As school officials across the state make plans for returning students to the classroom in the fall, leaders at Providence Academy are preparing to have students back to the Plymouth campus five days a week.
Classes at the private school will begin Tuesday, Sept. 2, and will include in-person learning with enhanced safety and health precautions and the use of webcast technology for distance learning options when necessary.
“There’s a lot of eager anticipation among families and teachers to be back together this fall,” said Providence Headmaster Todd Flanders. “Some have nervousness, of course, given the coronavirus. Yet many are encouraged by our mitigation strategies, which also may help reduce the spread of other seasonal illnesses.”
Attentive to state guidelines for public schools, Flanders said that the school has the space and protocols to open school in-person, adding that the health and safety of children, parents, teachers, and staff are of top priority.
A task force guided by the school nurse has been preparing for the school’s opening by following guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In deciding to be open, Flanders said he was particularly encouraged by the CDC’s late-July statement “that in-person schooling is in the best interest of students, particularly in the context of appropriate mitigation measures similar to those implemented at essential workplaces.”
The American Association of Pediatrics also advocated “that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with the goal of having students physically present in school.”
The list of mitigation measures includes the use of face coverings (with the exemption of pre-kindergarten students), desk distancing in classrooms, marked walking lanes in hallways with social distancing indicators and staggered passing times.
Flanders noted that the school has more than twice the square footage per student of many public institutions, allowing for flexibility in distancing.
Providence will also use webcasts for students with risk factors, health concerns, illness, manifest COVID-19 symptoms, quarantine requirements or for those who live with immunocompromised family members.
“That is proving reassuring, and families will have the opportunity to benefit from it when needed,” he said.
Families will be asked to complete an at-home, daily screening checklist for symptoms before school.
Another safety measure was upgrading the building’s HVAC system to follow air filtration recommendations by the CDC.
Reintroducing interscholastic athletics to the school day is a decision that is yet to be made.
Whether the school will have a change in enrollment numbers is also yet to be seen. On average, the academy enrolls approximately 800 students.
“The enrollment picture for this fall remains fluid as families here, as at most schools, are trying to finalize decisions about what works best both for the children and the parents,” Flanders said. “There has been wonderful new interest in Providence this summer, driven in part by our plans to be open.”
There are other private schools in the area that are choosing a hybrid approach with both in-person and online instruction, including Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Breck.
At Benilde-St. Margaret’s in St. Louis Park, students in grades 7-9 will attend school daily, while students in grades 10-12 will be assigned one of two cohorts with each cohort on campus every other day.
At Breck in Golden Valley, students in the lower school will be on campus five days a week, while middle and upper school students will be on and off campus depending on cohorts.
“We have immense respect and admiration for all school leaders in this moment because we know the complexities of reopening our schools,” said Stacy Glaus, chief strategy officer for Breck School. “Importantly, we recognize that we cannot compare the roadmap to reopening from one school to another because we all have different facilities, building sizes, and requirements to support our schools.”
While Minneapolis and St. Paul school district officials have decided to start the year with distance learning, public schools in the greater metro area are moving toward a combination of in-person and distance learning.
Wayzata School District leaders are proposing to begin the year with a hybrid learning model for all K-12 students where students will practice in-person learning two days a week and distance learning from home three days a week. The learning scenario will use a weekly schedule in which 50% of students will attend school in-person on alternating days Monday through Thursday, with a distance learning day for both groups on Friday.
Robbinsdale Area Schools have not finalized a plan as of press time.
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