November 6, 2020
Dear LFS Families,
We have been engaged in a complicated decision-making process about how to proceed this fall and winter in the face of this tenacious virus. At the same time, as we have wrestled with difficult, “no win” choices, I’ve felt buoyed by the thoughtful input and involvement of all members of the faculty/staff as well as nearly every parent member of the community. In fact, we received an unheard of 72 responses to last week’s parent survey, and we only have 71 families overall. Thank you! And while it’s impossible for each of us to be in complete agreement about what is “right” at this complex moment in time, I hope each member of this community has felt heard and respected.
Ultimately, all of this input, data, and discussion have led us to the decision that we will return to distance learning (DL) following Thanksgiving. Sadly, I believe that our most likely scenario is that we will remain in DL for all or most students through the end of February. However, our intention is to reassess these plans after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend on Tuesday, January 19. At that point, we will consider whether we would be able to welcome some or possibly all students safely back to campus. I know this is hard news.
Decision and Timeline
Assuming all goes well over the next two weeks, we will hold return-to-campus (RTC) classes through Friday, November 20. The following weeks will follow this plan:
- November 23 & 24: No School (time for teachers to prepare for the transition back to DL)
- November 25, 26, & 27: No School for Thanksgiving Break
- November 30: No School (planned report writing day for teachers)
- December 1-4: First days of DL for all students (Grades Pre-K to 6)
- December 7-11: Continued DL
- December 14-18: Continued DL
- December 21 to January 1: No School for Winter Break
- January 4-11: Continued DL
- January 11-15: Continued DL
- January 19: Reassess DL versus RTC (for some or all students)
This decision weighs heavily, because we see how much our children are benefiting from and enjoying being on campus with their teachers and with one another. No matter how well done, distance learning can’t fully measure up. At the same time, we on the Health & Safety Committee and on the COVID Steering Committee were persuaded by a number of critical factors, including:
The local and national COVID statistics, which have trended up sharply in recent weeks. Despite all of our health and safety practices, the current state of the virus severely compromises our ability to keep students, faculty/staff, and families safe. We feel at this point that the risks, which are significant and scary, are beginning to outweigh the benefits.
The upcoming holidays and flu season, which increase the likelihood of increased infections, and exposures among our community members. Our belief is that we would all be much safer avoiding physical contact with one another during this time. We also see the potential for increases in flu and/or COVID related absences among faculty/staff and students as compromising our in-person program. Our DL approach also is a way that we as a school community can contribute to the overall safety of our wider community during this vulnerable time of year.
The cold weather, which makes it very difficult for us to conduct classes in our outdoor spaces and for the kids to eat snacks and lunch outside. We worry about the physical toll that it will take on our students and faculty/staff members from being cold throughout the day, and so we are working to figure out better ways to successfully ventilate classrooms while keeping them sufficiently heated.
Our staffing coverage capability, which is limited due to our inability to allow outside substitute teachers on campus. We were able to cover classes internally when one staff member was out this month on quarantine, but the challenges for doing so when we have potentially greater exposures within our community, seem less surmountable. In the end, this also compromises our ability to deliver our program and to adhere to our safety protocols.
Another factor we considered was wanting to give as much advance notice as we could to families. We understand that each family’s situation is unique and that many families need time to prepare for these transitions between in-person and online learning. While it’s possible that we will have to make a quick transition based on a state or county mandate, or based on a case of exposure within our community, we are hoping to share more predictable changes that parents can anticipate.
Outdoor On-Campus Cohort Time
We heard from many parents and teachers about the possibility of scheduling weekly times for cohorts of students to meet outdoors on campus with their teachers. We worry about the social/emotional toll that online learning takes on students, and we see this as a way for children to continue to stay connected to their teachers and to their classmates. We also know how important it is for our children to spend time outdoors with one another. We will present more details about both the content and scheduling of these outdoor times and in the coming days.
We also worry about the amount of screen time that is optimal for children of different ages. At the CHOP seminar that I attended on Monday, we were cautioned not to overload children with full days in front of a screen. We believe that the DL schedule that we followed in the early fall struck that balance well, even if some children and/or parents wished for more or less daily on-screen time. At the same time, we have learned a lot from your feedback and are looking at ways to engage children who are ready with more activity and learning. We’ll continue to seek your input about this as we continue to reflect and tweak the DL program and schedule.
Preparing for this Transition
Teachers will use the coming two weeks as an opportunity to help prepare their students for this transition, and to prepare materials for the children to take home with them. Fortunately, our experiences with on-campus learning have enabled teachers to develop and refine strong classroom routines and build closer relationships with their students. This should greatly support the transition back to distance learning.
Supporting One Another and Closing Thoughts
We are proud of the on-campus program we have delivered over the past three weeks, as well as the largely successful health and safety protocols we’ve designed and implemented, with your vital help and cooperation. At the same time, it feels as if there is now too much beyond our control, and that staying on campus through the winter leaves our community too vulnerable to this continually-spreading virus.
I appreciate that for some this is disappointing news, and I wish too that it weren’t the case. I also know that for some this is beyond disappointing, as it creates hardships that families will need to overcome. Please reach out to me directly so that we can offer support. Please also consider reaching out directly to SCA Co-Chair Abby Martucci, who is helping to gather information from families who both need support and who have support to offer. Look for more information about this family assist program.
I welcome your continued input and greatly appreciate the way we are all working together at this challenging and uncertain time. Together with the awesomeness of your kids, it’s the greatest silver lining of this pandemic.
Neal M. Brown, Ed.D.
Interim Head of School