At the outset, I want to note that this message is pretty information-dense. I very much appreciate your taking the time to review it carefully.
As you know, the School has been asking for your valuable feedback about Continuity of Learning (“COL” or “COL-at-Home”). Thank you to everyone who participated in the survey we sent last week, which produced a response rate of about 50%. It was rewarding to read that Maret’s COL-at-Home program has greatly improved since last spring for most children. Our teachers are committed to making the virtual academic program the very best it can be. At the same time, we heard clearly that a majority of families would like to see students return to campus more fully.
In August, we decided to start the school year using COL-at-Home in the belief that our robust virtual program would offer strong academics to students—while keeping our community healthy. At the same time, we understood that our youngest students have distinct needs, so we kept our commitment to bring children in Kindergarten and First Grade to campus twice each week. We also offer a childcare option for families with children in Grades K through 5, with approximately 25 children currently participating. We recently added more on-campus Upper School athletic options and have organized opportunities for each grade to visit campus; these community building events will continue over the next month.
Assessing the present situation and evaluating possible adjustments such as implementing a “hybrid” program requires us to weigh many factors—not all of which cut in the same direction. First, even the best virtual education cannot, by itself, provide students with the critically important social and emotional connections that they need. Second, as I closely consult with colleagues at other schools, I consistently hear that a hybrid system—in which students are divided into cohorts, with some time on campus and some time learning at home—takes a significant toll on teachers. Third, older students often experience a stronger academic program in virtual learning as compared to a hybrid model. Fourth, we cannot fail to recognize that bringing more students and teachers onto campus raises concerns about additional health risks for some of our families and faculty.
Current DC Department of Health guidelines pose another possible obstacle to implementing a hybrid program at Maret. They require schools to implement physical distancing by clustering not more than 11 students, plus one or two teachers, in permanent cohorts that must be grouped together all day, every day. This strict standard, which may be unique to the District, creates particular challenges when it comes to students in Grades 5 through 12, who ordinarily have diverse course schedules. Some independent schools in DC believe that this standard is a guidance, not a mandate; we continue to seek additional clarification from DC Health.
Taking into account all of these factors, our approach has been and will continue to be careful and measured. We will continue to weigh the varied needs of our community while doing our very best to appropriately minimize health and safety risks. Our current goal is to implement a program for hybrid instruction for all Maret students, to be phased in over the coming weeks as described below.
Lower School: Starting in the next two weeks, we will increase on-campus time for K-1 students to three hours, two mornings per week. Students in Grades 2 through 4 will be on campus for three hours, one morning per week initially and then two mornings per week starting in early November. If this goes well, we hope to expand to three or four mornings per week.
Middle School and Upper School: We hope to offer a hybrid program when the second quarter begins on November 2. Each student in these older grades would be assigned to one of two groups, only one of which would be on campus at any given time.
Comprehensive baseline testing of students and faculty will be required prior to bringing Middle School and Upper School students back to campus. We continue to investigate the merits of, and options for, ongoing periodic testing.
As you can see, we continue to craft the scheduling and logistics of the hybrid plan. I expect to share more details with you during the next Conversation with Marjo, which is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on October 14 over Zoom. We will also be in touch with you soon with the dates and times for our next round of Divisional meetings over Zoom.
I want to emphasize that our goal of phasing in hybrid instruction for all students by November 2 is subject to change and hinges on several factors. For example, we must ensure that our plans comply with the District’s health mandates. In addition, we would certainly have to defer our timeline if the infection rate in the DMV spikes—which would require us to pull back and remain in COL-at-Home until the situation improves.
Of course, the success of any return-to-school plan relies on us Standing Together and acting responsibly for the health and safety of our community. To that end, I ask that everyone review our Return-to-School Guide and the Return-to-Campus Pledge.
The calendar also plays a role in how we address these new realities. For your planning purposes, please note that we will revert to 100% COL-at-Home for the two weeks following winter vacation. This will allow families and faculty members to travel and be with loved ones over the break. I want to remind everyone that we require and expect all members of the Maret community to self-isolate whenever necessary, including after travel by any household member to a high-risk locale, per the Mayor’s Phase Two guidance.
I want to acknowledge that we all continue to be under a good deal of stress for many reasons. Yet, I am also struck by the resilience of your children and the many ways you as families support them and their school. Thank you for your good counsel and your partnership as we navigate through unprecedented times.
I look forward to getting back to you with more details about our plans. In the meantime, I hope that all of us can “unplug” and take time to enjoy our families during the upcoming break.