Great Hearts Safe Return to School

Español: Great Hearts Regreso Seguro


Dear Families,

I hope this letter finds you well and enjoying your summer. As we approach August, we want to share with you our plan to reopen our academies in the fall.

Over the last two months, our school management team has worked relentlessly to design an approach that balances the safety of our students and staff with the return to a learning environment that allows our students to thrive. The team included academy leaders, health professionals, technologists, and instructional experts.

As a first step, the team listened to parents, teachers and support staff, and consulted with national experts.

Following this deep dive, we designed our plan to maintain a healthy building environment, to provide flexibility for families not ready to return, and to prepare for future contingencies. Our plan is built to adjust to evolving conditions regarding COVID-19 and we will update you further over the summer as appropriate.

All of our plans are informed by and consistent with current state and national public health guidelines, and our plans will evolve if guidelines and orders are adjusted. While we know most families plan to return to campus, attendance policies in Texas and Arizona continue to allow your children to attend from home via remote learning. We are maintaining the remote learning access we provided this past spring.

Please review the six-point plan that follows and do not hesitate to reach out to your school headmaster with any questions or feedback.

We are deeply grateful for you—all our families and staff—for all the resilience and resolve you have shown in recent months. We look forward to the new school year.

JAY HEILER, Co-founder, Chairman Great Hearts America
WADE DYKE, Chief Executive Officer Great Hearts America

➡️ Download the Safe Return plan

➡️ Español: Great Hearts Regreso Seguro


NATIONAL AND STATE GUIDANCE

american flagThe most recent CDC guidelines on opening schools sorts its recommendations according to the degree of community spread. In the case of no community spread, the CDC recommends that schools intensify cleaning and disinfection strategies, actively monitor students and staff for absenteeism, limit large group gatherings to only essential activities, and require sick students and staff to stay home.

In the case of moderate community spread, school leaders are also asked to consider social distancing strategies for classrooms and movement in buildings and to accommodate the needs of students and families at high risk. When a school has a confirmed case, the CDC recommends that the school closes for a short period of time.

All levels and sources of guidance are consistent in recommending individual screenings, social distancing, and enhanced sanitizing procedures as the main prevention strategies. They also emphasize the need to have a comprehensive incident response plan and a set of dual contingency plans in place: one for students and faculty who need to stay at home for long periods of time and another to be enacted in the event of a full-school shutdown.

Continued shutdown of schools can negatively impact student health, and disruptions to instructional time can have a severe impact on a child’s ability to learn. Prolonged closures can cause stress and anxiety due to the loss of peer interaction and disrupted routines. Risks are amplified in marginalized communities. The longer at-risk children are out of school, the less likely they are to return.

Sources:

    1. Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K-12 Schools and Child Care Programs to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Center for Disease Control
    2. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Schools, National Association of Independent Schools
    3. Roadmap for Reopening Schools, Arizona Department of Education

SIX-POINT REOPENING PLAN

6 points: prevention, social distancing, incident response, supporting students, remote learning options, contingency planningThroughout these challenging times, we have kept our students and staff safe and healthy while continuing to provide engaging educational content. Our decisions have been based on the most up-to-date public health guidance and data, best practices for remote education, and a commitment to our unique mission as classical schools. Uniting physical health and intellectual development into one seamless goal keeps with our vision of educating the entire student. As we look towards reopening our schools in August, those two goals remain united as our north star.

➡️ Download the 6-point plan

Over the last two months, a team of school health professionals, academy leaders, and instructional experts has engaged in a process of listening to parents, teachers, and support staff as well as consulting with other charter school operators and public school districts. Informed by this research, we have developed a comprehensive, six-point plan designed to keep our students, faculty, and staff healthy, provide flexibility for families unable to return, and plan for future contingencies. The plan is consistent with state and national public health guidelines with two design principles:

1. Healthy student formation requires unstructured time with their peers outside of class.

2. Human contact is essential to the human experience and will be allowed in the proper contexts.

Faculty and staff information can be found on the Faculty Resources website


1: PREVENTION

Screening begins at home by being aware of common symptoms and situations related to COVID-19. If the answer to any of the following questions is “yes,” a family must inform the school and keep a student home.

Are you experiencing any of the following symptoms: fever, shortness of breath, cough, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or a recent loss of taste or smell? Have you come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19? Have you traveled out of the country in the last 14 days?

  • For at least the first quarter of the school year, all students, faculty, staff, and visitors will be screened upon arrival using instant temperature checks. Anyone with a temperature of 100.0 ̊ or greater will be asked to return home. During the day, symptomatic students will be sent to the school nurse for evaluation.
  • Campus tours and classroom visits will be temporarily suspended.
  • Following CDC guidelines, we are increasing the amount of routine and nightly cleaning, with a focus on high-touch surfaces and common areas utilizing electrostatic sprayers capable of continual disinfecting.
  • Classroom and building entrances will have available hand sanitizer.
  • We will comply with all state and local requirements for mandatory face coverings. Beyond those requirements, any individual may choose to wear one. All visitors with a need to move beyond the front office will be required to wear a face covering.
  • Hospital grade MERV 13 HVAC filters will be installed at all campuses.
  • All students, faculty, and staff will wash their hands or use hand sanitizer when entering the building or a classroom and before and after lunch and snack.

