Back to School during Covid-19

Dear Parents and Loved Ones,

I hope this letter finds you all healthy and at peace.  Not always easy, I know…  That is a personal goal of mine.

We are going to have our Back to School Night for new families on Thursday, 8/13.  It will be quite different from the past.  We will not be bringing any food, just bring a lawn chair to sit on.  We will be going over what to bring to school and what not, show and tell, birthday celebrations, conferences, areas of the classroom, daily schedule, etc.  So, for parents that were at our BTS potluck and meeting last year, this would be a repeat, but everyone is welcome.  We are going to be doing the meetings on the south playground using masks and social distancing.  You can drop off your child on the north playground to play with the assistants, while the Directresses conduct the meetings.  I will send the schedule out in another email.  We are also going to be doing a contactless open house for any parents who only saw the school via Zoom or FaceTime on Friday morning, 8/14.  I will send these details and a sign-up link in another email as well.

This letter is intended to outline our plan for the 2020/2021 school year.  I know it is subject to change in certain areas as we learn more about combating the virus.  I will do my best to keep you informed of any changes along the way.  I will thank you in advance for showing me your understanding and grace as I navigate through this difficult time.  You can rest assured; I will always put the safety and interest of your children first.

Global COVID-19 evidence suggests that younger children (0-10 years of age / our Pre-Kindergarten through 5th graders) play a smaller role in transmission of COVID-19. The risk of transmission between young children and from young children to adults is exceptionally low and, with layered mitigation protocols, become greatly minimized. The risk to children is likely lower than that of yearly influenza, accounting for both primary disease and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).

Excerpt from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

In Pre-K, the relative impact of physical distancing among children is likely small based on current evidence and certainly difficult to implement. Therefore, Pre-K should focus on more effective risk mitigation strategies for this population. These include hand hygiene, infection prevention education for staff and families, adult physical distancing from one another, adults wearing face coverings, cohorting, and spending time outdoors.

Higher-priority strategies:

  • Cohort classes to minimize crossover among children and adults within the school; the exact size of the cohort may vary, often dependent on local or state health department guidance.
  • Utilize outdoor spaces when possible.
  • Limit unnecessary visitors into the building.

At MSLT we will be implementing north and south cohort groups, utilizing our outdoor environments during the work periods, and not allowing adults in the building, except when necessary.

Health Department and State guidelines for schools include the development and protection of cohort grouping of students, by class (or by grade) that allows for the same students and staff to be together each day to mitigate risk, limit the possibility of transmission, and allow for contact tracing if a COVID-19 positive case were to be diagnosed.

By limiting the number of close contacts of each individual, cohorting significantly reduces the number of students and staff who will need to be excluded in the event of a positive case of COVID-19 in the school; all of whom will need to be quarantined for 10-14 days.

At MSLT our class size is 30 students, but we will be starting this school year with around 20 students per classroom on any given day.  Then for recess we will join the north side classes for one cohort and the south side classes for a second cohort. These recreational times are important.   To keep the individual classes completely separate we would have to break up the work periods to account for separate playground times.  We are opting for an outdoor environment to preserve the Montessori tenant of a 2 – 3-hour uninterrupted work period.

As we know, being outside is one of the best things we can do for ourselves.  We have a beautiful outdoor environment every day of our summer nature program.  We are going to continue that throughout the school year as much as possible.  There will be an outdoor environment cart that will be rolled out each day.  However, if a child is busily working on pin punching, that can be taken outside, as well as most other works.  Ten children from each class will go out for about 30 minutes to work each day.  This is not recess and the children know it is not time to play on the play structure or sandbox.  We also have plenty of shade on each side.  I am looking forward to making this happen, as it has been a vision of mine for some time.

The risk of transmission from adults to other adults is greater. Therefore, limiting the number of adults required/able to be in close proximity to one another protects the health and safety of the teachers and staff who are essential to the return and continued operation of the school.

Given the limited role young children play in transmission, there likely is minimal benefit relative to the great difficulty of physically distancing young children within a class to prevent COVID-19 spread. Moreover, physical distancing has the potential to negatively impact appropriate child development in this age group. Therefore, our focus has been placed on other risk mitigation strategies that better complement the learning and socialization goals of young children.

On July 16, Governor Polis issued a statewide face mask order.

“Today, I’m signing an executive order that’s effective at midnight tonight that requires that every Coloradan, [older than the age of 10], wear a mask or face covering whenever they’re in public.”

During the summer nature program, we made face masks optional for our teachers.  After this executive order there was some discussion on whether we fall under this order since we do not consider ourselves “public.”  However, based on the broad definition, we are.  Therefore, we have started requiring our teachers to wear a face mask.  This is less than ideal for a Montessori Early Childhood teacher.  We will continue to monitor and adjust our policies based these orders.

In response to concerns from some parents and teachers about students not able to see their teachers’ faces and expressions we have ordered clear face masks for teachers to use for classroom instruction.  This allows for the ability to see facial expressions and emotions, catch visual cues, and communicate more easily with students.

Close Contact, Health, & Safety

For COVID-19, a close contact is defined as any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes, starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated. Factors to consider when defining close contact include whether one or all individuals were wearing masks, proximity, the duration of exposure, and whether the individual has symptoms.

Civid-19 + and/or Exposure

If a parent, child, staff member, or someone living in the same household tests positive for Covid-19, we will inform the parents and close that cohort the following day for deep cleaning and disinfecting.  We will contact the health department for instruction on contact tracing.  Anyone who has had “close contact” will that person will quarantine for 2 weeks and/or get a test.  Once the 14-day quarantine time has ended or the test comes back negative, the person can return to school.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

MSLT has always been diligent about our cleaning and disinfecting.  Our Cleaning and Disinfecting protocols exceed guidance from the CDC, State and Local Health Departments, OSHA, and EPA.  Due to the fluidity of the pandemic and ongoing research to better understand how the virus spreads, our cleaning and disinfecting plan is subject to change.

We clean and disinfect after every work period and at the end of each day, paying increased attention to high touch areas.  We no longer have a “Commons” area so to speak.  We have established protocols for cleaning and disinfecting and provided guidance and supplies for individuals regarding the cleaning and disinfecting of classrooms and offices. We use an EPA-registered cleaning and disinfecting product that has been proven effective and has been approved for use to combat COVID.

While cleaning refers to the removal of dirt, germs, and impurities from surfaces, it alone does not kill germs.

Disinfection works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs. But killing germs that remain on a surface after cleaning further reduces any risk of spreading infection.

We clean, disinfect, and then rinse with soapy water after the disinfectant remains on the surface for at least 5 minutes.  Disinfecting is not done in a room when children are present.

 

I hope I was thorough and clear with our plan for this school year.  We are all committed to the safety and well-being of our MSLT family, while trying to preserve for our students this magical age that should be filled with wonder and curiosity.  The Montessori foundation you are providing your children is unparalleled and I am honored to be part of it.  Feel free to reach out to me; my virtual door is always open.  We will get through this together and come out stronger than ever.

As always, I appreciate you support!!    ~Lori