Thank you all for your patience, understanding, and support this week as I know various aspects of this situation has been challenging for everyone involved. Trying to balance the needs for 450+ students, their families, and a large staff in the midst of a pandemic has not been an easy task. Again, decisions are made with the best of intentions recognizing that we cannot please everyone at all times, which is hard as we are people pleasers by our very nature. Our hope is that by continuing with our open communication with as much transparency as possible will help you support the decisions in the best way that you can. Therefore, you have my sincerest apologies for the length of this email.
Making the decision on asynchronous learning for all students in K - 8 this week was not made lightly. While it probably came as a shock to many, there were numerous factors that contributed to this decision. I appreciate the trust you put in us as leaders, so I want to shed some light on some of those factors that were considered. First and foremost, please know that not allowing in-person learning this week was certainly not meant as a punishment to anyone but rather a safe approach to an already challenging situation that we were presented. For reasons we still don't quite understand, there were several positive Covid cases in one classroom in particular and we wanted to make sure that we did our best to comply with the investigation with the Fairfax County Health Department and due to the unique circumstances, we even had them come over to the school building this week to walk the building, review our protocols and procedures, and provide us with areas for potential improvement. Having our teachers and staff be available to help with this process was one factor that contributed to the asynchronous decision.
On a positive note, while it is extremely unfortunate that we had these positive cases, all in one classroom, we are so proud to inform you that the Health Department does not believe there was anything wrong with our procedures nor do they think that anything was done at school to contribute to the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, the Covid virus spreads quickly and we knew this was a potential risk when we decided to open for in-person instruction. Our ventilation system is one of the best for our situation, our Hepa filters are better than those required, our system pulls in a significant amount of outside air to help with circulation, and we have ionizing fans for those classrooms that do not have windows to open. The team was so impressed with our procedures, protocols, and mitigation strategies that they would like to use our school as a model for others.
A second reason we decided asynchronous would be the best approach for this week is that we have tried all year to remain open during this pandemic to help our students. It comes at a tremendous cost to the teachers who are basically teaching double all day long to accommodate the learners who are in the classroom and those at home simultaneously. This has been a burden placed on our teachers with no change in their pay, countless amounts of extra work, but it has been worth it to provide a safe option for those who are sick or who may be at risk to stay home as well. Most schools opted to take an asynchronous day once a week throughout the entire school year to help teachers handle the increased workload but the amazing staff at OLGC did not do so - we wanted to do all that we could do to help our children. When the positive cases came into play, being so close to spring break already, we saw this as an opportunity to help relieve some pressure on the teachers so that they can come back after Easter break rested, recharged, and ready to finish out this crazy school year stronger than ever.
Every part of this pandemic has been challenging for everyone in so many ways, and eLearning with short notice is no different. A third contributing factor in our asynchronous decision was that there are many of our families with multiple children who need help throughout the day while struggling to balance their own work needs. Having live conferences to attend, using multiple devices at once, on the same wifi, while trying to reschedule work commitments is hard for many. Allowing some flexibility with an asynchronous approach surrounding Holy Week and spring break seemed like it may help relieve some stress for our families.
Finally, the reality is that while we are trying to finish out this year strong, we also must begin planning for the new school year. We were planning to take a day or two during May to learn asynchronously so teachers had time to meet with administration about plans and thoughts for next year, making plans to meet the needs of our students under the new approach, and to determine the equipment, furniture, and other safety needs as we make changes in our plans for the new school year. When we were faced with the need to be virtual given the circumstances, we decided it would be best to combine those meetings with the other meetings we have had this week regarding the review of our protocols for everyone's health and safety, brainstorming ways to help kids have fun at recess while staying separated to avoid potential spread, etc. Allowing the teachers this time, while students were asynchronous, has been so very valuable and we should not have to convert to asynchronous the remainder of the year because of taking this time now.
We knew when we headed into this school year that there was never going to be a decision made at any point that would make everyone happy. Please just know that we are always trying our very best to make the best choices possible despite the challenges faced. As always, if you have specific questions or concerns, we are more than happy to try to address them.
Finally, in closing, please consider volunteering at recess when we return on Monday, April 12th as this is the hardest time of the day to help our students follow the rules on social distancing and mask wearing. We are reworking our procedures now and have some new ideas on how to help with this endeavor but having parent volunteers helps us so much in reinforcing these measures with our students. We appreciate your kind consideration if you can help us in this way.
On behalf of the entire staff, we wish you a very Blessed and Happy Easter and a relaxing spring break. Please remember that you can watch Mass via livestream tomorrow at 8:30am at our normal school Mass time, and watch Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. We look forward to seeing you all again on the 12th and thank you again for your support and understanding! Stronger together!
Adrianne Jewett, Principal