July 17, 2020

Dear All,

I have spent these past two weeks getting to know our community through one-on-one Zoom conversations with members of our faculty and staff. These conversations have underscored the depth of a shared commitment to our mission of ensuring that “Lab School students learn to advocate for themselves as they become engaged and compassionate members of a global society.”

It is this mission that is at the heart of the work that has filled the rest of my days – planning for the start of the 2020-21 school year. Our planning continues to build on the groundwork laid by Katherine in her June 22nd communication , and I am writing today to give you an update on this work.

As you know, our understanding of this global pandemic continues to evolve daily, if not hourly, with new information. Thus, the outline for 2020-21 that I am sharing today represents our current plans based on current conditions. As human beings, we yearn for certainty; unfortunately, in a situation like this, certainty is the one thing we cannot achieve. Therefore, I hope it is helpful if I start by sharing the guiding principles that we are using to make decisions about the 2020-21 school year.

Guiding Principles
In my meetings with our internal task force, board task force, and administrative team, I have shared the following principles that have and will continue to guide our planning:
  • We will deliver on our promise of an excellent educational program for our students, with attention to academics, social/emotional health, the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and community building.
  • We will prioritize the safety, security, and well-being of all members of our community by ensuring that we are mitigating risk in uncertain times.
  • We will provide, if possible, the opportunity for students to return to campus.
  • We will ensure that our plan remains flexible in order to provide for the least disruptive experience possible no matter the variables.
  • We will ensure that the school maintains financial sustainability.

The Modalities
We are designing our schedules and plans for maximum flexibility so that we are able to shift between the following teaching and learning modalities in 2020-21:
  • “Lab Full-Time On Campus” – While this modality is unlikely until a vaccine is widely available, we will be prepared to return to “business as usual” if and when it is possible.
  • “Lab Hybrid On Campus” – This hybrid modality allows for students to have access to campus with teachers and related service providers within the constraints of physical distancing and public health best practices. Some portion of instruction and related services will be delivered remotely.
  • “Lab Off Campus” – This fully virtual modality may be required at points in the year. We will be prepared to shift seamlessly to full virtual learning with as little disruption as possible for students and teachers.

Resources Guiding Decision-Making
The sources of information for how to approach educating our children during this pandemic are endless and ever-evolving. We are consulting a wide variety of resources to ensure that our plans for 2020-21 are informed and grounded in science, data, and best practice. The following resources have been useful in our planning:
  • Public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Guidance from local jurisdictional bodies, including DC Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and DC Department of Health
  • Lab’s health experts, including our nurses Adriana Van Breda, RN, BS and Ruthanne Neary, RN, BSN and consulting physician, Peter I. Warfield, MD, MPH, FAAP
  • Lab’s educational experts, including our division heads, related services heads, and teachers
  • Other schools’ experiences, particularly those international schools that have successfully re-opened their campuses in the past few months
  • Independent and public school colleagues around the nation, including those in the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington (AISGW) and the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)
  • Parent and faculty/staff feedback from our period of virtual learning in 2019-20
Health, Safety, and Risk Mitigation
We are taking a comprehensive approach to risk mitigation and we continue to develop robust policies and protocols that will guide our time on campus this year. We encourage you to review our current Risk Management Plan in detail. This plan will be updated as new information becomes available. In general, we are taking an aggressive approach that includes physical distancing, mask-wearing, reducing density, health screening, preventative hygiene, air quality upgrades, and diligent cleaning and disinfecting.

Some Challenges
There are many challenges with developing a robust plan in these times. We recognize that public health guidance has shifted and has been, at times, contradictory, which is why we are consulting a wide variety of resources and experts to make decisions. We also face the challenge of balancing our obligation for the physical and social-emotional well-being of adults and children with the goal of providing in-person learning opportunities for our students. We know that the developmental needs of our students from 1st through 12th grades are different; therefore, we must design programs that can meet those needs to the best of our ability. This requires, necessarily, that programs will be different across the four divisions. While we are working toward a plan that will allow, if possible, all students to engage in some On Campus learning, all students will also engage in virtual learning. We recognize that some teachers and related service providers, in all divisions, will need to provide services virtually due to underlying health conditions or risk factors, and we are planning for this reality.

September 1 – Opening of 2020-21 School Year
For September, you should plan for virtual teaching and learning, supplemented by student time on campus in small groups to acclimate to the new realities of our risk mitigation plan in each division. Given current conditions, we are planning to phase into the “Lab Hybrid On Campus” modality by October 1. We believe our community will benefit from a phased-in approach to returning to campus. 
Divisional Plans (as of 7/17/20) for “Lab Hybrid On- Campus”
Today we are providing a basic outline for the school day for each division. Division Heads will be sharing additional details about schedules and classrooms in an early August communication, and in those communications they will address the plans for the phased-in approach we will take for the month of September. All of these divisional plans include physical distancing and risk mitigation protocols as described in the Risk Management Plan . These schedules also allow for seamless transition to virtual learning if required.
Elementary Division
  • All students will have the opportunity to phase into being on campus 5 days per week by October 1.
  • The school day will be 8am-2:30pm.
  • The Academic Club will serve as the “Homeroom Hub” for students.
  • We will have 4 Academic Clubs of 16 students with 4 teachers per Academic Club.
  • Morning instruction will consist, primarily, of morning meeting, math, reading, writing, and art.
  • Afternoon instruction will involve transdisciplinary learning, including Academic Clubs, science, art, physical education/movement, and time for related services.

