Our PlanCommunication from Head of School to McLean School Parent Community
August 1, 2020
Yesterday evening the Montgomery County Health Department prohibited the opening of private schools, including independent schools like McLean, for in-person instruction during the month of September. McLean School will therefore begin the school year with a home-based (distance learning) instructional program.
We know how vitally important it is for students to be physically in school, interacting with their teachers and peers, and how disappointing and disruptive this news will be for many students and parents, as it is for us as educators. While we look forward to having students and teachers back, I am confident that we have developed an approach to home-based instruction that will work well–one that incorporates learning from last spring, and that takes advantage of McLean’s intrinsic strengths, including our favorable teacher-to-student ratios, our one-to-one technology program, and our expert teachers, counselors, and specialists. Building upon our spring program, our approach in September will provide more direct, synchronous instruction, and will feature schedules that parallel the traditional building-based school day. In the younger grades, we are planning for very small student groupings for teaching fundamentals such as reading, writing, and math.
Where possible, we will keep in place all scheduled activities–from new student welcoming events, to admission open houses, to standardized testing, to student clubs and parent events, even if the form of the activity must be different due to health and safety requirements. We are evaluating whether we can hold small group gatherings, such as fitness and community-building activities, out-of-doors at the school, or at satellite locations, with appropriate safety measures.
The directive to avoid in-person instruction came from the Montgomery County Health Officer, Dr. Travis A. Gayles. It is explained in this press release, which indicates that the county will reevaluate the order by the end of September to determine if it should be extended, terminated, or amended. Earlier in the week Dr. Gayles had recommended against private schools reopening, but did not prohibit it.
In explaining his decision, Dr. Gayles cited the safety of students, teachers, and county residents:
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have based our decisions on science and data. At this point, the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers. We have seen increases in transmission rates for COVID-19 in the State of Maryland, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia, particularly in younger age groups, and this step is necessary to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents.”
We have been working diligently to prepare for our return to the building, and we will continue those preparations so that we can move quickly when it is safe and permitted to do so. We know that most parents share that goal. According to your survey responses last week, roughly 6 in 10 parents would prefer that we reopen with school-based and hybrid learning, and 8 in 10 would send their child to school if we did.
We look forward to that day. When it comes, we will continue to provide an option for home-based instruction for those unable to come to school.
Please look for further details on our reopening plans by Monday, August 10. We look forward to welcoming your children back to school virtually in September, and back on campus as soon as the public health context and regulatory frameworks allow.
I thank you for your understanding, flexibility, and support.
With tremendous appreciation,
Head of School
July 27 - Update to McLean School Reopening Plans
I hope this letter finds you well as we pass through the mid-point of this challenging summer. The context for the next school year continues to evolve in ways that may cause us to adjust our school reopening plans, so I wanted to reach out with an update and timeline for further information.
If health and safety considerations permit, we will reopen our building with an in-person and hybrid approach, as described in my last letter. That approach has students K-5 in the building every day, and grades 6-12 alternating time in the building, in a hybrid instruction mode through which students will interact with teachers and classmates five days a week, even when working from home.
- If safety concerns prevent reopening our building in September, or if we do reopen the building but circumstances force us to close it again, we will conduct school through an updated approach to distance learning, and return to our building as soon as we safely can.
We will communicate our final decision regarding the opening of school the week of August 10. That decision will be guided, most importantly, by considerations of safety and well-being of our students and our community, including the teachers and staff who serve them, and family members. It will also be guided by our deep commitment to providing students with an environment in which they can thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. While this is a commitment that I know we all share, I also understand that with all the change in the world around us, additional uncertainty about our opening approach may be unwelcome for you, as it is for those of us developing plans at the school.
I’d like to provide a bit more context for our latest thinking. Last week we received conflicting guidance from sources at the county, state, and national levels, as well as new scientific understanding of the effects of COVID-19 in children. On the policy side, the Montgomery County Health Officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, recommended against “in-person instruction for students inside school buildings,” while Maryland Governor Hogan delegated responsibility to individual school districts, and the CDC issued new guidance that encourages opening schools. Rising infection rates in parts of DC, Maryland, and Virginia have prompted concerns of some epidemiologists.
