In-Person Learning “Metrics”

(Posted 9/14/20) My favorite moments last week came as I opened car doors and welcomed students, returning and new, to campus. Our time together onsite may have been shorter than usual, but it was still filled with the sounds and sights of joyful learning. Whether learning to type under the tent, playing games that honed their Spanish, having a blast while burning off energy in PE, or connecting with teachers, advisors and friends, it was wonderful for our students to physically be in one place, even for a little while. 

This week brings more of these opportunities as each grade begins its schedule of weekly on-campus learning at its assigned time on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. I am looking forward to seeing everyone again and watching as our resilient children make the most of their time with their teachers and with each other in-person. 

What’s next
I know many of you are wondering what comes next, especially as the state of Maryland has released school reopening metrics and Mayor Bowser has indicated that some schools may begin to increase on-campus time. We are following these developments closely and continue to speak regularly with local health officials as well as our COVID-19 consultants about the potential for expanding our time on campus. 

We have begun formally evaluating our options every three weeks, with the next evaluation taking place the week of September 28th. In the interim, I thought it would be helpful to share with you an overview of the metrics we will be using to make decisions about on-campus vs. distance learning. 

The guidance related to metrics continues to emerge and evolve, but there are four main categories of factors that will be critical to our decision making, including: 

Local health metrics
I am in frequent contact with both the DC and the Montgomery County Departments of Health officials. The metrics they recommend we consider are shown in the District’s September 12th chart below. As you can see, we are moving in the right direction overall, and we are looking for a two-week period of sustained good news in all areas.

As of now, the Montgomery County Department of Health still asserts that it is not safe to have children in indoor, in-person classes, while Mayor Bowser is working with the DC Department of Health to release specific metrics for more in-person classes. Those metrics should be released in the next few weeks, and will be useful in our decision making as one piece of a very complicated puzzle. 

Data trends from similar schools
Recently, the media has been full of stories about outbreaks in colleges and large school districts, which, while concerning, have less relevance to our small, K-8 school. They also focus only on the failures, not the successes, as normal operations rarely end up as news. Fortunately, there are schools like ours that are open both locally and in other regions that we can learn from. We are in contact with them to hear about their successes and difficulties and to incorporate their experiences into our own planning. 

Parent and teacher input
The beauty of Sheridan is our diverse community. Some families are eager to return their children to on-campus learning, while others do not feel ready. Divergent approaches to risk, different levels of success with distance learning, and varied levels of student or family health concerns mean our community is not monolithic. Considering each of these factors is important because we are one community, and we need to make decisions that are best for all.

Our teachers are also not a homogenous group, and we must take their needs seriously as well. Sheridan’s teachers are the heart of our school and need to have a voice in their working conditions. Many of our teachers are low-risk and eager to return to the in-person teaching they love. Others have higher risk factors either personally or in their family, and do not want to return until the virus is better understood and under control. Additionally, many of our teachers have children in different school systems, so even if we were to open, they will have child care issues to consider. Finally, some in our community have very low risk, but are just very scared, and we need to take this fear into consideration as well. 

Stability of information
This is an ever-shifting landscape and if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that new information about the virus is constantly emerging. Consequently, any decision we make will be based on the best information that we have at the time, with the understanding that if new information arises, we may need to shift once again to align with recommendations for keeping our community and the greater DC community safe and healthy.

Phased reopening
As I noted, we are reevaluating every three weeks, and will announce any change with a two-week lead time. The next evaluation date will be September 28th, with an October 12 date for implementing any changes (the lead-time is necessary to allow families and faculty and staff time to prepare for the switch by modifying schedules, child care arrangements, etc…) 

We are looking at multiple ways to bring children back to school. We may start with just the Lower School, or just half-days, or some days at school and some at home. We are keeping all options open with the goal of getting as many children back to school as soon as possible. 

I will continue to update you as we move forward. The health, both physical and mental, of your children is topmost in my mind all of the time. Thank you for continuing to partner with us as we do all we can to educate and care for your children. Together we are strong.