June 27, 2020
Dear Columbus Academy Families,
I am writing to update you on our return to school in August. I also want to acknowledge that the events since March in our city, country and the world represent a time of astonishing change socially, economically and medically. Our planning for school is absolutely shaped by these sweeping events, and therefore is -- particularly as related to COVID -- subject to shifting change (even from the plans outlaid here) as we strive to maintain an educational program that is safe and responsive to the schooling of our students and the health of our families.
We believe children grow academically, socially and in their character best when they attend school daily and form close relationships with teachers and students in-person. The leadership of the school, by drawing from the best expertise in science and education available, is striving to strike a balance of lowering the risk of COVID transmission while preserving the in-person school experience (with social distancing, of course) through a modified but familiar schedule on campus.
To follow our fundamental principles, we will need full cooperation from our families in preserving the sense of safe health practices in our community as will be outlined in future communications. They are likely to include a daily release of each student to the school through an everyday medical questionnaire, willingness to participate in testing and tracing with your doctor should the school ask you to do so, and following quarantine expectations when asked by the school. We are also very likely to have no visitors, or very few, on campus.
Start of the Year for Lower School
For the foreseeable future in our first semester, all lower-schoolers -- Explorers through Grade 5 -- will be placed in small homeroom groups, based on age-level and physical room space, in which children will go out to recess, take PE and eat lunch with the same teacher and fellow classmates. There will be minimal contact with any group outside of the homeroom (or cohorted) group. This means the school has created multiple additional homeroom spaces and planned for co-curricular teachers to either travel from class to class or remotely teach each homeroom group depending on circumstances around use of space and/or COVID regulations. Lunch will be delivered to classrooms for all lower school students. Finally, students will be taught in age-appropriate ways how to participate in good social hygiene and to clean spaces, furniture and toys they share to aid in the enhanced cleaning our custodial team will be completing.
While masks will be worn by all students and teachers -- the small class sizes (as few as six per room in the Explorers program) and six-feet social distancing will create spacious classrooms in case the youngest students struggle with keeping their masks on during the day. We also know that we will need to create "mask breaks" for students and faculty and will allow more liberal mask use when students are outside and able to create greater distance between themselves and others. It is likely that all students' days will involve increased time outdoors on our expansive campus, and it will be as important as ever that they come to school with the appropriate outerwear ready for their day.
Start of Year for Middle and Upper Schools
Middle and upper school classes will range in size by accommodating six-feet social distancing per the square footage of each classroom. There is a good chance that students will travel fewer times to classes and have fewer visits in the hallways (which will likely have one-way designations to them). Lunch will be served either in the dining hall or in a classroom, and this may change on a rotating basis as the dining hall will be used in a much smaller capacity than its size permits. Our food service provider is eliminating self-service bars while working to maintain the variety and quality of lunch familiar to us.
Gathering during advisory, free time and lunch is likely to involve the outdoors to a much greater degree than under regular conditions. It will be as important as ever that students come to school with the appropriate outerwear ready for their day. Masks will be worn by all students and teachers, and students will be taught how to clean their desks and other equipment they share at school. As with the Lower School, we will create "mask breaks" for students and faculty and will allow more liberal use of them when students are outside and able to create greater distance between themselves and others.
We recognize that some students will not be able to join us in-person and on campus because of health concerns of their own or their families. The school is presently testing technology options that will allow us to "broadcast by streaming" a number of classes to students (they will be able to participate live) who may have to be home in quarantine.
As we all know, there is the possibility that the spread of COVID worsens over the fall, and Columbus Academy may have to change its plans from having all students on campus everyday to a hybrid model, or we may be forced to vacate our buildings (as we did from March-June) and return to temporary online learning. We have spent the resources, time and energy to make our school experience as familiar as possible under unprecedented circumstances.
After-School Care (CASE), Bus Transportation and Athletics
While we hope to offer CASE right away for our families, the logistics, regulations, health and safety plans are taking us a while to sort through. We will be in touch later in the summer about how we hope to offer after-school care. We thank you for your patience and know how important this aspect of our care is to families.
If your family utilizes district-provided busing to Columbus Academy, watch for an important email from Director of Admissions John Wuorinen this upcoming week. The email discusses the possibility of school districts changing their busing commitments to non-public schools, helps inform parents of their rights and suggests a strategy for responding to any pending changes. We are committed to working with families on this exceptionally complicated issue, and we want to know how you may be individually affected.
The OSHAA will be announcing regulations on fall sports seasons sometime soon. We will host athletic practices and games as long as we can do so safely, and the seasons are likely to follow a shortened schedule and have few or no spectators.
Parents and guardians will be receiving multiple communications about school regulations, policies, procedures and expectations having to do with health, safety and community standards through your divisions, the nurses' office and the athletics office. Please watch for these beginning in July as we organize to make the start of school a fun, albeit safety-conscious, beginning.
While it may be obvious, it is important to note that all students, faculty and staff have always risked their health when leaving home and entering the enterprise of school on our campus -- as in the cases of communicable diseases such as lice, whooping cough and the flu -- but particularly in the time of COVID, a highly transmissible and possibly deadly disease. While we will inculcate safe health practices, we know we are likely to have COVID diagnoses among our population and will manage those through quarantine and other measures. Future communications will be clear about our procedures in these matters.
Finally, on behalf of all our faculty, staff and administrators, we are excited at the possibility of beginning school August 24 on our campus and can't wait for the opportunity to welcome our new and returning students to the life of classes, friends and play.