Our understanding of the disease continues to evolve as well. A well-regarded study from South Korea determined that “children younger than 10 transmit [the coronavirus] to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.” And, recent data indicate higher infection rates among children under 10 than previously known: “California and Mississippi, for instance, are recording rates nearing 10% of overall cases. Florida has found that about a third of all children tested there are infected.”
We are committed to providing the best-possible education through whatever means are available. My last letter, referenced above, described a multi-layered approach to student safety that we will take when we can reopen our building, whether that is in September, or later in the school year. That approach allows parents to select home-based instruction if their circumstances so dictate.
If safety concerns prevent reopening our building in September, or if we do reopen the building but circumstances force us to close it again, we will implement our updated distance learning program. That program has been adjusted in response to observations from teachers, students, parents, and guardians gathered throughout the spring and through the June parent survey. Changes will include more direct, synchronous instruction and schedules that parallel the building-based school day, with additional executive functioning support for students who would benefit. In the younger grades, we are also planning for very small student groupings for teaching fundamentals such as reading, writing, and math.
Our planning continues for both scenarios. Both take full advantage of our favorable teacher-to-student ratios, our one-to-one technology program, and, most importantly, our expert teachers who are so adept at teaching the way students learn.
I am grateful to our School Continuity Task Force, our facilities, health, and IT teams, and our Administrative Team, for their hard work in recent months to develop plans for both of these modalities. We will continue to refine those plans in accordance with emerging guidance from public health authorities, and we look forward to welcoming your children back to school–whether in the building or virtually–as the public health context allows.
I thank our talented faculty and staff for their incredible focus and dedication, and you, our parents and guardians, for your understanding, flexibility, and support to the school as you continue to rise to the challenges of parenting under these difficult circumstances. We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please take a moment to complete this four-question survey.
With tremendous appreciation,
Head of School
July 15 - McLean School Reopening Plans for Fall 2020
I hope this note finds you, your children, and your loved ones safe and well.
In late May I wrote to you indicating our intention to resume school-based instruction as soon as we safely can, with an expectation that we would begin this fall. I am writing now to let you know that this is still our plan, and to share a broad outline of our approach. We will provide additional information by August 7, at which point we will schedule Zoom meetings to answer your questions.
A number of authorities, including Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and others, have stressed the importance to the health and welfare of students of resuming in-person instruction when it is safe to do so, so that they can take full advantage of their teachers, their classmates, and their community for learning, social development, and emotional well-being. In order to ensure that we operate safely, we will rely on guidance from, and follow the directives of, state and local authorities, as well as the CDC and the World Health Organization.
The CDC’s six-foot physical distancing recommendation prevents us from bringing all of our students to campus at once, so we have developed the following approaches by grade to allow all students–some joining virtually from home–to participate in live classes led by their teachers five days per week, largely following our regular 8:15 am-3:15 pm daily schedule.
Recognizing that our youngest students are most in need of direct instruction and classroom interactions, students in Kindergarten through Grade 5 will come to school every school day for classroom-based instruction, typically with six students or fewer, and one teacher in a dedicated classroom. Lower School students will stay in their classrooms for academic instruction. The reading and math specialists will be available to support all students. Teachers for “encore” subjects like music, art, and STEM, will “push into” the classrooms. Speech and occupational therapists will continue to serve individual students out of the classrooms. PE and recess will be held outdoors or in the gym. Grade 5 students will change rooms, as they normally would so that we can meet their individual needs.
