Ensuring Educational Continuity in the Pandemic
Ensuring Educational Continuity in the Pandemic
Our PlanCommunication from Head of School to McLean School Parent Community
March 22, 2021
Beginning Monday, April 12, McLean will offer school-based hybrid instruction for all students four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday). Kindergarten through Grade 5, which already follow this approach, will remain in their current format. Students unable to come to school due to health concerns may continue in home-based learning. To enable our planning, please use this form to indicate your choice of school-based or home-based instructional mode no later than Thursday, March 25.
What has changed to make this possible?
New CDC guidance for schools released Friday allows for a reduction in physical distancing in classrooms from six to three feet, largely harmonizing CDC’s guidance with that of the World Health Organization, which calls for one meter. A growing body of research in the US and abroad suggests that three feet provides adequate separation when used together with other safeguards, especially masking. For example, this new study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases compared Massachusetts public school districts with three and six foot distancing policies and found that COVID-19 case rates were similar for both students and adults. Harvard’s School of Public Health provides this additional perspective.
McLean’s twice-weekly antigen testing program and vaccination of the vast majority of our faculty and staff, on top of aerosol mitigation and CDC recommended hygiene and disinfection protocols, provide additional confidence as we make this change. Since reopening school in January, we have run roughly 7,000 antigen tests, catching three cases. Through contract tracing, we know that none were contracted at school, and nobody at school has tested positive as a result.
Finally, growing numbers of vaccinated adults in the general population and improvement in key local public and national health indicators provide a safer environment for schools. We will continue to monitor the public health context and modify our approach if appropriate.
Why is this important for us to do?
Every student has been differently affected by the new instructional modes. Some students in the two-day hybrid rotation do well academically in the current format, but may be missing out on development of important social skills. At the same time, we are seeing a larger number struggle emotionally due to reduced in-person time with peers and teachers. Additionally, some students are hampered academically due to organizational challenges, while others lack appropriate circumstances for home-based learning.
Why not go straight to five days a week in school?
In light of the significant academic and wellness benefits of coming to school, we are starting to see some students previously learning from home returning to campus. We believe parents are more comfortable sending their children to campus due to improved public health circumstances, the rigor of our testing program and other layered strategies, as well as McLean’s track record in keeping students safe.
Still, about one in five students remain in exclusively home-based instruction. We understand that families choose to keep their children home for a number of compelling reasons. In some cases the student has an underlying health condition that makes gathering unsafe. In others, household members may be at risk. Coming to campus may require use of less safe public transportation. And, some of our families have lost members of their extended families or communities, making them understandably more cautious.
With a significant number of students studying from home, teachers will need to continue with concurrent hybrid instruction, teaching to and monitoring both the students in the classroom and those joining by Zoom. This is a challenging format, and not sustainable five days a week for teachers, who also need time for meeting with students and parents, and for planning. Early indications are that the four-day format will be common this spring at other area independent schools as well.
How will we serve students at home?
Our approach for students at home will be unchanged. We recognize that with more students in classrooms, teachers will need to be particularly attentive to those who are learning online. Teachers, support staff, and administrators will work to ensure that they are fully engaged. We will provide teachers with additional professional development in this area on Monday, April 5.
What else is being done to keep our community safe?
With warmer weather, we will be moving as much activity as possible out of doors. For example, we are purchasing additional tables for outdoor lunch. We will also open windows for fresh air in cases where appropriate. HEPA air purifiers provide filtration in all classrooms. In some classrooms, air quality is already optimized through the air purifiers, and opening windows would disrupt internal air circulation through the room and filters. We will also continue all safety protocols, including twice-weekly antigen testing.
What about buses and other operational considerations?
We are modifying our transportation programs to safely accommodate the larger daily numbers, and will continue to allow parent drop-off at school. One important change will be that Upper School students being picked up after school will need to ride a shuttle to the Potomac Woods Plaza. Student drivers will also be permitted to park at the pool and walk to campus. Please look for details on the testing schedule, transportation, and other operating procedures in future communications, including the Friday divisional emails.
When can we expect to return to a five-day schedule in the building?
While we cannot project the future of the pandemic, trends in vaccinations provide hope for a more normal summer and fall. We are currently planning to return to our regular school schedule in the fall, with safeguards still in place.
We will be in home-based learning immediately after Spring Break.
As a reminder, on Tuesday, April 6, immediately after Spring Break, we will resume classes in home-based learning, as previously announced. All students returning to campus on Monday, April 12, must be tested at school on Sunday, April 11. With vaccines and reduced transmission rates, it may be tempting to take more risks over the Break. Please continue to be cautious, and to carefully follow the Community Agreement.
On the anniversary of the pandemic lockdown, I am grateful for the ways in which our entire community–students, parents, teachers, staff, alumni, and trustees–pulled together to support each other and our School. We have demonstrated strength, resilience, compassion, and mutual support.
With deepest gratitude and appreciation, and a hopeful look to the future,