July 10, 2020
Dear Rochambeau Families,
 
I hope you’re enjoying the start of the summer and are staying safe and healthy. These past months have been extremely challenging for our community, our students and staff. We have adapted and faced the challenges together. And I again want to thank you for working with us during this crisis. Our Terminale students have all passed the Baccalaureat with a 93% rate of honors/mentions. Congratulations and good luck to them!  

Today I’m writing to share with you our progress on Back-to-School plans for this Fall. As you can understand, preparing for our school’s reopening is a huge challenge given the numerous uncertainties we are facing.
 

Planning and Guiding Principles for 2020-2021

Ensuring the health and safety of our students, parents and staff is paramount. As such, our decision-making will continue to be informed by local health authorities and we will follow the guidelines from Montgomery County, the State of Maryland, and the CDC .
 
Our COVID Preparedness Team has identified different back-to-school scenarios based on research, advice from health and educational experts, and bench-marking of other schools’ plans. We have also consulted our community, both families and staff, through surveys and integrated those survey results into our planning process. Based on our research and survey feedback, we narrowed our focus to 3 Scenarios:
  1. Full-time distance learning for all students
  2. Hybrid on-campus and distance learning - priority for on campus instruction for youngest students
  3. Full-time on-campus instruction for all students with modifications for new health protocols

Based on the current and evolving health conditions, it seems we are likely to implement all the different scenarios at some points during the next school year . We will therefore be guided by local health conditions as we make adjustments throughout the school year. (More information on each plan and the required health conditions is below.)
 
Last week, we presented our reopening plans to the Board of Trustees, including all the resources that will be necessary to ensure effective learning and teaching while safeguarding the health and safety of our students and staff. We received the Board’s approval.


Conditions for On-campus Instruction

For all scenarios, ensuring health and safety is our top priority. Our on-campus plans (Scenarios 2 and 3) are designed to promote safe behaviors and prevent the spread of illness:
  • Mandatory Social Distancing: Students and staff will be instructed to maintain increased space between classroom desks, smaller recess groups, modified class activities, changes to student movement / circulation within the buildings;
  • Face coverings worn on campus: Students and staff will receive education and training on proper use and the importance of this step. We will provide staff with several washable face coverings and a transparent face shield. We will follow guidance from health agencies about the use of face coverings at the time when our campuses reopen to students and staff. This may require wearing a mask during most school hours (e.g. not during meal times).
  • Hand-washing and Hygiene: Soap and/or hand sanitizer will be available in all classrooms and in hallways; 
  • Health Screenings: Parents will be requested to check their child’s temperature daily before leaving for school and report the temperature with the confirmation of lack of symptoms through a digital form before the students’ arrival on campus;
  • Health Isolation Room: Each campus will have a dedicated room for students and staff who demonstrate COVID symptoms;
  • Enhanced Cleaning: We have invested in efficient professional sanitation equipment (electrostatic sprayer machines) that will be used several times a day in all buildings and buses;
  • Physical Barriers: Clear plexiglass screens will be installed in all reception areas;
  • Visitor Restrictions: Continued “no visitor” policy on all campuses, including modifications to student drop-offs (to kiss-and-ride or school door only, not inside buildings)
  • Campus Entry / Exit Modifications: We are still considering changes to movement and timing for students at drop-off and pick-up times. More information on this will be provided;
  • School Buses: There will likely be modifications to bus and shuttle operations. We will have more information later in the summer when further guidance is provided to us by the county and state.

In the event that a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 , we will cooperate with county health officials who will undertake contact tracing steps. Depending on the contacts within the school, some number of individuals may need to isolate from on-campus instruction for a period of time. This could be limited to a specific class group, to a specific grade, whole building, or whole school community, depending on the contacts in the unique situation. In this, as in all determinations, we will be following the advice of our local health authorities with whom we are already working closely. Students who are not able to attend on campus instruction due to required home isolation will have access to distance learning materials and support. Any school closure or isolation of student(s) or staff member(s) will not be undertaken lightly.
Scenario 1:
Full-time Distance Learning for ALL students
This scenario would be in place if Montgomery County is operating in a Phase 1 or Phase 2 Activity Status. 

