Reopening Plans: Updates and Clarifications

A few emails I got from parents over the past few days helped me realize that there is some confusion around our reopening plans, and I can see where there have been some gaps in the messaging. So much is still tentative – it feels like the ground beneath us is constantly shifting – but I do want things to be as clear for everyone as possible. The purpose of this message is to convey what we know now, hopefully with a little more clarity.

Thanks,
Chuck

We cannot bring students back to the classrooms before Atlanta Public Schools deems it safe to do so. APS has indicated that if current local COVID-19 trends continue, they will reopen school buildings as early as October 26. Which students return and in what format remains undetermined. The district plans to make an announcement on those details on October 5.

If APS indeed reopens classrooms, we plan to begin a phased reopening as well, beginning with some of our youngest and most vulnerable students on November 5. Here’s how that might look:

  • Daily, in-person instruction available for kindergarteners and students with academic individualized education plans (IEPs).
    • Parents of students in these categories will register for either virtual or in-person instruction, and that selection will remain in place through December 18.
    • Kindergarten and Exceptional Student Services teachers will be invited back into the classrooms to serve these students; this return is also optional for faculty. Class groupings and specific schedules may vary depending on which faculty members decide to return to the buildings.
  • Virtual instruction continues for all other students.
  • Schedule will remain the same for in-person and virtual instruction through December 18:
    • K – 2nd Grade: 9:00am – 1:45pm
    • 3rd – 5th Grade: 9:00am – 2:15pm
    • 6th – 8th Grade: 9:30am – 3:00pm

It is our hope that when the second semester begins on January 5, 2021, we will be able to shift to some version of our hybrid plan. That will depend on lots of variables, including the level of community viral spread. In that model, every student will have the option for some amount of in-person instruction. Here’s how that might look:

  • Students in the following categories will have the option of daily in-person learning:
    • Kindergarten and first grade students
    • Students with academic IEPs
    • Students who speak English as a second language
    • Students with a 504 plan
    • Students from economically disadvantaged families
  • The remaining student population will be divided into two cohorts that will alternate between in-person and virtual learning in two-week intervals. Siblings will be placed in the same cohorts.
  • Parents of students who are medically fragile or otherwise unable to participate in in-person learning can opt for 100% virtual learning
  • We will try to restore some version of our after school care programming at this time.

REMEMBER: Everything is subject to change.

A big part of the reason we share plans with the school family as early as possible is to give everyone the opportunity for feedback/input on those plans. If we discover the need to modify our approach for the benefit of students, parents and teachers, we will do so in a transparent and inclusive manner. We will soon issue a survey to the school family, but you should never feel as though you have to wait for a survey to express your opinion/perspective. I continue to request your ongoing feedback.


Learning During a Pandemic
Preparing for the new normal

We of course know that the negative impact of the ongoing closure on our students – and students across the country – is significant, even as we work diligently to provide the most effective remote learning platform possible. We know that even the best virtual academic program does not reach students the same way as in-person learning. The challenge we face as the COVID-19 epidemic continues is clear: How do we bring back as many students as we can while protecting the health and safety of our school community?

I also want you all to know that we continue to:

  • Consult with a team of public health experts who are familiar with our school and its student population
  • Collaborate with all other public charter schools in the Atlanta Public Schools system
  • Review student performance/attendance data from HOWL and HOWL 2.0
  • Review guidance from the Center for Disease Control and the Georgia Department of Public Health
  • Confer with a cross section of our school community, including our Governing Board, faculty, staff and parents

As we move forward, our goal will be to maximize the amount of face-to-face instruction delivered to students while maintaining sound public health standards that protect the entire school family. We know that all children benefit more from in-person teaching than virtual learning. We also know that our pedagogy is particularly difficult to replicate in a remote environment – it is hard to teach the way we do without being in the room with the students.

We obviously have a fixed amount of space between our two campuses. Our facilities will not allow us to safely house our entire student body with enough room to isolate groups and distance students as will be required to prevent/contain the spread of COVID-19. Options such as outdoor classrooms can offer benefits, but only as weather permits. It is important to bear in mind that as we return to the classrooms, we will not be returning to our pre-pandemic routines. What takes place inside our buildings from this point on will look and feel drastically different from what we were previously accustomed to.

This is hard on everyone – students, teachers, parents, staff – and we appreciate your ongoing support, dialogue and forbearance. We miss the way things were before this all happened, and we are all doing the best we can to manage through until we can get back there.


Adjustments & Precautions

Here is a limited list of changes and policy shifts (in no particular order) that will be in effect as we begin to return to the classrooms. The intent is to begin to give us all an idea of our new normal:

  • We will continue to offer periodic onsite COVID-19 testing
  • Students, teachers & staff will be required to wear appropriate face coverings
    Routine sterilization of surfaces, equipment, furnishings, etc. will be built into the schedules for all teachers and staff, and intermittent cleaning throughout the day will be added to the responsibilities of the janitorial staff to go along with daily sanitizing
  • Students will likely not gather in the cafeteria for lunch
  • Daily temperature checks will be required for all students, faculty and staff
  • Designation of specific entrances/exits for use by students, faculty and staff
  • The school day may be shortened slightly for in-person learning to mitigate the negative effects of confining students to a single room for their entire schedule (no transitions to the art or music room for elementary students, no changing classrooms for subject areas for middle grades students)
  • Sports may be limited or cancelled
  • Students will not share supplies/materials
  • “Circle time” will not take place in the same way in the elementary grades
  • Field trips will be suspended indefinitely
  • School-sanctioned social activities/gatherings will be suspended indefinitely