School Opening Update -- Health & Safety (7.23.20)


In a time of so much uncertainty, our team at Free Union continues to plan and prepare to be open and operating on site this coming school year as much as possible and as safely as possible, five days a week and with an abundance of precaution. The brushstrokes of our plan have not changed materially since my message to you on June 23, though we do continue to fill in and revise details. While it is natural to crave assurances, certainty, and definites right now, and this passionate, heartful, creative school will continue doing our best to support your children’s growth, development and welfare as we go, in circumstances that will continue to be extra-ordinary, the success of this coming school year will hinge perhaps more than ever on widespread co-operation, a shared commitment to protecting everyone’s health as responsibly and attentively as we can, and a willingness to be flexible and adaptable to changes and complications ahead. Some things will be different than usual at Free Union this school year, but in everything we do―whether differently or similarly as in the past―we will consistently maintain our focus on the pillars of our mission: loving learning, kindling curiosity, practicing kindness, pursuing fairness, and building community.

With this summer’s massively expanded preparations, exceptionally complex enrollment process, and limited resources and capacity, I have had to make trade-offs between focusing on the preparations to open and operate effectively this coming year, and communicating frequently about those preparations. So it is only by necessity that I have limited myself to a monthly communication; I regret and apologize that it has not been more, but hope that you might take some comfort in understanding that that has only been so that we might be stronger and as prepared as possible when we reopen in the fall. With that said, in the interest of making information more accessible to you as it becomes available to me, I will begin this Friday (i.e. tomorrow) to host a weekly “office hour” Zoom session to answer whatever questions you have with the best available information I might have at that time. Those sessions will be every Friday morning from 7:45-8:30, and you may participate for as much or as little as you wish. To join any Friday morning session, contact us for a Zoom link and passcode

With all that said, there is much information to share, and I know it can be a slog to make it through my emails, so rather than bludgeoning you with all of it at once, you can expect the following information trickling out on the following schedule:

  • Today, 7/23: Our current plans & preparations to promote health & safety during on-site learning
  • Friday, 7/24: School year calendar, and class teachers & locations
  • Weekend, 7/25: Our plan for teaching & learning
  • Monday, 7/27: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at Free Union
  • Tuesday, 7/28: How you might be able to help us and your kids prepare this summer

So tonight, the health and safety plan and preparations. To try to keep everyone as healthy as possible and reduce the risk of coronavirus infections being transmitted at school, the team of health professionals on our COVID Task Force has been assiduously reviewing medical research and public health guidelines and recommendations to develop our operational plan for the coming year. Some of the precautions we’ll take this year are extra conservative, in an effort to further reduce risks and promote the health of students and teachers alike. The current draft of the task force’s full health-and-safety plan will be available early next week for your family to review carefully in the coming weeks, but meanwhile, here are some updated highlights:

  • In the mornings, we will institute a staggered drop-off schedule in which every family will likely have a designated 10-minute window of time, sometime between 8:00 and 8:50, in which to drop off your child(ren) at school. That schedule will be shared sometime in August, but we thought we should provide this early warning since the new process could be a jolt to some of our more leisurely morning tendencies.

  • When you pull into the school parking lot, you'll be asked to pull around the circle rather than parking and escorting your child(ren) into school. A school staff member will greet your family and then execute an efficient entry protocol involving a quick series of questions and a temperature check for your child[ren]. Assuming there are no signs indicating the possibility of illness, your kids will then be able to make their way to their respective class cohorts for the day, and you may pull away. Before the school year begins, we will figure out and communicate some opportunities for our younger friends to practice and get acclimated to this process without time pressure, to help ensure their comfort during this morning transition.

  • During the day, every class cohort will have 9 students and 1 teacher, and will remain mostly or entirely separate from all other class cohorts, so as to reduce opportunities for the spread of any viral infections between classes. If a positive case is confirmed within a cohort, the administration and the health team will work with and follow the health department's guidance on who should be excluded from that cohort based on their contact and for how long. Other cohorts, however, should be able to continue coming to school, assuming no reasonable suspicion of cross-contamination.

  • As much as possible, learning will be oriented to take place outside, consistent both with our school’s philosophy surrounding the power and potential for learning in the natural environment, and with the current research on the aerosolized transmission of the novel coronavirus.

  • When indoors, everyone will wear a face mask as much as possible, classroom layout and instruction will be oriented to promote six feet of distance between each classroom occupant at all times, and ventilation will be maximized via open windows and, in some places, HEPA filters. In a future communication, we will share suggestions and pointers to help you help your child(ren) acclimate to wearing a mask, and we will employ these same strategies consistently in our classrooms to support this behavior shift.

  • Anyone presenting symptoms of illness will be sent to our new infirmary, which will be staffed by a dedicated, trained health aide. Depending on the nature of the symptoms, the “patient” might be shifted into an isolation area adjoining the infirmary to wait safely for a ride home.

  • Every class cohort will wash their hands frequently throughout the day, either at new outdoor sinks stationed around campus, or in whichever campus bathroom has been dedicated to that cohort. Teachers and students will be trained carefully and extensively about the most sanitary methods for washing and drying hands, turning off faucets, opening doors, and discarding paper towels.

    In addition, EPA-approved hand sanitizer will be available in every classroom, for those occasions when nose picking in between hand washes presents too great a temptation to overcome.

  • At the end of each day, pick-up times will also be staggered―probably between 2:45 and 3:30― so that parents may pull up into the circle driveway and wait for their child(ren) to come to the car. Staff will be available to help our overstuffed younger friends load in.

  • Teachers will be equipped with facemasks, face shields, and disposable gloves to use according to circumstance, in order to protect their health.

  • We are working to hire a full-time staff member who could serve as a permanent “on-call” substitute teacher to be available to fill in when and where necessary.

  • Unfortunately, to preserve the fidelity of this model, at this time we have not figured out a way to offer extra care programs (before or after school) because they would demand that we mix children from separate cohorts.

Some ways the campus will accommodate and promote these public health measures

  • Outdoor Learning Canopies: Three 20x20 outdoor canopies are being installed this summer, to better enable outdoor learning in a wider variety of weather conditions. Although more than one class may use the same canopy at different points during a day, it will never be simultaneously, and a 15-minute latency period will be scheduled in between uses.

  • Outdoor Sinks: Three-to-five outdoor sinks are being installed, to enable more frequent handwashing, especially before coming indoors.

  • Bathrooms dedicated to individual cohorts: Each group of 10 will have their own dedicated bathroom, to reduce the likelihood of contamination/infection across cohorts.

  • Scheduled access to different regions of campus: For both free play and outdoor learning, different regions of campus will be scheduled for different groups to use at non-overlapping times of day

  • A new infirmary (in what has been a 4/5 classroom), and adjoining isolation space, staffed by a trained health aide.

Tomorrow, I will send the second email in this series, to communicate information about the school year calendar (We'll start September 1st), classes, and scheduling. At the end of the series, we will make all of this information available in one single resource for whenever you might need to refer back to it.

Good night,