All students will utilize distance learning, but with changes from last school year. Based on our experiences from Spring 2020, and with additional planning time, any distance learning in the 2020-2021 school year would include:

  • Digital access to content will be increased, based on a new eLearning platform that enhances feedback;
  • Communication protocol with students and parents will be revised and improved;
  • Flipped classrooms will be developed so that live online sessions can be dedicated to interactions between students and teachers (A flipped classroom is a type of blended learning where students are introduced to content during independent work, such as recorded instruction, and then practice working through it with a teacher. More info.)
  • Length of online class meetings will be increased at all levels;
  • Small group teaching will be encouraged as much as possible.
Scenario 2:
Hybrid On-campus and Distance Learning - priority for on campus instruction for youngest students
This scenario would be in place if Montgomery County is operating in a Phase 3 Activity Status. 

Students would be permitted on campus in small class groups (approx. 10) and the overall occupancy of the school building would be reduced by about 50%. To adhere to health guidelines, students in some grades would receive instruction both in-person and online (Distance Learning) in alternating week rotations. Based on the results of the Parent Survey, as well as pedagogical studies about the learning styles for young students, we will give priority to the youngest and the most vulnerable students.

  • Return to school for the TPS class will be postponed until we can reopen without restrictions; We do not believe social distancing is compatible with the social and emotional needs of 2 year old students.
  • PS, MS, GS, CP, CE1, 6ème (Pre-K & K, 1st, 2nd & 6th grades): Full-time in-person instruction for students with a high need for face-to-face instruction - young learnings and critical transition years. Curriculum and class organization adapted to maintain social distancing.
  • CE2, CM1, CM2, the rest of middle school and high school (3rd - 5th and 7th - 12th grades) will alternate in-person and distance learning on a weekly rotation. The curriculum will be adapted to fit the format. Math and science will have priority for on-campus instruction. Some courses will be recorded and broadcasted. Class times will be live broadcasted for students who are at home. New IT equipment will be necessary for teachers and in all classrooms.
  • To implement this plan, we need to move some grade levels to different campuses:
  • Bradley Campus: PS, MS and GS (K) for students under age 5
  • Rollingwood Campus: GS (K) age 5 or above, grades 1 and 2
  • Forest Road Campus: grades 3 through 12

Capacity considerations: This Hybrid scenario is built around capacity limitations in each school room to maintain social distancing. In order to provide on-campus instruction for more students, we are reconfiguring cafeterias, gymnasiums, auditorium and other large spaces. Additionally, we are actively pursuing options to expand our on-campus capacity and by adding modular classrooms on our Forest Road Campus. This could allow additional on-campus instructional time for more students. Some families have asked about the use of the new campus to expand current school capacity. For reasons explained below (see New Campus Update), this is not feasible.
Scenario 3:
Full-time on-campus instruction for all students with new health protocols
This scenario would be in place if Montgomery County removes capacity restrictions for the operation of schools. 

All students would be welcomed to campus in their typical class group configurations (typically 15 - 22 students) and at their regularly assigned campus location. However, large gatherings and intermixing groups will likely be limited. Some activities might also be restricted where students would be exposed to increased aerosols (e.g. some PE activities, choral singing, etc.).
Distance Learning Support
We acknowledge that some students might not be able to attend school in-person because of either their own health condition or the presence of a fragile family member in the household. Distance learning options will be provided to them.

Particular attention will also be given to the students needing learning support. The strategies considered include small group and individual support, collaboration and co-planning between teachers and specialists, learning gap assessment, digital opportunity for review and recovery, and available office hours to touch base with students. We will also provide emotional support to the SLS students and ensure personal check-ins with families and potential adaptation for the “PAP” plans.
Additional Info for Fall 2020
New Faculty - Impact of Immigration Ban (Executive Order)

The efforts of our dedicated and talented teachers are essential in all scenarios. And particularly, for scenarios where students return to campus, staffing will be critical. We will need more teaching faculty and class support staff. As you are likely aware, a recent Executive Order bans some categories of new visas (J1 and H1B). This impacts eight of our newly hired teachers coming from France. Several approaches are being conducted simultaneously:
  1. The French Embassy has approached the US Department of State to negotiate an exception for all teachers in French schools across the US. As of today, these discussions are still ongoing.
  2. In parallel, we are working on possibilities for our new teachers abroad to work remotely (online teaching) until the ban is lifted. These eight teachers have all accepted to do so until they are permitted to come to the US.
  3. We are hiring additional locally qualified personnel. Of those, five of the newly created positions will support our Elementary classes (teachers and support staff).


