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Communicating about School Closure / Transition to Virtual Learning: Sample Letters

 

Communicating about School Closure / Transition to Virtual Learning: Sample Letters 

 

March 12, 2020
 

As COVID-19 continues to spread in the United States, many schools have been taking action as outbreaks have occurred in their areas. This action has led to communications with parents about temporary closures, extensions of spring break, or transitions to virtual learning. These communications may be helpful to other schools who are considering these steps. Schools should remember that these communications are only one in a line of them, but they may help in crafting communications at this particular phase. Schools should continue to keep their communities updated as decisions are made. Thank you to the SAIS heads willing to share their communications with us.


Sample 1:


This sample includes:

  • a detailed, date-specific plan to guide faculty and families through all steps
  • a dedicated FAQ, which among other issues, addresses concerns about the limitations of online learning

 

Dear Students and Families,

I am writing to update you on plans for the opening of school following the conclusion of the spring vacation in light of the evolving reality of COVID-19.  As you know from prior communications, we have been monitoring the situation closely with the goal of prioritizing health and safety for all in our community.

Given the uncertain trajectory of the virus and our desire to support public health efforts to contain its spread, we have decided to delay the opening of school following spring vacation until Monday, April 13thth and instead resume the delivery of virtual academia commencing on Monday March 23rd.  Meanwhile, all healthy, asymptomatic faculty members will report to work as planned on March 23 and will commence with virtual learning options through at least Friday, April 10th.  Depending on the teacher and course, remote learning will include some combination of synchronous online teaching and learning via videoconferencing tools, asynchronous instruction through Canvas or other course management systems, and individual homework or other assignments that students complete on their own.  More specific information about individual academic work will be available on March 23rd, and teachers will of course make thoughtful decisions about what approach makes most sense for each course they teach given the transition to remote learning as well as consideration for students who may be on different time zones.  Each division dean and assistant dean will be responsible for overseeing academic delivery in collaboration with instructors.  Delivery or content concerns may be first addressed with the instructor and the with a division dean or assistant dean as needed.

Students experiencing anxiety who may benefit from the assistance of a counselor can also reach out to schedule a virtual conversation.

We provisionally plan to commence our normal program on Monday, April 13th and hope to open campus for boarding students who did not remain on the campus on Saturday, April 11th. However, the COVID-19 situation remains very fluid, so we will continue to pay close attention and act proportionately in response to future changes and/or in response to the advice of local, state, and federal health and governmental agencies, adjusting our plans or extending the period of remote learning as needed. We will certainly continue to keep you updated between now and then with any modifications or other helpful information.

In addition to suspending all on-campus activities until April 12th, we have suspended all School-sponsored travel and events on campus until at least that date.   We hope these modifications to our operating procedures will safeguard our community and contribute to public health efforts.

FAQ:

Q:  What about courses that are difficult to replicate remotely?

A:  Courses that have a significant hands-on or in-person element (e.g. Ceramics, instrumental ensembles, and lab sciences) will receive special attention. Teachers will provide alternative assignments related to the subject matter during the period of remote learning. 

 

Q:  What about extracurricular activities in athletics, arts, and other areas?

A:  We very much look forward to resuming these activities when school reopens. We will work with peer schools to adjust competition schedules as needed in athletics, and coaches, ensemble directors, and other faculty members will communicate more with affected students when we have specific information to share.

 

Q: Are there any restrictions on a student's eventual return to campus?

A: Individuals who meet any of the following criteria should reach out to the on campus Clinic before returning to campus. 

  • do not feel well or have a fever and/or respiratory symptoms,
  • have traveled to an area designated by the CDC with a level 1, 2, or 3 advisory within the last 14 days
  • have traveled on a cruise within the last 14 days
  • have been in contact with a person being tested for or diagnosed with COVID-19

Note:  The same guidance applies to all adults on campus.

We recognize that these steps represent a disruption to the normal program and student experience, but we believe this course of action is important to mitigate risk and prioritize health and safety, both within the school community and in the many communities that we are all a part. We trust that, by working together and being flexible in the midst of difficult and unexpected circumstances, we are demonstrating our commitment to our school mission and values that bind us together even as we remain geographically dispersed.  We look forward to returning to the normal routines of school life as soon as it is prudent to do so, and we remain grateful for your flexibility, support, and understanding as we navigate complex circumstances in the best interest of health and wellness for all.

 

Sample 2:
 

This sample:

  • gives specific and clear steps and dates
  • lays out reasons for transitioning to virtual learning, based on local context and recommendations from reliable sources
  • synthesizes two widely accepted approaches to helping curb the spread of the virus

 

Hello School Community Members,

I do hope that all our students and families have been enjoying the break. Many things have changed since I last wrote about coronavirus on February 27, and I want to share an update on the latest news and our school’s plans.

As you likely know, yesterday our governor issued a state of emergency and the local county suspended all field trips, and shortly afterwards our local university announced that it was extending its spring break and suspending on-campus classes for an undetermined amount of time. As of last count, 100 other colleges and universities around the US have made similar decisions. Today, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 an official pandemic.

What does this mean for our school?

