As we head closer to the beginning of the school year, I am going to resume sending a weekly update regarding our response to COVID-19. I want you to have clarity on our thought process and insights into our decision-making about how and when we bring students back to campus.
Like some of you, I am disappointed that we can't open immediately for hybrid learning. While there are indeed benefits to remote learning, and we are grateful that we can continue to provide our program remotely, we believe students learn best when they can interact in-person with their teachers and peers.
A number of factors influence the decision to open or close campus to students. When opening campus, these same factors are considered to determine the amount of in-person learning that can be offered. While not weighted equally in terms of their impact on decision-making, these are some of the key considerations:
- Government and public health agency recommendations
- COVID-19 activity levels in Bellevue and King County
- COVID-19 activity levels in STS community (students, faculty, and staff)
- STS community needs
- School supply of required cleaning/disinfecting products and personal protection equipment, and readiness to implement physical distancing and other COVID-19 related procedures and policies
- School's ability to comply with state and federal employment laws as related to COVID-19
- STS community compliance with COVID-19 related policies and procedures (i.e. practicing physical distancing, using face coverings, etc.)
- Adequate staffing levels
- Insights from our Health Advisory Board composed of STS parents who are medical professionals. This board includes Mark Freeborn, M.D., Vishal Gala, M.D., and Kristina Adams Waldorf, M.D.
Finally, decisions are presented to the STS Board of Trustees for their consideration and endorsement.
Like many of you, I am aware of what other schools and districts are doing. In fact, I am in regular contact with a number of independent schools both local, and across the nation and the world. While there is much to be learned from other schools, I encourage you to not make assumptions such as: if this school is doing 'x,' STS should be doing 'x' too. Each school is different in number and composition of students and faculty, family needs, grade level and program offerings, facilities, finances, etc.
I am aware of a recent petition that endorses opening the school with a hybrid program. We are in agreement that a hybrid program is preferred, especially for our youngest learners. We will continue to do all we can to safely and responsibly launch a hybrid program. We simply love being with your children. Our teachers, despite well-founded concerns about their well-being, are eager to work more directly with your children.
I am also aware of multiple emails circulating among parents. In my experience, these emails almost always make their way back to school leaders and faculty, and can erode our shared sense of community. In addition to your children's physical and emotional well-being, I have a responsibility to take care of the faculty and staff as well. We all have a responsibility for each other. As always, I encourage you to speak directly with me or your Division Director if you have questions or concerns. We have provided, and will continue to provide, multiple opportunities for you to engage in town halls and grade level gatherings. Of course, we are always available for a call or a meeting as well.
As you can see, there are many layers to our decision-making. Believe me, I wish it could all be boiled down to a simple formula. I will be bold and ask for your trust and grace. I recognize I am not able to please everyone, but I hope you know that after the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff, there is no greater priority than getting students back in our classrooms.
Now, more than ever, we need to stand strong as a community. We share our common values and commitment to the three Cs: character, curriculum, and community. As we move into a school year that will be undoubtedly filled with many transitions and much uncertainty, we must hold fast to those shared values and take good care of each other.
I am pleased to share that while we will begin the school year with remote learning, students will have the option, the week of September 8, to return to campus and meet their teachers. These meetings will be in micro cohorts of up to five students and will take place outside with proper physical distancing. In addition to the initial meeting, our youngest students, Preschool – 2nd Grade, will continue to have the option to meet each week with their teacher in micro cohorts.
In the meantime, as I previously shared, we will remain in the remote learning model until October 16. We will monitor health conditions and the key considerations listed above to determine if we can transition to hybrid learning at that point.
Early next week, you will receive a link to the Back to School webpage. There you will find cohort and class placement, first week of school schedule and orientation, and a checklist that needs to be completed before the start of school.
Once again, I appreciate your trust and grace. This is a difficult situation for all involved. Guided by our mission and vision, and commitment to our shared values, I know we will get through this together and stronger than ever.
Kirk Wheeler, Ed.D.
Head of School