2: SOCIAL DISTANCING

  • girl at deskThe spacing in between desks will be increased as much as the classroom space allows, and with limited exceptions desks will all face forward.
  • Students will be kept in the same class group as much as possible throughout the day. The number of rooms a student is in throughout the day will be limited.
  • Bell schedules will be staggered to reduce the number of students in the hallway by 30-50%.
  • Lunch periods will be staggered to keep lunch room occupancy at 50%.
  • Drop-off and pick-up procedures will be structured to limit the size of student groups.
  • Athletics teams and performing arts groups will continue to practice and compete with temperature checks prior to practices and events.
  • Clubs and field trips will be suspended for the first quarter.

3: INCIDENT RESPONSE

school playground

Each campus will have a response team that will work with a network-wide incident command center to identify and respond to primary or secondary COVID-19 exposure.

Following CDC guidelines, if a student or employee has tested positive for COVID-19, we will work with state and local health authorities to determine the proper course of action, which may include a temporary school closure to allow for a deep cleaning and sanitizing of the entire building as well as community testing.

If a student or employee is experiencing a fever, we will follow CDC guidance on the number of days to keep them home. Students will be given work to complete from home during such an absence.


4: SUPPORTING STUDENTS

teacher with boy at desk

The fourth quarter of last school year was challenging for students, families, and teachers. We are very proud of the work our schools did to provide high-quality lessons and educational activities in a remote environment. To provide support in transitioning from remote learning back to the physical classroom, teachers across the network are taking the following steps.

  • Every academy will have summer coordination meetings with teachers to identify and plan for curricular coverage gaps.
  • Students will be assessed at the start of the school year to determine where extra academic support and remediation are needed.
  • Academies will increase the amount of student tutoring and support for students.

5: REMOTE LEARNING OPTIONS

boy student on laptopWe want all families to be able to come back in the way most comfortable for them. Attendance policies in Texas and Arizona still allow students to attend from home if you are concerned about sending your child back to the school building.

You may choose for your child to participate in the network-wide Great Hearts Distance Learning program at any point. A full slate of courses will be taught remotely by teachers from around the network using the Google Classroom platform.

Your child will remain formally enrolled in your respective school while participating in Great Hearts Distance Learning; a student may exit the program and return to the classroom at the start of the next academic quarter.

Great Hearts can provide families access to technology necessary to participate in this voluntary program.

➡️ View FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS regarding GHDLupdated July 8, 2020 at 8:37am MST


6: CONTINGENCY PLANNING

building exterior

In the event that school closure is required, students will participate in a complete, well-designed program of digitally-delivered remote learning.

To prepare for such a contingency all students will be given a Google Classroom account at the start of the year, and parents will be asked to sign consent forms for Google Classroom and Zoom.

During remote learning, live video instruction with direct teacher contact will occur every day of the week. Assessments and assignments will be graded and frequent feedback given to ensure student mastery and accountability.

Great Hearts can provide families access to technology necessary to participate in remote learning.


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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Updated June 26, 2020

Q. Will temperature screening students before entry to the building impact the efficiency or speed of the morning drop-off routine?

A.

As with any new drop-off routine, it will take a couple of weeks before things are running like clockwork. Parents and students are advised to expect moderate delays during this time, particularly for the first few days back. After this period, we intend for the drop-off to be conducted in the time allotted. Campuses will be prudent and gracious in enacting additional measures to alleviate both bottlenecks in the line and stress for the drivers. At the end of each quarter we will re-examine our protocols, including temperature screening, and notify the community of any changes.

Campus drop-off plan details will be communicated by each school to parents closer to the beginning of school. Plans will vary from campus to campus, but here are a few bulleted items that will apply at each school:

• The “no touch” infrared scanning thermometers we’ll be using give a reading in 1-2 seconds.
• Rather than a system of 1 or 2 temperature stations, schools will deploy 10–12 staff members, each with an infrared thermometer, to scan student temperatures as they exit the car and/or at other key access points designated by school administration.
• Parking spots will be designated for cars to pull into should their student register a temperature as they exit the car and require a second scan. This will allow the line to continue moving.

While students will not arrive in perfectly steady streams, and lines will no doubt form at some points, students also don’t arrive all at once. With a sufficient number of access points we are aiming to get everyone safely into the building on time.

Q. Why are we temperature screening students before entry to the building if carriers can be asymptomatic?

A.