While we recognize that state Department of Health and Human Services guidance does not yet recommend pre-emptive closures of schools as a reaction to COVID-19, we do believe that the unique makeup of our very mobile community, the recent rapid spread of the virus across a variety of locations in the US and abroad, and our recent two-week break compels us to exercise an abundance of caution when it comes to the potential health risks of COVID-19.  

Therefore, I am writing to share that:

  • Our school will extend T2 break for students by two days, through Tuesday, March 17.
  • Using our online learning platforms, we will begin T3 virtually on Wednesday, March 18.
  • We will reassess and communicate further steps by Friday, March 27, but until then all on-campus, school-sponsored events and activities will be canceled or postponed.

While public and private organizations have responded to COVID-19 in a variety of ways, slowing the spread of the virus has been central to these decisions. Doing so can help health organizations marshal resources for those who are most vulnerable -- people over 65 or those suffering from heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, or weakened immune systems. While a great deal has been written about the virus over the last several months, two widely accepted approaches to helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 have emerged and are worth sharing again.

Personal Hygiene

As I shared in my February 27 email, taking precautions with your own health is important. Regular hand washing and avoiding touching your face are always good reminders. In addition, you may wish to clean your phone and laptop keyboard more regularly.

Social Distancing 

At the core of the most recent responses to COVID-19 is the notion of social distancing. This means that we avoid gathering in large groups or settings where there is a higher likelihood of coming in contact with somebody who is ill. This is not about panic but about an effort to keep the illness from spreading so fast that it overwhelms our hospitals and other health or community organizations. 

To be clear, social distancing does not mean that we stay in our rooms and avoid all human contact, but that we are (much) more cautious for a period of time when the virus is spreading the worst. At this time, it is not rude to forgo a handshake or hug.

While there is no shortage of opinions on how to deal with this crisis, we believe that a community-wide form social distancing is prudent considering our school’s circumstances coming off break and the high likelihood of the continued spread of COVID-19 in the area in the coming weeks. We also believe our actions are in alignment with other NC DHHS guidelines to minimize large gatherings and use teleworking technologies where possible.

What’s Next for Students?

By early next week, students can expect communication from their divisions regarding schedules and protocols for online learning.  In the meantime:

  • Now is the time to test your computer.
  • If you do not have access to internet at home, you should contact our school.

Our campus will be open, but during this two-week window we ask that you only come to campus individually and with previous permission to meet with tech support or an administrator. If you have been in a high-risk area as identified by the CDC or have had other potential exposure to COVID-19 (or a recent fever), we ask that all communication with the school happen virtually.

 

Sample 3

 

This letter:

  • is sent from the head of school and board chair, showing support and alignment
  • addresses specific plans for virtual teaching and learning and asks families to answer a survey about preparedness
     

Dear School Families,

As Chair of the Board and Head of School, we would like to share an update with you about our continuing actions and decisions to address concerns surrounding Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Our full faculty and staff workday held on Monday was very productive. This week our teachers are working in classes and practicing with students to help build understanding, awareness and familiarity with the tools and techniques that will facilitate virtual teaching and learning. Advisors and counselors are also working to consider how best to support students.

After very careful consideration and in support of our community, public health and wellness, We are transitioning to virtual teaching and learning effective Monday, March 16, 2020, for two weeks.

We aim to conduct as much school business as possible online and will limit access to campus to essential personnel. Security will not permit admission to any buildings or athletics facilities (including outdoor) without explicit permission.

Our school is not taking this action in response to any known or suspected cases of COVID-19 in our school community. We’re seeing both public and private organizations and universities respond to COVID-19 in a variety of ways, and at the core of the responses is the notion of “social distancing” — techniques used to slow the spread of a virus or disease. Our decision to transition to holding classes online is made with our community’s health and well-being in mind and in hopes of supporting public health officials with the notion of “social distancing” to slow the very rapid spread of COVID-19.

What does this mean?

We will hold regular on-campus classes tomorrow and Friday, March 12 and 13, and continue our ongoing preparations and “readiness” for online classes with our students, faculty and staff — including distributing Chromebooks to our fifth-grade students.

On Monday, March 16, 2020, we will conduct our first virtual school-day with classes starting at 8 a.m. and following the normal Day 2 schedule.

To help with our preparations, we are asking every family to complete a short survey so we can best support you during the days of virtual classes.

In addition, we have developed resources and information about Virtual Learning at our school to help everyone in our community better understand what it means to teach and learn remotely. We understand there will be questions, and we are prepared to help students and families through our shared virtual learning experience.

Thank you for your ongoing patience and support as we work together for the health, safety and well-being of everyone in our community. We will continue to evaluate our situation over the next two weeks and provide updates through email as well as through our resource webpage.

