Update from the Head of School
September 24, 2020
Dear St M Families,
The beginning of a new school year at St. Michael’s is always an exciting time. And while this year presents unprecedented new challenges, they have not diminished our pleasure in welcoming children back on campus. Our students are as energetic and engaged as ever. Thank you for entrusting St. Michael’s with their education.
The purpose of this communication is to update you on two operational plans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. On November 30, St Michael’s intends to transition back to full-day in-person instruction for all students every school day. As you can imagine, the development of the current hybrid plan, as well as considerations for modifications to that plan, were difficult tasks. To be clear, our November plan will not look and feel entirely “normal,” but it will emerge from diligent work and careful assessment as to the status of the pandemic in conjunction with the mission of the School and its service to its community.
- Note: I will host a Zoom meeting for parents on the evening of Wednesday, September 30, at 6:30 p.m. to review our plan for all-day, in-person instruction. You will have the opportunity to submit questions in advance of that program via this Google Form.
2. Enrollment consolidation in our daytime Extended Day “pods” and some space reconfiguration enable us to invite additional students to join one of our morning or afternoon pods for the interim period between October 5 and November 20. We have already contacted families who have expressed interest, and we plan to fill any remaining spots on a first-come, first-served basis. Any family who has questions or is interested in joining a pod should contact Extended Programs Director Ashley Buffey.
You’re likely aware of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) guidance for schools in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic related to sanitation, hand and respiratory hygiene, PPE, and the suggested spacing of 6 feet of physical distancing between students to the greatest extent possible. To comply with this guidance, St M has invested substantial funds to-date on COVID-19 mitigation - no small feat for a small school. Coupled with these expenditures is St M’s commitment to maintain physical distancing to the greatest extent possible and to deliver our program in an engaging, safe, and responsible manner for students and educators.
As we assessed physical distancing, the School considered using additional off-campus and/or modular facilities. These ultimately proved both costly and logistically prohibitive. Instead, we have strived to creatively engage our existing facility and space to their maximum capacities.
The health and safety of our students, teachers, and school community is our TOP PRIORITY. As we continue to ensure superior academic instruction and the social-emotional development of our students, we believe our adherence to the Virginia Department of Education’s Phase Guidance for Virginia Schools has safeguarded the health and wellness of our community and, in conjunction with our parent partnership, has allowed us to remain TOGETHER on campus. I am incredibly grateful for the faculty and staff’s resolve to make our program exceptional and for our families’ adherence to our partnership with patience and flexibility in the face of these challenging circumstances.
The first weeks of school also allowed us to test our hybrid schedule and protocols. To date, we believe they’re working from a health and safety standpoint. Known COVID positive cases within the St M community are few (1 teacher before students were on campus, 0 students). Of course, we will remain laser-focused on our own data and the virus’s weekly transmission data from the local health department. Many members of our community have shared feedback on our current arrangement and those comments reflect a wide range of views. Parents have expressed both support and opposition, as well as suggested alternatives to the current hybrid program. Thank you. We hear those comments from our community and acknowledge that our hybrid model may not work perfectly for everyone at all times, but collectively, it has served us well to date.
Throughout the spring, summer, and early weeks of school, we’ve constantly considered other educational models. Should a virus outbreak occur in the St M community, we are prepared to operate remotely and conduct distance learning for an entire class, division, or school-wide. Should the situation warrant, we now know that the hybrid model can work, and depending on circumstances, there may be a time when we must return to it. However, St. Michael’s remains committed to returning to full, in-person, all-day instruction for all students, for as long as it is deemed the safe and responsible educational model for our community. At this time, barring a virus spread in our community, further gubernatorial executive orders, or health department mandates, St. Michael’s intends to conclude its current hybrid model on Friday, November 20, and implement a full-day, in-person class schedule for all students on Monday, November 30.
The decision to delay our transition until the end of November was made for several reasons, including:
- The observation of school reopening successes and failures on the regional, state, and national levels
- The upcoming “regular” flu season, requiring measuring the combined COVID/flu impact within the St M community and beyond
- The current pandemic status, as determined by the VDH, measuring the extent of transmission of COVID-19 in the region (When determining the pandemic status each week, VDH considers both the current infection burden and the trend in infection metrics. While trends in our region are fluctuating, we hope to see a downward trend.)
- The overall operational, personnel, and facility preparations needed to resume the School’s “normal” operations, and required to execute the November transition, are substantial.
Within our plans to resume full, in-person attendance for all students on November 30, we intend to maintain our current mask and desk shield requirements, as well as adhere to our mitigation strategies currently in place. However, there is one likely exception: depending on final classroom configurations and spaces utilized in Hubbard Hall, the distance between student workspaces in the Lower School may ultimately be less than 6 feet apart. While this is a change, we will still comply with the Virginia Department of Education’s Phase Guidance, which St. Michael’s must obey. Furthermore, any slight reduction in desk spacing at St M caused by a full return to campus is both mitigated and made up by our masking policy and desk shields, which will remain in place. The School continues to require that masks be worn by students at all times in school buildings, except when eating.
From here, we will continue to monitor pandemic developments and work on our back-to-school plan for all students to return on November 30 as well as other scenarios to which we may need to pivot. We will share our finalized plan with you in the week of November 2. Our plan will address considerations such as lunch, carpool, faculty professional days, classroom arrangements and configurations, remote learning options, and after-school Extended Day (please expect Extended Day registration details the week of October 19). Until preparations are complete, a special team of educators will regularly meet to address all of the above and more, including our regular communication with the St M community.
Though managing the challenges associated with the pandemic is difficult for every one of us, the safety of children and adults, educational excellence, and what is best for the School will always be at the core of our operational decisions. Thank you for your broad support, your sacrifices, and the accommodations you make for your child and the School as we manage our operations in the midst of this novel pandemic.
Robert E. Gregg, III
Head of School
Addendum: Operational Changes (Calendar Items)
- Wednesday, September 30, 6:30 p.m.: All parent Zoom meeting
- Monday, October 5: Extended Day Pod expansion
- Week of November 2: Revised, detailed reopening plan available
- Friday, November 20: Final day for our hybrid program and our Extended Day Pods
- Thanksgiving Week: No school for students on Monday and Tuesday, November 23 & 24 (previously class days) as these will be used for furniture moving and classroom prep for teachers and staff only
- Monday, November 30: Our first day for all-day on-campus instruction for all students