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December 2020 Update Part 3 of 4: Specific procedures for colder days

Plans and preparations for cooler days ahead

Friends,

With the nip of November in the air and the winter season on the horizon, some of you have begun asking about the school’s plan for schooling in colder weather. Although on the one hand, as we have enjoyed the manifold benefits of outdoor learning we appreciate the perspective of a Minnesotan friend about being outside in winter when they said, “There is no such thing as inclement weather; only inadequate clothing,” we do acknowledge that pencils are probably trickier to operate with puffy gloves, and teachers harder to hear with earmuffs muffling their voices. So, in the spirit of reassurance and compassion for our students and teachers, here are some of our plans and preparations for learning during the colder days ahead.

First, we will continue to spend time outside when we can, and have been exploring some ways to make our outdoor learning tents more hospitable in colder conditions. To start, we have reached out to Virginia Tent Rental to inquire about switching out our opaque white tent canopies for new, clear tops that will allow for solar gain and the increased warmth of greenhouse effect. We also have been researching and exploring possible means for heating those spaces in other ways, although each option we've uncovered so far has its drawbacks (prime among them safety, noise, or inefficiency). Meanwhile, we encourage you all to attend closely to daily weather forecasts and employ the magic of layered clothing whenever the weather forecast predicts periods of cold during any given day. And for anyone who enjoys accumulating outdoor gear, the Thermaseat heat seat gets good reviews from at least one of our now-warmer 4th graders.

With that said, since this summer, our plans for this school year were made with the recognition that some learning this year would take place inside, too, and we are well prepared to implement our COVID Health Team’s recommendations for indoor learning anytime weather conditions dictate. Our classrooms have all been measured to ensure that every student in every classroom has at least 36 ft2 of their own real estate (many have a good bit more) to ensure 6 feet or more of social distance in every direction. When inside, everyone will continue to be masked, and we will keep doors and windows open and fans blowing to ensure active, healthy circulation of fresh air. In addition, our HVAC systems have all been retrofitted (Thank you, Ryan Williamson!) with high-efficiency MERV-13 filters, whose filtration capabilities can trap and filter even viruses. Whenever possible, students and staff enter classrooms from outside access points, and hallway traffic is limited and coordinated to, as much as possible, keep students separate or at least distanced while moving through hallways. Indoor learning activities will tend to be quieter, more sedentary and more reflective, then interspersed with more active and dynamic episodes outside. And besides the reassurance we take from the expertise and research of health professionals that inform these strategies and approaches, we are further encouraged by the successful experiences of some other area independent schools whose classes this fall have been mostly indoors, instituting similar indoor precautions as ours throughout that time, and have experienced similarly few cases as Free Union (As one example, the school my kid attends also, like Free Union, has had only one confirmed case among their students, faculty, and staff so far this school year).

In addition to cold temperatures ahead, we also are moving into a holiday season ordinarily characterized by travel and time with family. With that all being more complicated than normal this year, tomorrow I will share a bonus fourth message in this 3-part series offering guidance and suggestions for travel this holiday season.

Good night,

Eric