Reflecting on the first semester of SY21-22

Reflecting on the first semester of SY2021-22.

 

We did see an increase in the transmission rate of COVID-19 and the new variants have evolved.  It is fairly clear that the evolving variants are more contagious but are seemingly less severe in most cases.  Symptoms were most typically a cough, runny nose, and congestion, which are easily associated with the seasonal cold and flu season.  As of December 20, we had experienced 95 positive cases.  Here is the data as reported around those cases:

  • 0 of our positive cases reported having previously had COVID-19 (the reporting was voluntary)

  • 18 of our positive cases reported having been vaccinated

  • 77 of our positive cases reported either not having been vaccinated or were uncomfortable reporting their vaccination status

  • Most commonly impacted age groups

    • 14- adults

    • 11- 8th graders

    • 10- PreK

    • Our remaining grade levels ranged from 2 to 7 positive cases.

 

As we consider what our future with COVID-19 looks like, we have to begin to consider both the immediate implications to our students and their learning as well as the long-term implications to their ability to be successful throughout their educational experience.  It is not our intention to challenge the thinking around the disease, but rather the educational implications associated with our action or inaction associated with response and mitigation.

 

Our educational concerns are based upon fundamental best practice in education.

  •  Regular exclusion of well children limits access to a high-quality educational experience.  We certainly believe that it is more difficult to maintain an appropriate rate of learning when students or staff are not in the classroom engaging in direct instruction.

  • To be most effective in language acquisition and speech, students and teachers need the ability to see one another’s face.

  •  So much of social emotional understanding is to interpret meaning through what they hear and what they see.  Non-verbal cues and facial expressions are critical to interpreting social emotional context.

  • Isolation and limited group interactions that have been a component of the COVID-19 mitigations has slowed the rate of emotional maturity and self-regulated behaviors.  Even where we are not seeing academic learning that is unfinished, we are seeing that the lack of self-regulated behaviors and age-appropriate maturity is creating a barrier to the most effective learning opportunities.

 

While we are not asking anyone to agree or disagree with this position, we believe that it is reasonable for us to assume that much like airborne viruses before COVID-19 we will continue to deal with the existence of the virus for several years to come.  We have to begin to envision what our “endemic” response to COVID-19 will look like.

 

Dealing with transmissible disease is not new to public education.  For those that may not remember, in February of 2020 we were experiencing a significant incidence of the flu, both stomach and respiratory.  We were leveraging overtime to clean our spaces, reducing access to water fountains, and considering modifying our calendar to create a 4-day weekend to slow the transmission.  Regardless of COVID-19, we have learned a great deal through the pandemic as it relates to dealing with the transmission of illness in our schools.  Concepts and protocols that we are considering or adopting:

  • The use of RZero’s technology to clean our surfaces to a hospital grade of cleanliness and further leverage their new technology in our classrooms of most frequent transmission of illness.  We also leverage this technology when a student leaves school during the day with a reported illness in order to quickly clean the classroom.

  • Install bottle fillers rather than drinking fountains.

  • Use of masks when a student reports ill to the nurse or is waiting in the office to be picked up due to illness.

  • Staying home when sick and returning to school once well.  We’ve accepted that some “sickness” does not constitute an airborne or transmissible illness, and when that is the case, we accept that some of our students and staff will likely be at school.  But, when there are clear symptoms of illness and a likelihood of being contagious, of whatever might be going around, we should stay home until we’ve been without those symptoms for 24-hours.

 

In our most recent survey, with over 400 responding, we have nearly 74% of our students and staff that have either had COVID-19 or have been vaccinated for COVID-19.  It’s possible that with that rate of resistance, we could assume that our environment is able to withstand the persistent presence of the various variants of the  virus.  No decision will be 100% perfect, but our goal is to make the most reasonable decisions given the information that we have available.

 

It’s important to remember that we have two primary objectives that have sustained throughout the past two years: 1) educate our students in the best way possible and we believe that to be in our classrooms with educational professionals and our students peers’, and 2) to remain open so that our families can conduct life as necessary in order to go about their lives as necessary.  We do not know what the Governor intends for schools for the remainder of this year so we are looking at SY2022-23 and attempting to create a reasonable approach to school through an “endemic” lens rather than the pandemic lens of the last two years.

 

Given what we have identified as learning challenges, we would expect in SY2022-23 our students when they are sick to stay at home until they are not or until they know that what they have is not transmissible.  We want all well kids to actively engage in daily learning in our classrooms with our teachers and their peers.  We will not require masking as a mitigation strategy.  We believe that the language acquisition and the social emotional context can’t be most effectively taught when you can’t see one another’s face.  We will maintain all of our protocols to increase the air quality and surface disinfection, as well as the proactive treatment of spaces when a student may arrive at school and become ill.  We fully expect a return to normalcy in August of 2022, and if allowable and appropriate, we will make that return as soon as possible.