In a webinar for Shore families held on July 8, Head of School Clair Ward shared the school’s plans—dubbed “Operation Back to School”—for reopening safely in the fall for the 2020-2021 school year.
Before detailing specifics of the reopening plan, Ward outlined the “guiding principles” that underlie all the decisions the school is making about the fall. “First and foremost, our number-one priority is the safety of children, families, and employees,” said Ward. At the same time, she acknowledged, the school believes that in-person learning is Shore education at its best. Nonetheless, she said, the school will be guided by the medical community and the science of transmission risk—which may mean reopening happens in stages—to do what is best for the entire community. Importantly, Ward underscored, “Every family will have to make its own decisions about what is best for them. That’s never been more important.”
Ward also detailed early return-to-school priorities with children. “We’ve all been away from school for some time, so the very first priority is welcoming students and helping them acclimate to their new teachers,” she said. The school will also spend time practicing and reinforcing safety and hygiene protocols, and will devote significant energy to assessing the mental health and learning status of each child in order to identify an appropriate learning plan for the year. Finally, children will receive technology training to ensure that they are prepared for a transition to online learning should the risk of COVID-19 transmission increase.
With the caveat that not all details are yet final, Ward then rolled out some of the highlights in the school’s reopening plan. “We are moving forward with a ‘cohort’ model,” explained Ward. The school will create small groups of students that stay together throughout the school day and do not move around the facilities, intermingle, or share learning materials. Traffic flow within school buildings will be one-way as much as possible, with designated entrances and exits. CDC-recommended distancing will be maintained in all classrooms, said Ward. “We are a space-rich campus, so we have enormous flexibility in this regard.” Hygiene protocols and routines will be reinforced at all grade levels, and children will wear face coverings for at least some, if not much, of each day. “Under these circumstances,” Ward continued, “physical education and recess have never been more important, so outdoor time will be a priority for all students.” When it comes to lunch and snacks, children will be eating in the classroom, and the Dining Hall will be closed, with families responsible for providing lunch for their child. Large gatherings will be reimagined or held virtually.
Still, unknowns remain. Ward said that certain decisions about the reopening plan—such as whether after-school athletics and enrichment activities will be offered, and whether field trips will carry on as planned—will have to wait until closer to the start of the school year. “We are working hard to preserve these offerings for families, but want to do so in a way that is safe.”
Ward urged listeners to keep in mind the advantages that Shore has relative to other schools when it comes to combating COVID-19. “One of the biggest benefits of being at an independent school like Shore is that we are able to make site-specific decisions that are in the best interests of our specific community.” Shore is also able to set high standards of safety while still delivering a vibrant co-curriculum that preserves offerings such as art, music, world language, and more. Ward explained that the school also plans to offer tuition credits and other refunds that vary based on grade level for activities that are cancelled or affected by school closures.
Despite the compromises made in the name of safety—and the uncertainties that still remain—Ward said she looks forward to the school year with confidence and a sense of hope and opportunity. “In a situation like this one, it’s easy to become preoccupied by the things we may not have this fall. It’s true that there are disappointments. But I am choosing to focus on each step forward that we take; I choose the lens of opportunity. The research says that strong schools that take on challenges such as these come out stronger, and that is what I am convinced will happen for Shore.”