Cobb County Schools, Fulton County Schools, and Dekalb County Schools just reversed their decision today (7/16/20) to open on site learning, and instead announced that they will only offer a virtual learning option until further notice for the 2020-21 school year. There are many families that, for many reasons, the virtual learning environment is not the best fit for their family or student. As a small private school, Foundations School does not have most of the same obstacles to opening as large public programs face, and therefore is offering two options for families with Pre-K and elementary age students: 1) complete public school virtual learning on site at Foundations under the supervision of a Foundations staff member, in a small group setting, with flexible attendance options; or, 2) attend Foundations on-site elementary private school program for the 2020-21 school year.
Health and Safety Regulations for COVID-19
Foundations has been participating in a planning group for private schools, led by the Deputy Director of Cobb & Douglas Public Health. Private schools are not subject to the orders of the public school districts, so public school board decisions do not mandate our actions. Public schools have many challenges that small private schools do not face (large classrooms, changing teachers and classrooms each period, large lunch groups and assemblies, lack of adequate hand washing stations, etc.), and so any restrictions on large public school programs are made because of conditions that do not necessarily apply to our small program.
Our plan for the school year for our private Pre-K and Elementary school is to operate with on-campus learning for the school year, with updates being made to comply with any health and safety regulations put in place. Private schools are subject to Gov. Kemp’s emergency orders (for instance, currently, for gathering sizes to be less than 50), and we are currently complying with all of the additional health and safety standards required in the most recent emergency order. Even during the most restrictive shelter-in-place phase in Georgia this past spring, group sizes of up to 10 could be together without enacting social distancing measures. We feel very confident we can comply with any of these group size restrictions should they be put in place during the school year, offering on-site learning with regular classroom teachers, while maintaining health and safety standards for students and parents.
Studies Starting to Show Negative Impact of Virtual Learning
For students that missed two months of in-person instruction this past spring due to the closure of schools for the pandemic, The Wall Street Journal Reports: The Results Are In for Remote Learning–It Didn’t Work. “Preliminary research suggests students nationwide will return to school in the fall with roughly 70% of learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year, and less than 50% in math, according to projections by NWEA, an Oregon-based nonprofit that provides research to help educators tailor instruction.” That is essentially up to a half of a grade level lost in math knowledge, for the two months of distance learning instruction! For this reason, we feel it is vitally important for children to receive direct, hands-on instruction, in the classroom, as much as possible, to maximize their learning experience. Virtual learning certainly works for some students, but a majority of students perform better with in-person instruction.
How is Foundations Minimizing “Close Contact?”
For the purpose of assessing if someone has been exposed to COVID-19, the health department is defining “close contact” as being within six feet of someone for more than 15 minutes. In order to minimize the number of people that would be quarantined if a case of COVID-19 were to arise in our school, we are minimizing the number of people each person comes in close contact with. For students, they will come in close contact with their classroom teacher and the students in their classroom, which will typically be a total group size of 12-15 individuals. We will continue to sanitize between groups using common areas like the gym, even though the CDC has stated that “Transmission of coronavirus occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets than through objects and surfaces, like doorknobs, countertops, keyboards, toys, etc.”
What happens if there is a case of COVID-19 in the school?
Foundations will complete a contact tracing report, and report to the Health Department anyone that came in direct contact with the positive case of COVID-19. Those individuals will be quarantined, and because of our efforts to maintain minimal contact between groups, this should only affect one or two classrooms. If students are required to stay at home due to a closure of their classroom or the school, we have a plan and structure in place to offer distance learning to keep our students on track as best as possible. Teachers will work full time during the closure, providing distance learning assignments and videos, and will be available for live individual and group video conferences. Attendance will be tracked based on assignment participation. Knowing that the even excellent distant learning programs do not compare to in-person learning opportunities, we will reconvene in the classroom for hands-on learning as soon as we are cleared by the health department, which should be a maximum of 14 days.
