August 18, 2020
Dear NBS Families,
I have disappointing news. Staff, teachers, and the Board at NBS have been in long and difficult discussions for the past two weeks about how to proceed this school year. We are acutely aware that our decisions affect our families, and we have struggled with certainty about what to do. Each time we were ready to communicate a plan, guidelines and information changed, and we have had to reevaluate and reconstruct our model. We have now come to what feels like the only possible decision given our current circumstances: NBS will open fully online on September 10, instead of in person on August 31. I know these changes will be disappointing to you, and I hope you’ll read on to hear more about our process and our commitment to you.
In June, we made a commitment to open this year “in person as much as possible.” Until August 3, that was our plan. The summer was spent adding safety protocols and re-arranging classrooms and schedules to allow for in-person learning. Then, on August 3, the data from the Thomas Jefferson Health District (TJHD) showed that COVID cases in Nelson County were rising. That rise forced us to develop a second plan for a hybrid model, reducing the number of students present at any given time to increase safety. We hoped that the rise in cases was a “blip” and would flatten. Instead, cases in Nelson have now more than doubled since the beginning of August. The whole district’s rate of positive cases is well above what the CDC considers advisable for going to school in person. So this week, we began working on a third plan for the opening of school. We have had a very hard time coming up with a plan that honors our commitment to being “in person as much as possible” AND makes everyone feel safe. For each plan, we have built schedules, refigured staffing, considered our spaces on campus, and worked out cumbersome details. This process has been exhausting and emotional, with passionate conversations thinking through the inconvenience, as well as the risk, for our families, staff, and teachers. I am grateful for all the work and worry, and most especially for the commitment to getting this as right as possible.
I apologize for the lateness of this announcement; that lateness comes from our genuine struggle and our desire to be in person with your children if at all possible. We have reluctantly determined that it is not safe at this time to open in person. Because of our detailed planning, we have a hybrid model ready, one that allows for 2 days per week of in-person time with your children, and we will move to that model as soon as it is safe. Safety will be determined by two measures, both of which are endorsed by the CDC and WHO: 1) our area’s positivity rate (a two-week average provided by the TJHD) must be at or lower than 5%, and it must be flat or trending downwards, and 2) we must see 14 consecutive days of a decrease in the average number of cases. A positivity rate is defined as the percentage of people tested and confirmed to have COVID-19. Currently, our area’s positivity rate is 6.1%, well above the level recommended by the CDC.
We ask you to stick with us, as disappointing as this is. We are ready and equipped to go hybrid, and we hope to move to that plan, and then to being fully in-person, as soon as it is safe to do so. We know this change is inconvenient. We are customizing our plans to our specific needs and situation, just as we customize every child’s daily experience to their needs. What makes us the school you love also made us slow, in this case, to make this disappointing decision. We tried everything else, but the current data just won’t let us open in person. There is no one more disappointed in this decision than I, but we feel a moral imperative not to be a point of contagion and not to aid this virus in its spread in our area.
Here’s the good news. We know we can provide an excellent online experience for your children. The postponement to September 8 allows us to make sure we have all the tools we need to provide an engaging, interactive, and community-rich online experience, building on what we learned in the spring and the work we have done over the summer. Our small class sizes allow us to give your child personalized attention and care, even online. We are committed to providing an excellent virtual education for each and every one of your children.
If you are concerned about your Wifi strength and/or internet connectivity, please let us know. We are thinking through some possibilities, such as offering space at school for students to work. We would have to limit the number of children and enforce mask-wearing and social distancing, but we’d like to explore with you how we can support you. Please let us know if you need support in this area.
We are also thinking through the possibility of offering some outdoor activities in the afternoons at school, one class at a time, to give children some much-needed social time and fun. Please stay tuned for more details about these opportunities.
Here are the details you need to know about the opening of school:
September 8 – We will schedule “Drive Through Meet-and-Greet”s for each class, so that families can pick up supplies, schedules, see their teachers, fill out paperwork, and get any questions answered. Please watch your email for that schedule. If you are a family with children in two different classes, you’ll need to come only once; we’ll accommodate your schedule.
September 9 – Each class will hold a Parent Orientation online in the afternoon or evening so that teachers can introduce parents to the online learning platform the class will use. This will be a great chance for parents to ask questions, hear more from the teachers, and get a picture of the online experience. That schedule will also be emailed to you.
September 10 – Online classes begin!
September 25 – We will re-evaluate the safety of having children in person at school.
September 28 or so – Parents will hear a decision as to whether we will stay online or transition to our hybrid model. If it’s safe enough to use our hybrid model, that will begin October 5. We will continue to re-evaluate on this three-week cycle, with a week for transition.
I know you’ll have questions. The Board will send a separate letter with information about contracts, and Preschool teachers will send a separate letter within a week with instruction for Preschool families. After you get those, please contact your child’s teachers (listed on the next page) with any questions about the academic side of school, and please contact Autum in the office with questions about administrative issues. We also can’t wait to see you in person and answer your questions on Sept. 8.
Until then, I hope your family is healthy and happy, and I hope you have a wonderful August.
Smith Coleman, Head of School
Teachers’ Contact Information
Celeste Ploumis – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeanine Bieber – email@example.com
Susan Butler – firstname.lastname@example.org
Genevieve Dennis – email@example.com
Krista Crocker – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jen Tal – email@example.com
Karen Blackburn – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jill Fulmer – email@example.com
Heather Harris – firstname.lastname@example.org
Maggie Buchanan – email@example.com
Michael Donegan – firstname.lastname@example.org
April Erskin – email@example.com
Jennifer Page – firstname.lastname@example.org
Katrien Vance – email@example.com
Head of School
Smith Coleman – firstname.lastname@example.org
Autum Fish – email@example.com