Thank you, again, for your patience and support during these past weeks. While we all know this is a time of uncertainty, it was still unexpected for our students to transition to remote learning after the first few days for the Kindergarten students and their siblings, and for the whole school at the close of that first week.
As I noted on Friday, and I have heard from faculty and many of you, remote learning has been engaging these past two weeks. I recognize the hard work it took on your parts and the parts of our devoted faculty for the transition to happen so smoothly and for the engagement to be sustained for the two weeks. We all appreciate the individual and family commitment that made this possible.
While our hope had been to reopen school on Tuesday, September 29 (after the Yom Kippur Holiday), we are delaying an additional day: all students will return on Wednesday, September 30th. Like many things in a COVID-19 world, there are several reasons for this, and I share them below.
Learning from our first week in-school
The Pine Cobble Board, faculty/staff, and families clearly all share the same goal: to provide students with an in-person education, and to do so as safely as possible. In addition to the expert public health advice we used to create our policies, feedback from teachers and families have informed our approach to date, and will continue to do so.
Consistent with our policies, planning and real time advice from healthcare experts, we took a number of critical steps when we identified a potential COVID-positive case in our kindergarten classroom:
- Immediately implemented our protocols to contain the cluster
- The students and kindergarten staff were sent home to quarantine and be tested
- When a test result showed a positive within Kindergarten and a child who was symptomatic in Kindergarten, we closed the entire school; we believed this step was necessary due to the opening faculty meetings at the close of the previous week and some other back-to-school technology activities that caused individuals in different cohorts to interact
- The board and I identified a third party with experience in independent schools and policies/practices in managing COVID-19 in a classroom setting to conduct a review of our protocols and their implementation
- Conducted COVID-19 testing for our entire community
The cohort model worked as intended, and the COVID-19 cases were contained. I can report that test results from the Broad Lab test on Friday have returned, and we have 186 negatives, one inconclusive (being retested) and one positive (a sibling of the kindergarten cohort). These test results indicate that it is safe to return to school as soon as we are ready.
As you know, our safety protocols were crafted with assistance of internal and external experts to comply with (and in some cases exceed) Massachusetts guidelines. Based on the outside review by a third party, our protocols and their implementation are sound. At the same time, with benefit of both the external review and several days of classroom experience, we have determined that there are practical areas where providing more time for discussion with teachers and more written detail on effectively implementing our protocols would be helpful. In addition, there were certain technical aspects, like the fit of our masks for our youngest children, that could also be enhanced.
Additional written guidance and teacher training
I want to be clear that our teachers have done an outstanding job integrating public health protocols into the education environment - which by its very nature, particularly with our youngest students, requires occasional close contact. I cannot express enough appreciation for their efforts to provide a safe environment for our students.
To assist them moving forward, Pine Cobble is working with our health experts to develop an updated and detailed scenario document that helps teachers navigate some classroom situations that are likely to occur. (I will provide a link to this enhanced protocol document in a future communication, and it will be uploaded to our website).
Our health expert, Trey Dobson, MD, will review our existing and enhanced protocols with faculty and staff, on Tuesday, September 29. This will also offer the opportunity to answer specific questions teachers may have. Dr. Dobson is the medical director of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center's Chief Medical Officer and has been consulting with Pine Cobble these past two weeks. The school has retained Dr. Dobson's services moving forward.
This training day will also offer the opportunity for teachers to workshop different classroom scenarios in their cohorts. In addition, we have ordered new masks for our youngest students, and on Tuesday we will review their use with teachers. Shields for both student and teacher desks will be arriving soon; in preparation, we will review their set up and use.
Plan for September 29
While teachers are participating in the day of training, students will have an additional day of virtual learning. This learning will be asynchronous (so that teachers may fully participate in training). Recognizing that we are asking families to oversee another day of at home learning, we will cancel our October 13th in-service day and substitute it for this week's in-service.
We believe that our response to the first week experience will improve our approach. While it is impossible to eliminate all risk, particularly for a disease that is highly transmittable by community spread and frequently occurs without symptoms, I am confident that we are engaging in the right approach to manage risk successfully. That said, we cannot guarantee there is no risk, and we encourage our families to make thoughtful decisions about their tolerance for risk in sending students back to school in person.
Thank you; a commitment to our community
We thank the entire community - students, faculty, staff and all of you - for the shared commitment to taking the steps necessary to support safe, in-person education for our wonderful students. This is a very trying time for all of us. Though sound practices are critical to moving forward successfully, equally important is a culture of respect and understanding.
We are all doing the very best we can, personally and professionally, in the face of this unprecedented challenge. Even as we have to be clear in our guidance and fully compliant in following the protocols, we can be compassionate with one another. This includes recognizing that we must balance a need for full transparency with a respect for privacy.
Pine Cobble will continue to be clear about what it takes to create a safe community (including the guidance we shared with families about everyone's community responsibility). I am confident that we can take on this responsibility in a supportive way that avoids blaming individuals, students or families.
Your collective commitment to the Pine Cobble community is second to none. Moving forward, there may be additional unanticipated challenges. But I pledge to you that we will work through them together and with a focus on our students.