Intermediate Division
  • All students will have the opportunity to phase into being on campus 5 days per week by October 1.
  • The school day will be 8am-2:30pm.
  • Students will be placed in groups ranging up to a 6:1 student-teacher ratio.
  • Groups will be determined by learning needs and physical distancing capacities within specific spaces.
  • Morning instruction will consist, primarily, of morning meeting, reading, writing, and math, with a built-in wellness break, all of which will be taught by homeroom teacher(s).
  • Afternoon instruction will include time for related services, Academic Club, arts, science, and movement, with a constant set of specialists in each homeroom.

Junior High Division
  • All students will have the opportunity to phase into being on campus during the first month. 
  • By October 1, 7th and 8th grades will rotate being on campus. Each grade will have the opportunity to be on campus 2 days per week. (Monday and Tuesday for 7th grade; Thursday and Friday for 8th grade).
  • The school day will be 9:15am-3:45pm.
  • Each grade will engage in virtual learning on the days not on campus
  • Wednesday will be a virtual Community Day for both 7th and 8th grades. This day will include time for academic extra help, community meetings, clubs, affinity groups, mentoring, as well as DEI and social-emotional learning opportunities.
  • Course groupings will be created with the goal of minimizing contacts for students and teachers.

High School Division
  • All students will have the opportunity to phase into being on campus during the first month. 
  • By October 1, Students in grades 9-12 will be divided (likely by alphabet) into two equal groups (Group A and Group B). The groups will alternate time on campus in 2-week blocks, 4 days per week.
  • Each group will engage in virtual learning during the weeks when they are not on campus.  (Group A will attend classes in person Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for two weeks; and then attend classes virtually Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for two weeks.  When Group A is on campus, Group B will be virtual, and vice versa).
  • The school day will be 9:15am-3:45pm.
  • Wednesday will be a virtual Community Day for all grades. This day will include time for academic extra help, community meetings, clubs, affinity groups, mentoring, as well as DEI and social-emotional learning opportunities.

Plans for Other Programs
  • Related Services – Related services will be delivered either virtually or in-person, depending on the needs of the student and provider. Related services heads will work with families individually to schedule.
  • Athletics – Students will have opportunities for physical education both on campus and virtually during the school day. We are suspending all after-school athletics for the foreseeable future. 
  • Before and After School Programming – We are suspending before and after school programming (with the exception of scheduled related services) for the foreseeable future.
  • Lunch Service – We are suspending our lunch service for the year. Students and faculty will need to bring lunches from home that do not require refrigeration or reheating. There will be no On Campus food delivery or high school Off Campus lunch privileges for the foreseeable future.

ACTION ITEM: Your Plans for the Start of 2020-21
We ask that you carefully review all of the information contained in this communication, with particular attention to our Risk Management Plan. We also request that you complete this FORM to indicate whether you expect your child(ren) to attend school in person by October 1st or prefer that your child attend virtually for the foreseeable future. This form is non-binding but it is critical that we receive a response for every student in order to properly plan and staff for the start of the school year.  
The Partnership of Home and School
A productive school-parent partnership is essential for a positive school experience for our students. Never has this been more important. We will communicate with you often to keep you abreast of our planning for the year. In early August, we will provide division-specific updates to the plans outlined in this communication. We will also host divisional town hall meetings for parents after those plans are shared. These town halls will provide a time for you to hear more about our programming, and to ask questions of me, our division heads, and our medical experts.

We all have an obligation to our community’s well-being. By adhering to public health guidance both on and off campus, we can better protect our individual and collective safety. By doing so, we maximize the possibility for in-person learning at Lab. We are counting on each person in our community to make science-based and data-informed health decisions so that we can provide the most optimal learning environment possible for our students.

Every individual member of our community – be it student, parent, faculty, or staff member – is responsible for our collective safety. We are counting on each of us to follow public health guidance consistently, while on campus and off. In order for Lab School campuses to open, each of us commits that:
  • We will require all jurisdiction required vaccinations prior to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year to avoid the risk of another disease outbreak on campus;
  • While outside our homes we will wear masks, wash and disinfect hands frequently, and mind physical distancing norms;
  • We will follow self-screening guidelines for symptoms of illness and refrain from coming to campus when symptomatic; and
  • We will comply with self-quarantine rules regarding exposure to COVID-19 and recent travel overseas or to domestic hot zones.

It is important to remember that the plans we have shared today are based on best practices, public health guidance, and current conditions. We want to emphasize that these plans may change as new information becomes available. While we are planning our next communication for early August, we will keep you updated on any changes to our plans in the interim.

If we work together, we can ensure that our students thrive. Our community is resilient, dedicated, and aligned in our mission. While I know there will be challenging times ahead, I am confident in our ability to navigate these uncertain times together. As always, please reach out to me with any questions or concerns.

With warm regards,
Kim Wargo
Head of School