If parents choose to keep their child home for concerns related to COVID-19, but when distance learning is not mandated, teachers will provide basic workbook assignments that can be completed at home to help keep learning on track. Because they will still be teaching full time in the classroom, these assignments will be generic based on grade level math and literacy standards, not as comprehensive and tailored as we were able to do when the teachers were primarily providing distance learning at the end of this past school year. Absences related to COVID-19 will not count against the student, as long as distance learning work is completed and submitted.
What options are to public school students who are enrolled in public school distance learning?
Foundations has two options available for elementary students.
- On-site Distance Learning “Camp” for students enrolled in public school virtual learning programs
- Attendance at Foundations private Pre-K or elementary school program
Foundations’ On-Site Distance Learning Camp
For students that remain enrolled in public school distance learning, and eventually want to return to public schools if they reopen this year, this a great option. There is no contract, and students can attend half days (8:00-2:30) or full days (6:30-6:30), as little as one day a week, or as many as five days a week. This flexibility is helpful for families that may have some other options for help with distance learning at home, but who also need outside help some days. Additional benefits include interactions with other students in small groups, along with a structured schedule overseen by a Foundations staff member, which includes outdoor and activity time, and snacks and meals.
Private Pre-K & Elementary School Enrollment
For families that want consistency for the whole school year, and who want their child to enjoy the benefits of a set small group of students and teachers throughout the year with a curriculum tailor to their individual student, Foundations Pre-K and school program is the best option. School will continue to operate onsite unless mandated to shut down temporarily due to a case of coronavirus. All teachers in our program are being cautious to socially distance themselves outside of school, and to keep the close contact of students to within the small group of the classroom, to limit the likelihood of a case in the classroom. Our teachers are committed to providing a hands-on, individualized learning program for each of our students, for the whole school year.
Foundations’ Plan for Masks and PPE
- Foundations will comply with all required health and safety regulations put in place by the government agencies that have jurisdiction over us
Foundations will exclude from attendance anyone that shows symptoms of COVID-19 from attendance for 10 or more days
- Foundations will exclude from attendance anyone that has had direct close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19
- Foundations will not require mask use by adults or children unless Foundations is mandated to do so, which it is not currently required.
- Foundations will not require social distancing for groups of less than 50, but will restrict interactions between groups, so that a child’s direct contact with others in the center is only to 10-15 people on average.
Why are Foundations Students and Staff Not Required to Wear Masks, or to Socially Distance in the Classroom?
Many people ask why we are not requiring masks. It is a CDC recommendation for schools, but not a requirement, and the CDC made that recommendation based on the average size of schools, where Foundations is 1/20th the size of a standard public school. Masks can reduce the spread of droplets in the air that might be infectious, but their effectiveness is limited in close contact situations.
We are not practicing socially distancing in the classrooms, because in our experience, it would not be feasible to actually achieve this without social and emotional harm to our students. Because we are not practicing social distancing in the classrooms, masks would not have an impact on reducing the spread of illness, as everyone in the classroom is considered to be in close contact with each other. Additionally, masks impede the ability to communicate effectively, and facial expressions are an important part of social and emotional learning for children. Teachers can choose to wear PPE, but we recommend face shields instead of masks in that case, so that their facial expressions can be seen.
However, Foundations is taking precautions to limit the number of people each person comes in close contact with, so that on average, one person might only have direct contact with ten to fifteen other people. We believe that this is a more practical approach to limiting the spread of illness than requiring PPE for students, teachers, and parents. We are able to do this, whereas large schools are not able to do this, because of the way we were already set up to operate in small, independent classrooms.
Commitment to Hands-On Learning in a Safe Environment
We remain committed to providing a safe and healthy learning environment for all of our students and staff throughout this school year. We will strive to do as much of our learning on site as possible, in order to achieve the best learning outcomes for our students. We are excited about the school year, and we look forward to making it a great year!
Ms. Jessica Sampson, our Admission Director, is available for general calls and questions about the elementary and virtual learning camp options, at 404-953-2249, or by email to [email protected]
The school gym will continue to be used for both the on-site virtual learning public school camp option and for the Pre-K and elementary private school programs. The gym is sanitized with a fogger between each group.
This is one of our elementary school classrooms. Lots of space to move and learn, within small groups.