Our plans for the 2020-2021 school year continue to evolve as we gather recommendations and guidance from a variety of sources, while also trying to anticipate the guidelines and requirements that the local government will put in place. In the June 3rd email, I shared four potential scenarios that would be in place as we return to school in the fall. At this point, it is most likely that GRACE will open under the “Yellow” or “Orange” scenario, both of which will be described in further detail below.
As was shared previously, these are our driving priorities:
- Providing a safe learning and teaching environment for our families and employees, while also preserving our sense of community.
- Utilizing all of our resources to deliver on our vision that our students will be grounded in God’s Word and challenged to achieve academic excellence as they prepare to use their gifts and abilities effectively to follow God’s plan for their lives, regardless of circumstances.
- Prioritizing face-to-face on-campus instruction, especially for our youngest students, while providing opportunities and accommodations for students or families who are dealing with immuno-compromised or other circumstances that may make them at-risk
- Developing flexible plans that will allow for transitions to or from a VLE scenario if necessary.
The plans represent our best efforts to develop strategies that protect everyone in our community, while also providing a fantastic GRACE educational experience. To that end, we seek to balance the precautionary recommendations required to keep our students and employees safe with a practical view of the interactions that take place in a school each day. We plan to meet on our campuses as long and as often as we are allowed to do so. However, being able to do so will require changes to familiar and, in some cases, beloved routines. These are the sacrifices we must make in order to be back on our campuses and gather together once again as a community.
The following safety guidelines will be in place at the start of the school year and will last as long as necessary. In addition to being best practices, we see these actions as opportunities for us to demonstrate our love for our neighbors. These small steps may cause some inconvenience but will help keep our community members safe. We are making plans for our community knowing that some individuals will think they are too strict, while others will feel they are not strict enough.
With that in mind, we are taking these steps not only to keep individuals safe, which is the absolute priority, but also because the consequences of having someone on campus who has a positive test for COVID-19 are so severe. For instance, if a confirmed case of COVID-19 is reported on our campus, whether it is a student or an adult and even if the individual is only on campus for a brief period of time, the WCDHHS may require the school to be closed for a minimum of two to three days. Furthermore, if a student or employee is determined to have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, they may be required to remain off campus for up to fourteen days.
- Temperature Checks. Temperature checks for all employees and students will be mandatory before individuals are allowed to enter any GRACE building. If an individual’s temperature is above 100.4, the individual may not enter the building. As of now, GRACE is planning to conduct temperature screenings on campus, but we are also investigating ways for families to conduct and share the results of daily health surveys that would include validating student temperatures. If GRACE conducts the temperature checks, morning carpool processes will be modified to accommodate the testing.
- Cloth Face Coverings. Cloth face coverings or masks will be required during transitional times within the buildings for all students. Students will not be required to wear face coverings during instructional time in the classroom unless the student is working closely with another student or teacher. GRACE will provide each student with a “neck gaiter” face covering, but families can provide their own for each child. Teachers are not required to wear face coverings during large group instruction, but will be required to do so when working closely with a student. Please note that this will be subject to change depending on the guidelines set forth by the local authorities. For instance, the Mayor of Raleigh declared that masks will be mandatory for public gatherings as of June 19. We do not know how this applies to schools or if this will be in effect in August.
- Movement Throughout the Day. Signage on both campuses will encourage students to maintain physical distancing of six feet apart when feasible. Signage will also be in place to remind students to remain on the right side of the hallway during all transitions. Staff will monitor the hallways to enforce physical distancing and movement as much as is feasible. Where possible, students will remain in class or cohort groups throughout the day, limiting interactions that are not deemed essential. When possible, teachers will transition between classrooms instead of students.
- Visitors to Campus. To minimize the risk of exposure, we will begin the school year by limiting access to our campus buildings to students, teachers, and essential personnel. We will not allow parent volunteers as the school year begins, but we hope to do so as the year progresses.
- Water. Students are asked to bring refillable water fountains that can be used with the new touchless water fountains.
- General Hygiene. Please review best practices for the prevention of the spread of germs with your child. Students are encouraged to cough into the crook of their elbow. Students will have additional opportunities to utilize hand sanitizer and wash their hands throughout the day.
- Cleaning. Classrooms, desks, chairs, and other high-touch areas will be cleaned throughout the day.
- Lunches. We are developing plans to provide lunch in classrooms and/or develop a schedule that alternates between lunch in classrooms and the gym, student center, or outside area. The school will distribute prepackaged lunches, but will not prepare lunches on campus. Also, outside delivery by individual restaurants or services such as GrubHub or Door Dash will be prohibited.
- Care for sick students. Provisions are being made to enable the school to better isolate students who become ill during the school day. On the lower campus, the nurse’s office is being redesigned to provide a place for students to receive medical attention in a more private and isolated setting. On the upper campus, an area is being set aside to serve as a place for students to stay until a parent can pick them up. An ill student will be required to wear a mask until he/she leaves campus unless the student is having trouble breathing or is vomiting.
When to Stay Home
As referenced earlier, the consequences of having an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 on campus are significant, so we are asking parents to partner with us by following the following guidelines:
- If a member of your household tests positive for COVID-19, is awaiting test results, or is experiencing symptoms:
- Stay home
- Call your doctor
- Inform GRACE
- Coordinate the time for the student to return to the school with the GRACE administration.
