Melissa Soderberg, Head of School
July 24, 2020
Dear Columbus Academy Families,
I know you have been waiting to hear from us about the start of school, the planning of which gets more complex by each passing day that COVID cases increase in Columbus. We have spent the summer organizing to accommodate classes in person safely, which requires considerable resources and planning. Even though we are in compliance with the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Ohio Department of Health according to their guidelines and suggestions, we will open on campus only if the conditions in our county/city/state show a decline in COVID-related cases.
Please know that we appreciate how important having your child(ren) attend school in person is to our families. Also know that we will prioritize the health and safety of our students, and our faculty and staff, no matter how compelling the circumstances may be to have students on campus. You can expect to hear a final determination by August 12 as to which option we plan use at our start.
Division Heads will be writing parents on Monday, July 27, with many more specific  details regarding the various plans for opening. If we decide to hold school in-person and you expect to keep your child(ren) at home in a virtual experience due to their own physical vulnerability or that of a family member who lives with them, it will be important for you to communicate with each necessary division.
Therefore, there are three ways school could begin on August 24:
  1. We will have all students on campus every day.
  2. We will be in a hybrid model with MS and US students rotating on campus for some days a week and off campus (virtual learning) for other days -- with LS continuing in their small cohorts on campus.
  3. We will be entirely online (with the possible exception of having Explorer and PreK classes running a pandemic-care model on campus) by order of the state or local health department or as a result of what is occurring in our own school community related to COVID.
Opening of School: August 24 to September 4
If we are able to open on campus under option 1 or 2, Columbus Academy will begin with a "soft" start of school. This means that the first two weeks of school are much more likely to be something akin to a NASA "shakedown cruise" than a full-on regular start to school with all our students arriving on campus at the same time or on the same day.
NASA runs a "shakedown" when a newly launched rocket ship needs to be tested for its systems and assumptions. The cruise provides engineers an idea of the vessel's operations and capabilities so adjustments can be made before the actual flight schedule starts. At school, teachers will be working with very small groups of students (who rotate each day) to ensure everyone understands the new routines to keep us safe in the event we will be able to open school for everyone on campus.
Our students and teachers have not been in classrooms for six months, and we all need to adjust socially and emotionally to being together in a COVID routine that is new as well as being in a school setting. We will use the first two weeks to make adjustments and changes to our practices.
How does that translate to what your child experiences the first weeks of school? Each division will invite students in small groups (by grade, or parts of grades) to campus for the first two weeks of school. In Middle and Upper School, there will be days when a student is not invited to campus, and that student will continue academic work in classes virtually. Lower School may also have days on campus and days online.
Post-Labor Day Weekend: Starting September 8
After our soft opening, we will transition to the option chosen by August 12th unless conditions have changed.
Why might we be able to offer school in person on our campus safely to a greater degree than our public school counterparts?
Because we have full control over our budgets, have always had a low student-to-teacher ratio and have lots of space (both indoor and outdoor), we are able to adjust more nimbly to what safety requires of us than larger schools. Consequently, the school has invested considerable resources -- installing the recommended HVAC filters on all our air cleaning systems, developing hand-washing and sanitizing stations at all points throughout buildings, creating multiple additional classroom spaces and creating open spaces in our buildings for safe distancing (one-way hallways, for example) and enhanced outdoor spaces for class use -- to create an environment that is familiar and as controlled as possible.
Since mid-June, our fall athletic teams have been training in 9:1 ratio training groups (pods) with their coaches. Recently, larger groups have been allowed to train together. This work with our student-athletes has been a successful bellwether for how outdoor activity may happen during in-school recess and breaks. It remains to be determined whether teams will have interscholastic competition as we continue to look to the OSHAA for guidance.
Students will be served lunch every day, with only a relatively small number of students actually going to the dining hall to eat their lunch. Our team of cooks and servers is working hard to create healthy options that resemble the excellent choices our students regularly enjoy.
C.A.S.E. After-School Care
We are planning to offer after-school care in a more limited fashion with students in smaller groups. There are several challenges to the logistics of this planning, and CASE will not be available until September 8.
If your family relies on school bus transportation, it is likely that you have been made aware of your local district's plans to transport your child(ren). Please contact Director of Admissions John Wuorinen if you have questions or concerns about school bus transportation.
Opening school in the midst of a pandemic is exceptionally complex as it becomes the nexus of people's emotions and expectations around both safety and education. We will continue to do our best to determine the most appropriate ways we offer school.