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Reopening Plan Update from Crissy Cáceres, Head of School

UPDATE as of August 5, 2020: The Reopening Roadmap, Part 2, is now available. 

Watch the video above for an important update from Crissy Cáceres about the opening of school this coming September. Closed captioning is available.
The text of this video message is below.

Save the Date for a Connect and Talk with Crissy and other members of the leadership team on Thursday, August 6th.

8:30-9:30am: Middle and Upper School Families
11:00-12:00pm: Family Center, Preschool and Lower School Families

BFS Families, please check your email for the Zoom meeting details. 

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Dear BFS Families,

I know that we have continued to navigate various challenges within our lived experiences. Amidst it all. I hope that you are finding moments of connection and joy this summer. Several weeks ago, I wrote to you expressing with optimism our plan to open physically from our preschool through eighth grade each day, and in a hybrid model for 9th through 12th grade. Today, I want to update you on the changes to that plan, our planning process, and how we’ve arrived at what we believe is the most responsible and responsive decision.

We will be able to open the Family Center, Preschool, and Lower School to all students, but for reasons that I will explain more fully, we have concluded that given the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must pursue an all-virtual model for classroom education for middle school and high school students.

Ever since March, our Leadership Team has been hard at work planning our reopening plan. From consideration around health and safety, to academic schedules, to complex staffing and personnel matters, to social and emotional well-being for all, and to our physical plant, a vast amount of steady work has gone into our plans, and we are proud of them. We have also been minding our Quaker values and principles of social justice and their ability to be fully considered and live vibrantly within our design.

Simultaneously, I have reviewed vast amounts of data around the ever evolving COVID-19 pandemic as well as listening to many health and risk management experts. While New York City has had recent positive traction in the mitigation of this health crisis, I am sure that like me, you are observing the numbers rise within our state and our nation. In addition, health experts are now uncovering more information about the impact of this disease on children and understanding more about the ways in which children, especially those ages ten and above may match the volume of asymptomatic spread to that of adults.

Though New York City’s positivity rate is currently low, other counties are rising, making a COVID-19 related disruption in our students’ learning and school schedule a potential problem. The upcoming flu season will add further complications to an already fragile health landscape. Given that the symptoms are similar, it also means that if we proceed physically opening for the majority of our students as originally planned, we would likely experience several instances of entire groups needing to be quarantined throughout the fall and awaiting test results, which would include their teachers, causing significant shortages in our colleague body for the delivery of program.

I, along with all BFS colleagues, would like more than anything to welcome all of our students and families to school in the early days of September, which tends to be one of the most magical times of the year. However, at this time, as I consider my most sacred responsibility – to prioritize, protect, and mitigate the risks to the physical and social emotional health and safety of every member of our community (children and adults) I have reached the conclusion that most of BFS will open virtually this September. A vast scope of science supports that risks rise with the increasing age of students. To mitigate these risks, certain behaviors should be consistently practiced, and the physical environment should be optimally prepared. This includes mask wearing, hand washing, sanitation of spaces, access to open spaces, well-ventilated areas, and the maximizing of space such that low-density pods are made possible. Doing these things reduce the possibility of harm to members of our community and beyond. As such, as your school’s leader, I feel compelled to make a decision that I acknowledge introduces a significant range of challenges into your lives.

Some challenges with opening virtually include concerns with your children’s daily care, socialization, and our ability to comprehensively cover the academic needs of our students with a virtual learning plan. However, we are committing to living our experiences this fall as creatively as possible in order to provide some essential support to our families. This includes having times when our Middle and High School students can gather in outdoor settings and in staggered use at Lawrence Street by grades/classes/advisories in order to build connections in a socially distant and safe manner. This will include inventive ways to build cohesion and community as well as times for joy-making for every student. Quite importantly, this will also comprise a much stronger focus on live-streamed and synchronous classes and a reduced focus on asynchronous engagement for our students.

