August 6, 2020
Dear Rochambeau Community,

I hope that you and your family are staying safe and healthy and are enjoying some rest over the summer. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the tragic explosion in Beirut this week. Lebanon has suffered a lot in the past decades and maintains strong connections with France as the many Lebanese families in our school community attest. When global events like this fill the headlines, we naturally think of our friends and neighbors. I hope all our families and loved ones are safe and encourage you to contact us if you are in need of support.

Today, I am writing to share with you an update on our Back-to-School plans. 

During the last Board meeting, held on July 31, we were hoping to make a determination as to the conditions and organization of the 2020-21 Back to School. However, given the rapidly changing local environment, the Board concluded that it was prudent to delay the decision for another 2 weeks. This time is necessary to continue observing the health trends in our area and also to gain greater clarity on the political back-and-forth of orders impacting school operations that have been issued by the Montgomery County Health Department and the Governor of Maryland.

We acknowledge that all of our families, and indeed also our teachers, are eager to know our reopening plan, but our decision must be based on both ethical and practical criteria. While all children have different needs for in-person learning, the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff has to be our top priority. It is our responsibility to offer the safest possible environment to learn and work, while cognizant that we can’t guarantee a COVID free environment. To enable prudent decision-making, our school’s COVID response team has been meeting regularly throughout the summer to review and revise school procedures, academic organization, and health-related data trends. The Board’s decision for the 2020-21 Back to School will be based on objective health data and risk analysis.

In preparation for the 2020-21 Back to School decision scheduled to be made mid August, the following interim decisions will shape our final plans:  

  1. The Board of Trustees has approved the creation of a “COVID-19 Data Evaluation Working Group” to reinforce analysis and decision-making. This group will gather 5 health professionals selected from among our parent community, all working in the medical and health sector, as well as our school nurse who has been actively involved in our COVID response team since early 2020. The group’s objective is “to compile and present to the Board, the management and the community all relevant data, information and trends regarding the spread of the virus , the potential transmission of the virus, the latest recommendations from county, state and federal experts regarding the reopening of schools”. A report will be presented at each of the Board meetings while this pandemic continues and will be shared with our community.
  2. The school’s COVID response team will continue work on all operational scenarios, devoting primary attention to the two most likely reopening scenarios: (a) full virtual reopening for all students, and, (b) a hybrid reopening with some in-person instruction. More than ever, I want to reinforce that ensuring the health and safety of our students, parents, faculty and staff remains of paramount importance to us in the long term, not just for a few days. In some countries, schools that had reopened too soon were forced to close again because of COVID cases in the community. We have therefore amended our earlier plans in favor of a phased reopening for the grades that will resume in-person instruction. The attached presentation shows a proposed phasing strategy and smaller cohorting of student groups. All the details of the plans are based on guidelines from the CDC, the State of Maryland, and Montgomery County. A phased approach to reopening allows us to take the necessary time to confirm our ability, as a community, to thoroughly and consistently implement all health and safety measures of the plan. 
  3. In all scenarios, Virtual Learning will be necessary and critical. Our technology team is working at full speed to have new equipment (for students and staff) and new learning platforms ready for the Back to School. Their work will provide a firm foundation for learning and collaboration, both online and in person. I commend them for routinely tackling unexpected hurdles like the shortage of some equipment or recent US ban on the importation of some Chinese made computer parts. In a Virtual Learning environment we will provide special focus on 3 groups of students for whom distance learning has proven challenging: the youngest preschool and elementary students, the non-French speaking students who might require special support, and the exam grade students who will need to be prepared for year-end exams as efficiently as they would be with full in-person schooling. 
  4. Finally, we acknowledge that some families may need some additional time to make their final decision to enroll or stay enrolled in our school. In recognition of that need for flexibility, the Board has approved to postpone the date of the first tuition payment to August 20th.
  5. This downloadable presentation provides more details of the academic planning currently underway. This includes academic plans that reflect new health and safety measures as well as a phased approach to on-campus learning (by grade level). This was shared with our faculty this week to receive their feedback and address their questions. A faculty and staff survey is now underway to evaluate the staff available for in-person teaching. The feedback from faculty may impact the feasibility of our hybrid scenario. A second step in this process will be a survey to you, our families, so we may better understand your intentions to attend school in person, if that option is available. 

I wish I could share with you a confirmed plan for our Back-to-School but the level of uncertainty is high and requires extreme caution. I understand the frustration you may feel as you need to make your own decisions. But, please rest assured that the entire COVID response team is fully committed and focused to working through this situation. We thank you for your patience and understanding.

Best regards, 

Hélène Fabre, Executive Director