There is no doubt that the 2020-21 school year will look different from anything our society has ever experienced. Just how different it will be depends on individual schools and the guidelines they follow.
For K-12 public schools in Massachusetts, in-person education includes many new safety procedures implemented to minimize the spread of COVID-19. In accordance with a June 25th memorandum from Jeffrey C. Riley, Massachusetts’s Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, masks or face coverings are required for students in grade two and above, for all adults, and for all students on school buses. Additional protective gear, including eye protection, are required for individuals who are likely to come into close contact with potentially infected persons, and mask breaks are highly recommended. Other protective measures include maintaining a physical distance of at least three feet between individuals at all times; dividing students into smaller groups; and encouraging proper handwashing when arriving at and leaving school, before putting on and taking off masks, and before eating. Explaining the reasoning behind the requirement for three, not six, feet of physical distance, Riley writes, “While the US federal CDC has recommended maintaining a distance of six feet between individuals, the World Health Organization’s guidance states approximately three feet. There is no precise threshold for safety.” Contrary to the measures currently in place at many businesses, temperature checks are not recommended because of their “high likelihood of potential false positive and false negative results.”
Even though these procedures are only mandatory for public schools, many private schools have chosen to implement similar or even more stringent procedures. Concord Academy has opted to start the fall semester remotely with optional on-campus activities. When on campus, students and faculty are required to follow measures similar to those required in public schools, with a few changes designed to maximize safety. Students are not allowed to come to campus before they have signed the Concord Pact. At least two hours before arriving at campus each day, students must complete a Boardingware Daily Symptom Self Check, which includes yes or no statements such as “sore throat (even if mildly painful)” and “new loss of taste or smell.” Because many of the symptoms listed can be the results of a non-COVID illness, students must call the Health Center if they answer “yes” to any of the questions. While on campus, community members are required to use the Boardingware app to log their location each time it changes in order to aid contact tracing should that become necessary. This is done in the Boardingware app by scanning checkpoints (on mobile phones only) or hitting the “+” button to manually select a new location. All individuals on campus must wear masks if they are inside or are less than six, not three, feet apart. Even when off-campus, CA community members are expected to practice social distancing in order to limit their, and the community’s, risk of exposure.
As explained on the Healthy Concord website, the intention behind CA’s plan for the fall is to ensure equity, accessibility, and safety for all students. These values are visible in the implementation of the Short Terms at Concord (STAC) schedule that allows students to focus on a few classes at a time and creates flexibility to switch between virtual, hybrid, and in-person models. Furthermore, the new Wednesday schedule replaces classes with three hour long blocks in addition to blocks of time for PE and ensembles to take place. The hour long blocks alternate between X blocks, when faculty members can host events, and H blocks, when all community members can host events. This schedule provides students with time to engage in extracurricular activities and to rest — something especially important given the additional stress created by virtual learning and the pandemic.
Sarah Yeh, assistant head of school and dean of faculty, is optimistic about the 2020-21 school year. Addressing the prospects for the upcoming year, she says, “Sometimes things get worse, but they also get better. From more readily available testing to enhanced classroom technology, we already have better paths forward than we did in the summer, and I believe we will continue making progress and evolving together as a school.”
While this school year will undoubtedly be challenging and frustrating at times, there will also, hopefully, be room for exploration, growth, and joy. Yeh is confident that CA will be able to rise to the occasion: “I believe in our capacity as a school community to hear and recognize one another in all those moments, to have compassion for one another [and] to push forward together.”