“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them- that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow forward in whatever way they like.” - Lao Tzu
The first week of September may have brought us more change and uncertainty than ever. Amendments, updates, guidance… and guidance about earlier guidance from various agencies has and given us wonderful opportunities to build our flexibility and learn to adapt at even higher levels. (I will confess there are times when these learning experiences have not brought joy to my heart. But no one said that learning is easy.)
I took a great deal of solace by walking around our campuses earlier in the week. As people plan and work and re-plan, our school, at least on the surface, remains calm. Some staff members were working as they usually do and greeted me with their usual good humor. We were able to find common ground in our mutual frustration and even laugh a bit about the state of the world, a world none of had imagined last September.
The school is still beautiful. Wildlife passes through in even greater numbers than usual. A flock of Canadian Geese has been enjoying the soccer field (we hope as visitors and not as permanent residents). Standing on the Stinson Campus and looking up toward the magnificent hills and out across the lagoon never gets old; life goes on one way or another and we only control our response to what it gives us.
This test we have been given is essentially nothing new, though we may feel the challenge more acutely. Who do we want to be? Are we forgiving, patient and generous? Are we remembering that everyone is probably under increased stress and may be responding in ways not in keeping with their better natures? Are we patient with ourselves as we are with our children and our neighbors? When we see others’ errors and shortcomings, do we pause and reflect on our own actions? Our common character is strong but it needs constant maintenance and that includes being kind to ourselves.
After a series of meetings this week, here is what life seems to be giving us in terms of school and our plans to return in person:
- Starting with good news- cases of COVID-19 in Marin since July have dropped by 50%.
- The state watchlist system that was used to determine when counties can re-open schools has been discontinued.
- A new easier-to-understand color coding system has been implemented; it rates COVID infection by county:
- Purple- Widespread
- Red- Substantial
- Yellow- minimal
- Right now Marin is in Purple and we expect to be in Red by Monday 9/ 7/20. If Marin stays Red for 14 straight days, we may be able to open school under health department guidance that came out last June- and under agreements made with our labor unions- and with a decision by our Board of Trustees. That would include all of the safety and social distancing restrictions we have known about for weeks- cohorts of 13 students, face coverings, daily health screening, etc. If Marin drops back into Purple, we start over again.
- I met with the Teachers’ Union leadership today 9/4/20 and we have agreed to meet again to settle on a date on which we would open to limited in-person instruction when conditions allow.
- Your Labor Day activities and those of your friends and neighbors may affect our status. The July 4 Holiday had a negative impact on infections and we do not want to repeat that.
- We are drafting the required School Site Specific Protection Plan (SSSPP) to verify that we are following health department rules. It must be reviewed by Public Health before we “re-open.” We are on track to have it done early.
- Guidance from licensing for preschools has become slightly more relaxed- lifting cohort sizes from 10 to 12 and now to 14. We are also working hard to advocate for an exception that would let us return to full class size by the time school re-opens.
- Preschool will not open this coming week and will likely open when the rest of the school does. Preschool is subject to oversight by more agencies than the rest of the school, so getting clarity on this has been difficult. Having the Site-Specific Plan in place is a prudent step to take before opening.
- The Board of Trustees will meet on Tuesday and will receive a legal opinion about the appropriateness of the Declaration of Emergency process. This may have an effect on future plans to add temporary classrooms. This week, the Division of the State Architect released new guidance that may make the process easier. But we do not know if it will apply to our situation yet.
- The school is working to organize a “Learning Hub” on campus for students who have not been able to access the internet. Similar to the High School District, we hope to have a socially-distanced safe space where those students can get on line as needed during distance learning.
- Staff is still working on the home connectivity issue and is hitting the same challenges we have been running into since March. Access to computers is not a problem. We just received enough laptops to ensure every student can have one; the nagging problem is that connecting in some places has not been possible.
- We have made great progress with facilities. After a setback, we are moving ahead with bids to add concrete pads outside of classrooms. All of our water fountains, sinks and towel dispensers are now hands-free thanks to forward-thinking staff who placed early orders. We have a lot of PPE and our on-line health screening process is up and running. Light-weight rain proof “wing” style outdoor shelters have ordered and are scheduled to arrive today. (Major thanks to the vision of Catherine Hawes and the facilities committee.)
I wish you all a restful holiday weekend. Labor Day is often celebrated more as a bookmark to end the summer than for its original purpose- to honor labor in our nation, to appreciate working people and the contributions they have made to our culture. Labor, in all its forms, has given many of us a sense of purpose as well as a way to provide for our families and contribute to our communities. Labor gave us the weekend, the 8-hour work day and the right to have a voice in our own economic circumstances. At the moment it may do us all some good to pause and consider the contributions of others, those whose labor makes all of our lives better especially during these trying times.
Thanks as always for your impressive commitment and continued flexibility. We’ll see what comes next.
Enjoy the Weekend.
John Carroll, Superintendent