Temperature screening for entry to the building is a key tactic in our multi-tiered approach to limiting the presence of COVID-19 on our campus and the potential for its spread. It is true that the virus is not always accompanied by a fever and screening for temperatures is not guaranteed to identify every case, never the less it is a highly effective measure in preventing the spread of infection.

As a case and point, during the construction process of Great Hearts Lakeside, one of two new Great Hearts campuses opening in Texas in the fall of 2020, the crew was following the same temperature screening protocol. In May an electrician was sent home for a slight fever. He got to feeling worse later that day, went to the hospital and ended up testing positive for COVID-19. The site was closed for a few days, but soon reopened. No other workers were infected and the building is still ahead of schedule to be finished on time.

When it comes to preventing and containing the spread of COVID-19 at school, no one tactic will be sufficient. That is why we are taking a multi-tiered approach. Screening begins at home and continues through the school day. We expect parents to know all the symptoms and keep students home when those symptoms are exhibited. All students entering the building and adults passing the lobby will be temperature screened. During the day, teachers will be trained and alert to all the symptoms and send students to the nurse when necessary. Beyond screening we are installing medical grade air filters, increasing hand washing and cleaning regimens, and increasing distancing and cohort containment.

At the end of quarter one, we will know a lot more than we do now and will re-examine our use of temperature screening.

Q. How will the temperature screening process for students before entry to the building mitigate against false positive results?

A.

There are a number of factors that can impact a student’s temperature. If your student’s temperature measures above 100.0°F, one of our health specialists will take their temperature again with a different style thermometer after giving them some time to cool down.

Taking temperatures will certainly be a change, and parents and faculty alike will have a role to play in making temperature checks a pleasant non-issue for students by modeling positive attitudes and redirecting complaints. We recommend a conversation with your children about why the practice is useful and what it might look like before they arrive on the first day. Our staff will make sure to be warm and friendly when taking temperatures.

Q. Why are face coverings (masks/face shields) optional instead of required for faculty, staff, and students?

A.

Our approach to maintaining air quality in the building is multi-tiered. We will be using medical grade air filters and dramatically increasing the percentage of outside air being brought into the buildings by our HVAC system. Students and faculty will be trained in proper respiratory etiquette (how to cover when coughing and sneezing), pass a temperature screen every day, and have their exposure to the rest of the community greatly reduced by single section (cohort) scheduling.

As of the writing of this document, it is unclear whether face coverings of any sort will be required by any governing agency for your students. In both Arizona and Texas, for example, many cities have passed ordinances requiring masks in places of public accommodation, but they have not named schools as such places. We will continue to monitor these developments and communicate any changes to our stated plans as they are made. We will of course comply with any applicable federal, state, or local requirements for mandatory face coverings.

This can feel disconcerting since as parents you have likely trained your children to wear masks appropriately, refrain from playing with them, taking them off or touching and rubbing their face. Most students, however, have not been required to wear masks for 7 or more hours a day. Upholding this expectation throughout the day would present a substantial impact to student attentiveness and teacher responsibilities. For these reasons we have elected leave the decision about wearing face coverings in the hands of families.

Our overarching intention in preparing for the upcoming school year has been to best meet the needs of our families. For this reason we are offering distance learning as well as the brick and mortar school experience to all families. We want to give parents as clear a picture as possible of both options so that each family can make the decision that best fits their needs.

Q. Given the containment strategy, will students be allowed to have lunch, recess, and lyceum together?

A.

• Healthy student formation requires unstructured time with their peers outside of class, and
• Human contact is essential to the human experience and will be allowed in the proper contexts.

With these in mind, we have arranged for limited intermixing where two or more sections may come together in large spaces where they can appropriately spread out. The recess and lunch equipment will be cleaned with disinfectant multiple times during the day when not in use and after the school day. Additionally, students will wash their hands before and after going to these activities.

Q. Why is the school allowing some performing arts groups and athletics but not all clubs?

A.

It certainly gives us no joy to hold off on providing a number of our rich and rewarding after-school activities for the first quarter of the school year, and we are eager to make these available again when deemed safe and prudent.

Given the number of logistical changes that we are facing in the coming year, both known and unknown, we are choosing to simplify schedules for teachers and administrators where possible. We’ve opted to prioritize performing arts groups and athletics for the first quarter given their essential and complementary roles in the overall student experience and hope to ease this restriction as the year progresses. All after school activities will have protocols to observe for safe conduct.

Q. Was a schedule that divides the student into A and B groups which come to the school at alternating times (morning/afternoon, by day, by week, etc.) considered and if so, why is that not the strategy being used?

A.

A/B schedules of this sort were certainly considered. The virtue of this approach is that it allows for greater distancing in the classroom. The challenges this approach presents are both logistical (primarily for families, but also for teachers and administration) and academic as students have half as much time with their teachers and parents are called upon to give substantial instructional support. While schedules of this sort are sustainable, even desirable for some families, they are simply unsustainable for a great many families.