Technology Enhancements for 2020-2021

In all of our learning scenarios, technology will play a key role. To raise the level of instruction provided for all students, and to improve the digital experience for all students, families and faculty, we are making some important investment in IT equipment and resources this summer. 4 critical need areas are being addressed:
  1. Give teachers the resources needed to deliver their content to students remotely and on-campus at the highest possible level. All the school’s teachers will be equipped with laptops and use a new Learning Management System platform.
  2. Give the students the resources needed to participate fully in our online and on-campus pedagogical offerings. Based on the feedback received in the last 3 months, it is clear that middle school students were limited by the capacities of the iPads and need a device more in line with the advanced work they are doing in their classes (full size keyboard, touch screen and stylus). We will therefore provide them with Chromebooks. Their former iPads will be used in the lower grade levels to expand the 1:1 program (to now include GS/K, CP/1st and CE1/2nd) and to replace older equipment.
  3. Classrooms need to be modified to allow for on-site and distance learning opportunities to happen concurrently. All classrooms will be equipped with cameras and projectors to allow live streaming.
  4. Provide training support to students, teachers and families to ensure their active participation and support of our program.
 
This plan is a long-term investment, not just designed to address the current situation. Its benefits will outlast the COVID crisis. The Board has approved the technology plan in its entirety.


1st Day of School Calendar Change

We realize the changes outlined above are significant for our entire community and require training in order to be effective. We will therefore add professional development and training days for all our faculty before the beginning of the school year. It is therefore important to move the first day of school to Tuesday, September 8th . We are consulting right now with our faculty representatives and stakeholders to validate this change formally. This additional training time is essential for the full-year success of our teachers and students.
 

Additional financial support to our community

In May we had announced an additional $1 million Hardship Financial Aid Fund. In light of the continuing health and economic crisis, and the impact on our school’s families, the Board of Trustees has approved an additional supplement of $300,000 to be awarded through the normal Financial Aid process. This increases the total aid provided by the school to $3.2M for the upcoming school year.

In addition, we will extend the tuition reduction policy already in place for the maternelle students in case of return to full distance learning to the 1st and 2nd graders. (See our June 10 message for further information.)


New Campus Update

The zoning approval process is still ongoing for the New Elementary Campus (at Rockville Pike and Pooks Hill Road). Unfortunately, the additional delays imposed upon us by the local agencies are now jeopardizing the planned opening date for Fall 2021. The work with the agencies (MNCPPC, SHA, MC DOT) will continue until we resolve their final concerns and until final approval is granted. Based on our current status and projections, the new opening date for the campus would be January or August 2022. Until all approvals are in place, and according to the terms of our purchase contract for the property, this new campus location is not available for our use now; we cannot use this site for additional instructional space in Fall 2020.

To emphasize our priorities, the Board of Trustees has approved to dedicate all the school’s resources to help our community safely transition through the crisis while ensuring the quality and continuity of the education for all our students. All available school resources will be used to finance the reopening plans for 2020-2021, including additional support (Financial Aid) for the community. While this could limit our ability to contribute to the financial reserves necessary to secure our new campus financing, we believe this allocation of resources should be our priority at this critical time.
A lot of work was put in preparing those plans and I want to thank warmly the “COVID Preparedness” team that has developed the concepts, elaborated all the necessary procedures and policies, secured the procurement of supplies and equipment at a time when all private and public schools in the US are competing for the best prices and delivery dates. We will continue to refine our plans as the State of Maryland communicates to us the guidelines for schools. We will keep you informed.
 
I wish you all a restful and healthy summer. We will continue to work on and provide updates on our plans for the 2020-2021 school year throughout the summer. We thank you for staying in touch with us. We will navigate this time of uncertainty together.

Kind regards,
Hélène Fabre, Executive Director