 

Sample 4
 

This letter:

  • states explicitly a goal to contribute to the slow the spread of COVID-19
  • commits to the following goals for online learning: high-quality, subject-specific and developmentally appropriate remote learning
  • provides details on how communication will continue to happen after the school transitions to virtual learning.
  • Reminds families of the school vision
  • Lays out clearly both the school responses and the expectations of families

 

 

Dear School Families, 

Over the break, we convened as a cross-functional group to meet and address our planning and response to COVID-19. Our priority remains the health and safety of our community and continuity of our academic program. We feel compelled to do our best to slow the spread of COVID-19. In keeping with my earlier promise of timely and proactive messaging,

I write to share that the school will suspend all regularly scheduled events starting Friday, March 13, including childcare and extended day care, for an indefinite period of time. We will commence remote learning effective Monday, March 23, and continue through at least Friday, April 3. Limited staff will be on campus to maintain critical operations. All deliveries to campus will be coordinated through the Business Office.

Our faculty and staff will begin meeting this weekend as we practice and work toward our shared goal of high-quality, subject-specific and developmentally appropriate remote learning. Although we have no knowledge of any active cases of COVID-19 in our Collegiate community, we feel this pivot to remote learning is the most prudent decision for us to make. We are driven by our goals to safeguard the health of students, faculty and staff and to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in an effort to protect our communities. We have set up a COVID-19 Awareness and Information page where all of our communications and any future real-time updates will be posted. We encourage you to bookmark this page. 

During this time, when we pull together with the greater world, we are appreciative of your continued partnership as the community. The remainder of this letter will provide some, but not all, of our programming details. Detailed follow-up information regarding remote learning will be sent by Tuesday, March 17.


OUR RESPONSES

Remote Learning. Our aforementioned educational goal for remote learning is to provide personalized attention and a continuity of learning for our students. This will be specific to the developmental needs of our population and your student’s course of study. Our academic leaders and faculty members are collaborating with this goal in mind. I am very grateful for the capacity and dedication of my professional colleagues to ensure quality and responsiveness. During the upcoming week, we recommend you continue to think about spaces and needs for online learning in your home. No matter one's age, building new routines and sticking to them — from sleep schedules, physical activity and time spent in nature — will help you and your child feel a sense of routine and normalcy during this unprecedented time.

Travel/Extracurricular Cancellations. Decisions about student trips and activities in the future will be heavily influenced by CDC travel guidance. Due to the rapidly evolving nature of this situation, we will be monitoring and evaluating each event on a frequent basis. We will notify you, our parents and students, of any changes or future cancellations as soon as decisions are made. We will also do our best to negotiate refunds with third parties for any payments already made toward upcoming trips.

If your child was scheduled for an overnight/multiday trip out of town, we have contacted you about cancellations. If you have questions, please contact your child’s division head.

Social Distancing. We want to be sure you understand that the purpose of campus closure is to create “social distancing” in an effort to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19. While it is difficult to have our children out of school and with less “to do,” we urge you to consider the underlying reason for “social distancing.” U.S. Health Experts Say Stricter Measures Are Required to Limit Coronavirus’s Spread 

In keeping with this recommendation, we are suspending all school-related events for all grades, whether performing arts, athletics or auxiliary. In our efforts to cooperate with “social distancing,” our facilities will not be available. Simply said, if we are not holding school, we are not promoting group gatherings either on or off campus. 

How We Will Communicate With You. As mentioned above, we have set up a webpage that will serve as a central place for parents and students to visit for ongoing updates.  

We will include updates in the weekly email that goes out every Sunday afternoon. I will also continue to send important schoolwide updates, as appropriate, and your child's division heads, advisors and teachers will continue regular communications. We will do our best to streamline communications and balance our needs for timely communication when appropriate.

Changes In remote learning will be treated similar to a weather-related closing. You will receive an email and text message (if we have your number in our system). We will also post updates on our website as well as on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter social media accounts. Along with this emailed communication, you should receive an alert via email and text that we are moving to remote learning and to check your email for more details about this decision.

DETAILS FOR YOUR PREPARATION

Make Sure We Have Your Updated Contact Information. We recently asked that families update their contact information in case of a weather-related event, but it never hurts to double check that we have your most up-to-date information. If you have not yet enrolled in the School’s emergency notification system or need to update your contact information, please do so.

Follow CDC and U.S. Department of State Guidance Related to Travel. We encourage all families who have upcoming professional or personal travel scheduled to follow CDC travel guidance. This guidance may include avoiding non-essential travel or self-quarantine recommendations. The U.S. Department of State also maintains an updated list of travel advisories by country.

Talk to Your Children. We realize this may be a worrisome time for you and your children. Fortunately, there are many helpful resources available on how to talk with children about COVID-19. This is also an important time to teach and remind children about healthy hygiene and ways to remain well in mind and body.

Remind Students to Keep Laptops and Textbooks With Them. If your student did not bring home their materials (i.e., laptops, books, etc.), please email their division head. 

In closing, please know that we remain committed to partnering with all of our families to maintain a safe and healthy school community. We understand that closing our campus to you is counter-cultural and complicated for our families. Our school is a community innately driven to have and nurture in-person connections. We know this decision creates hardships for you and your children. It was not made lightly and creates sad feelings for me and my colleagues. I have no doubt that our community will prove to be stronger than we imagine; for we are founded on a vision of community and responsible citizenship. We are stronger in partnership; please reach out with ideas, questions or concerns. Once again, we thank you for your ongoing support.

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