Updated: Aug 7, 2020
The board and I have waited to make a final determination about how to start the fall '20 semester with the hope that a new light on the horizon would appear that would allow us to alter what continues to appear to be our safest, most responsible course for all stakeholders, which is to begin the 2020/21 school year with online learning only. While we will continue to work on developing a list of science-based criteria for reopening brick and mortar, at this time our single criterion for doing so is the ability to do so safely for students and staff alike.
There are a surfeit of "hybrid" options local, national, and international schools are planning to pursue this fall, and I want to begin by explaining why we will not be following any of these models, in order of importance below to our specific community:
1) Our children need stability and consistency in order to learn. All schools planning to open with hybrid models have backup plans for when Covid-19 emerges among students and/or staff; all of these backup plans call for a temporary return to online learning. With all the variables at play in reopening schools with a hybrid model, no matter how much we all commit ourselves to being responsible at all times and to helping our children learn to do the same, it is simply a matter of time before a return to online learning is required. Children and adolescents cannot be counted on to be compliant 100 percent of the time; and adults have different standards of safety for themselves and their families. The school has no way to enforce one set of standards. One of the most destabilizing things for our students would be going back and forth from the routines and expectations of brick & mortar learning to online learning throughout the school year.
2) We need to safeguard the health of our faculty and our children. Each of our staff members is uniquely qualified and specifically trained over time to support our students' unique learning needs. This is why Lang doesn't bring in outside substitute teachers and, ultimately, why we as parents have enrolled our children at Lang in the first place. It is not ethical to ask, much less expect, our childrens' teachers to become the new frontline workers. Moreover, another of the most destabilizing things for our students would be having to suddenly do without one of their excellent, dependable teachers during this already unstable time.
3) Hybrid models remove the very features that make Lang beneficial to our students. Some of the most critical features of a Lang education include flexibility of student groupings according to interest, ability, and readiness; a wide array of faculty specialists for an even wider array of course offerings, electives, specials, and Talent Development programming (KidWorks and IndieStudies); 1:1 and small group student therapies that shift as student needs shift; the push-in, in vivo support of those therapists in the classroom; chance encounters in the hallway of friends, acquaintances, and staff in our tight, interdependent community; and so much more. What all these features boil down to are affinity, agency, and adaptability – these three things (and more) are front and center in everything Lang does minute to minute that helps your child become their best self. A hybrid model calls for plexiglass divided hallways (single file comings and goings), staircases (same), and student spaces in the classroom; a stable "pod" of students and adults (adults – whether teachers or therapists – should not be working in person with more than one group of students); and strictly monitored physical spacing throughout the day, including during classes, transitions, lunch, and recess. What about the kiddo who needs movement or sensory breaks? There are so many ways that this won't work for our students, and chief among them is the thing Lang values most about them: our children are individuals. Further, our work with our children is to help them identify and speak their individual needs in the moment and to expect their adults to be responsive. This is contraindicated physically, where we won't have flexibility. How do we message that, especially to our younger students? Online and when a return to brick and mortar learning is supported by science, we can maintain all of these distinctly Lang features for our children.
4) We need to invest Lang's resources in next steps that maximize student learning and wellbeing by training and supporting staff in new learning structures and technologies. School leadership and key faculty have spent the time between the end of the spring '20 semester and now by attending online workshops about what other independent schools have learned about successful online learning practices that support student executive functions; reduce anxiety (among parents and students alike); enhance feedback mechanisms between students and teachers in real-time; and improve student connectedness to each other and increase a sense of community. We don't have unlimited resources that will allow us to both prepare for an unstable hybrid learning period and prepare ourselves to provide the best online learning experience possible.
5) There is no evidence that our students fell behind in their learning between our first period of online learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, are pushing for the brick and mortar reopening of schools this fall; however, the students they are concerned about are categorically not Lang students. In fact, all of our students demonstrated growth on their assessments at the end of the second semester as compared to their mid-year and beginning of school year assessments.