibility. The number of children you support is reported on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and impacts your grant and scholarship eligibility. The SSMT administration and staff want to see every student succeed. We want to help you figure out if this is the right path for you and make sure you’re set up for success, whatever your situation may be. Having kids go back to school can be a great time to consider enriching your own life as well.

Forbearance

If you’re having trouble making your student loan payments, there are many ways to find relief. The Department of Education provides a variety of repayment plans to keep you on track without causing you hardship. Sometimes that’s not enough, and you need to stop payments altogether for a period of time. That’s called forbearance.

There are two types of forbearance: mandatory and discretionary, and it can last up to 12 months. You will find that your FFELP or Direct Loan lenders are not like your auto loan lenders or credit card companies, in that they often want you to succeed and will try to help you through difficult times.

Lenders are required to provide a mandatory forbearance if you meet certain qualifications, which include:

  • Your monthly loan payment is 20% or more of your gross monthly income
  • You are serving in a medical or dental residency and meet specific requirements
  • You are teaching in a program that qualifies for teacher loan forgiveness
  • You are serving in an organization such as AmeriCorps
  • You are called into active military duty
  • You qualify for partial repayment under the U.S. Dept. Of Defense Student Loan Repayment Program.

A discretionary forbearance is one that is granted to you by your lender, even when they aren’t required to do so by regulations. It’s smarter for lenders to grant you a discretionary forbearance and reevaluate your situation in 6 or 12 months than to let you go into default and send you to collections.  Most lenders will approve forbearance for illness, unexpected expenses, or financial hardship, even if your loan payment is less than 20% of your gross monthly income.

Your loan interest, on both Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, continues to accrue while you’re in forbearance, but (unlike going into default) forbearance status will not affect your credit score. The interest will be added to your principal balance and then you’ll be charged interest upon interest as time passes. If you can afford to, make interest-only payments on your loan during forbearance.

Start the process by contacting your loan servicer. If you’re an SSMT grad and don’t know who to contact, just ask us and we’ll be happy to look it up for you.