I recognize that due to the range of developmental needs, virtual learning results in a different experience for our very youngest students. While we are quite proud of the Virtual BFS experience that we had in the Spring, we learned from the surveys that we conducted that it was not ideal for all. Students at these stages of development require greater support to consistently maintain the meaningful connectivity in a virtual framework in a way that benefits them. As such, we are steadily working to design an experience for our younger students that would involve physical attendance within our school buildings, for those families who choose this option. This would make it possible for us to have the greatest level of access to the most ideal physical spaces available in our buildings for our youngest. It would allow us to create healthy and manageable experiences that safeguard their well-being as well as those of the teachers who care for them. For our Preschool and Lower School students at Pearl, this would include the largest classrooms, those with many windows, and access to our rooftop playground for rotated outdoor instruction and connection time within pods.

Given that small children are not always developmentally able to understand or undertake social distancing without dedicated close monitoring, focusing our attention on those who are physically in our buildings on the needs of our youngest, will allow us to provide the proper support and minimize risks. This will also allow us to uphold the sanitation protocols necessary so that their physical environment is safe. For families from Preschool through Fourth Grade who still necessitate or choose a remote learning experience, we are working on the design of a strengthened and balanced virtual learning program which will allow students to experience their daily schedule. While we maintained a virtual program for our Family Center students in the spring, after much evaluation and reflection, we know that the unique needs of our very youngest should not and will not include a virtual learning option in the fall.

As a life-long educator and a parent of three daughters, two who attend BFS, I empathize with the wish to resume a sense of the familiar for our children. I truly do. However, this is an unprecedented time, requiring us to make considerations that allow for our best chances at remaining whole and healthy as a community. I also know that the social and emotional development of our students is paramount. For all children and young adults to learn, they must feel that they belong and are fully seen, heard, and loved. Above all, they must feel safe. We are putting our all into making sure that our students and adults who are physically returning in the fall feel fully cared for.

Another meaningful reality that I want to bring to your attention is that many of our school’s colleagues are feeling great anxiety and fear about returning to school. From those who have personal health considerations to consider, to others who have experienced painful losses of loved ones throughout this time, to yet others who have the needs of their families at home to consider, many of your children’s teachers are worried about returning. For all who have committed their lives to teaching children, the last thing that they would want is to extend their fear and anxiety to the students in their care, which is why we are making sure to mind all of the ways in which our BFS environment can be made safe and comfortable for all.

In order to allow our colleagues time to have further time for planning and professional development and for ensuring that all details are readied for our reopening, school will begin two days later than originally scheduled. The first day of school for Kindergarten through 12th grade will be September 14th and Family Center and Preschool will begin phase in between the 21st and 22nd.

By declaring a virtual start for 5th through 12th grade in September now, we hope to provide families time to arrange for childcare and colleagues time to better prepare for a much more strengthened Virtual BFS. This will also allow us to plan thoughtfully for the comprehensive needs of all of the adults who would be physically present in our buildings each day, prioritizing the safeguarding of their health and safety. Following an eight-week period from the first day of school, we will reassess, utilizing the knowledge gained over the next few weeks to determine if we could open in late fall. It is important to note that even with all of this, the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 and its impact could cause our city to make a decision that schools should be closed for the Fall. If this is the case, we will once again sit and re-evaluate our current plan for re-opening.

The past six months have tested us in many immense ways. I have personally been awake for many nights contemplating, researching, assessing all before me and minding the spectrum of diverse needs existing within our community. And most recently, I have sat in deep thought about the intersectionality of our Quaker values of simplicity and stewardship. There are times when caring for one another calls us to consider the most clear and simple path forward to do so. In our Quaker beliefs, way opens in moments when we distill our most important responsibility at any given point in time to its core. My most important responsibility is to uphold the physical and emotional safety of every single human being in my care. With humility and with an earnest request for your support of this complex decision, I ask that you join me in the upholding of our collective care for one another. This will only work if we can support one another and if we can acknowledge that this is not about the perfect solution, but rather about the way forward that mitigates risk to the humans who we love and care for every day.

I sincerely thank you for reading and listening to this comprehensive piece and for reflecting on my message. In the coming days, I will be sending the full details within our Reopening Roadmap, Part 2 and holding Connect and Talk sessions next Thursday to share its details live and answer any questions that you may have.

In partnership and holding us all in Light and earnest care,

 

Crissy Cáceres
Head of School