In Grades 6-8 and 9-12, teachers will provide classroom-based instruction, following a schedule similar to a regular year, but with half of the students in their classrooms, and half participating at the same time from home. To accomplish this, each grade will be split into two teams. Each team will be in school two days per week–either Tuesday and Thursday or Wednesday and Friday, plus alternating Mondays, for a total of five days over a two week period. All classrooms will be equipped with Poly Studio technology installed over the summer, allowing students to see and communicate with their teacher and classmates from home over a Zoom link. Because students will be getting instruction both in school and at home, we refer to this as hybrid instruction. The new technology is simple to operate, and teachers will receive training before the start of school. In order to ease family logistics, we plan to place siblings on the same teams. Please expect team placements by mid-August.
Students unable to attend school due to health concerns will receive virtual home-based instruction and will not be required to come to school. Please contact your child’s division head by Friday, July 31, if you think this may be the case for your child.
We understand that COVID-19 cases have been increasing rapidly in parts of the country. We are concerned about the people living in those areas and send our best wishes. Aware of the possibility of a resurgence here, we are closely monitoring local and national developments. In the event that public health deteriorates locally, we may decide it is necessary to close our building, or authorities may instruct schools to close. In that case, we will return to home-based instruction, updating our methodology from last school year.
Our approach to reopening is grounded in the following principles:
The health, safety, and well-being of our students and our community are always our most important priorities.
We will continue to deliver the best possible education through whatever means are available.
We are deeply committed to, and guided by, our Core Values, which include creativity, innovation, intellectual curiosity, inclusivity, flexibility, respect, wellness, and a welcoming community.
Our plan to reopen safely is multi-layered. Among other health and safety measures, we will employ:
Reduced number of students in each classroom
Required use of personal protective equipment such as masks by everyone in the building
Daily confidential health screening methodology for everyone who enters the building
Enhanced and regular sanitizing of the building
Education and training for everyone in our community on best practices for mitigating the spread of the virus.
We understand that, while most area independent schools will be following a path similar to McLean’s, some public school systems, including Montgomery County’s, will begin the school year with distance learning. Larger public systems have more students per teacher and less classroom space per student. They may lack McLean’s tradition of flexibility in delivering education, as guided by our Abilities Model®. They may also lack a one-device-per-student technology platform in all grades that provides important foundations for learning at McLean.
In part because much about school will feel different, we have worked to maintain our normal academic approach and schedule, and the full roster of extra-curricular offerings. Where possible, we will keep in place all scheduled activities–from new student welcoming events, to admission open houses, to college testing and student clubs, and parent events, like our Community Education Series, even if the form of the activity must be different due to health and safety requirements. We will also make a special effort this fall to help you, as parents, connect with fellow parents, teachers, and administrators.
Because of distancing requirements on buses, our approach will be different this year. Bus stops near the School will be eliminated and students can be dropped at, and picked up from, the School. This will allow us to provide additional buses–and additional spacing between students on buses–on longer routes to Virginia, Maryland, and the District. Information on routes and how to sign up will be provided later this month.
Last spring our entire community–students, teachers, parents, and staff–rallied to continue educating our students through distance learning, rapidly readjusting our educational approach. I am grateful for the many ways in which you, our parents, rose to support our students and our School even as you responded to the challenges of your own personal circumstances in the pandemic. This fall presents us with another opportunity to innovate and serve our students well.
Finally, I apologize for confusion caused by yesterday’s “Let’s Get Going” email, which included important information related to summer activities and preparations for the school year. That email should have come to you after the overview provided in this letter.
With deep gratitude for your support and understanding,
Head of School
July 28 – Potomac Valley Athletic Conference (PVAC) Announcement for All League Fall Sports
I’m writing to inform you of a decision made by the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference (PVAC), of which McLean School is a member. Due to concerns with the coronavirus, and the impact it has on athletes, the PVAC has postponed all fall sports. A condensed three-season plan has been created starting in January 2021. Please see the full PVAC Announcement here.
Even though this announcement is not what our students, coaches, or schools were planning on for fall season, McLean’s Athletic Department will have updates soon about the next steps for our sports teams.
Thank you for your patience and cooperation as we work through these challenges.
Director of Athletics and Physical Education