- If a student is unwell and experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms:
- Stay home
- Call your doctor
- Inform GRACE
- Coordinate the time for the student to return to school with the GRACE administration
- If a student has a fever over 100.0:
- Stay home until the child is fever-free without medication for 72 hours
- Call your doctor
- Inform GRACE
Please note that if a child demonstrates a fever above 100.0 while on campus, he/she will not be allowed to return to campus until the child is fever-free without medication for 72 hours. This is a change to our former 24-hour policy.
Support for Students who are Unable to be on Campus
GRACE is investing in technology and teacher professional development to serve our students who are unable to be on campus for an extended period of time due to illness, a compromised immune system, or possible exposure to COVID-19.
Details Specific to the Instructional Scenarios
- Students will be spread out in the classrooms as much as possible.
- Students will be asked not to share pencils, crayons and other items.
- Where necessary, teachers will provide individualized manipulatives for instruction or will sanitize necessary materials before use.
- Playground and gym use will be limited to grade level or class.
- Students in third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade will be required to wear face coverings when working closely with other students.
- Student tables will be spread throughout the classroom and partitions will be provided to separate the students.
- As instruction allows, students will face the same direction for classroom discussions and instructions.
- Classrooms will have designated entry and exit points.
- While science and math classrooms will be shared by multiple grade levels, other classrooms will be grouped by grade level to limit mixing between grade levels.
- Student drivers will be discouraged from congregating in the parking lot.
- Students will be required to wear face coverings when working closely with other students.
GRACE will function under the Orange Plan if the governor or local government mandates that schools must operate at reduced capacity. All of the provisions of the Yellow Plan remain in place. Under this scenario, students in fourth through twelfth grade would alternate between on-campus and live off-campus instruction. Students in grades TK-third would be allowed on campus per the guidelines allowed by the government. More details will be provided at a later date.
Under “Red” conditions, government guidelines prohibit GRACE from having students on campus. In this event, we will transition to a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) until restrictions are lifted. Please note that this could include a brief two or three day period if GRACE were to close for cleaning due to possible COVID-19 exposure like the scenario described earlier in this document.
In the event that GRACE is required to operate in a VLE environment for an extended period of time, the Board of Trustees will examine extending financial credits for activities that a virtual environment may restrict the school’s ability to deliver effectively.
Preparing for 2020-2021
GRACE is investing considerable resources to prepare our campuses to support the new environment, as well as for general improvements. The following list provides a brief summary of some of these investments:
- Additional Teaching Positions. To reduce class sizes and support flexible instructional plans, the Board of Trustees approved funding for the addition of multiple new teaching positions. GRACE is also investing in professional development for our teachers in preparation of teaching in a virtual environment, if we should have to do so.
- iPads. To better serve our fourth, fifth and sixth graders, we are replacing the Chromebooks with iPads.
- Support for Virtual Learning Environment. In the end-of-year parent survey, one of the biggest requests was from parents of younger students who wanted more live instruction. To that end, in addition to investing in professional development, the school is also purchasing iPads for every classroom to enable teachers to provide synchronous instruction for students who are not on campus, whether due to illness or if we are in VLE. At this time, GRACE is also researching additional technologies to enable a better quality of production for synchronous VLE instruction, as well as researching and investing in multiple learning platforms. Lastly, Chromebooks will be available for families with students in TK-3 who need the devices for virtual learning.
- Touchless Water Fountains and Faucets. As was mentioned previously, touchless water fountains and faucets are being installed throughout both campuses.
- HVAC System. Improvements are being made to the HVAC systems throughout both campuses, including the installation of an air ionization system to “clean” the air in the building.
- TK and Kindergarten Classroom Renovations. As has been done the past few years in the third-grade classrooms and Lower Campus art room, the TK and Kindergarten classrooms will be undergoing renovations this summer to open up the instructional space.
- Lower Campus Playground. Construction on the improvements for the Lower Campus playgrounds will be underway soon.
- Outdoor Improvements. Plans are underway to make improvements to the outdoor spaces on both campuses, including the completion of the outdoor instructional area and garden on the Lower Campus and the extension of the dining area outside of the Upper Campus student center.
Athletics, After Care, Before Care, Performing Arts
There are many facets of school life for which our plans are still evolving. Athletic Director Devin Terris will share information concerning fall athletics as we receive updates from the NCISAA. We intend to offer both Before Care and After Care, but those plans are still evolving. The current guidelines provided by the state for the performing arts, specifically the vocal arts and band, are very restricting, but we are seeking solutions that will enable our students who are passionate in those areas to continue to develop their gifts and talents at GRACE.
Summer Timeline and the 2020-21 Calendar
I plan to share updates with our community the week of June 29, the week of July 13, and the week of July 27. The members of our school leadership team are receiving information from professional services, government agencies, and peer schools daily. As we gather and interpret the information, we will continue to seek God’s direction to make the best decisions we can for the GRACE community. The current environment requires a great deal of patience and creativity when it comes to planning, so we thank you for your ongoing support as we work through the details.
GRACE plans to begin the 2020-2021 school year on August 12. Ideally, we can adhere to the published school calendar. However, we may have to adjust the schedule during the school year to ensure as many on-campus instructional days as possible, which could mean adjusting some of the days that are currently listed as days off and extending the school year. The past few months have taught us the value and importance of being flexible and patient — skills we will no doubt need moving forward.
Our commitment continues to be a loving community that spiritually and academically equips, challenges, and inspires students to impact their world for Christ. The employees of GRACE will do everything within our power to deliver on this mission and provide a source of stability for our families through these tumultuous times. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to develop plans and strategies that enable us to best do so – regardless of the environment around us.
Thank you for your continued support and the opportunity to serve your family.
Head of School