Amid an escalating pandemic, Stuart Hirstein took his first action as incoming head of St. Edward’s School, announcing a tentative plan to reopen Aug. 20 with classes five days a week. In the plan, families would have the option of their kids learning in a classroom or watching the class live on a device at home.
Tuition at St. Ed’s, the barrier island’s only private school, ranges from $21,700 a year for kindergarten to $29,700 for the upper school, and it will remain the same whether a student attends classes in person or watches from home.
If the campus must shut down completely and students go to digital learning, families will get a financial credit “towards fees coinciding with being on campus.”
So far, families aren’t shying away from the commitment. “Enrollment is going to be about the same,” St. Ed’s spokeswoman Monica Jennings predicted. The tuition contract deadline was last week.
The video announcement, accompanied by a 16-page plan, spelled out policies and programs for every grade and subject, from fine arts and physical education to fever checks and quarantines.
The reopening factors in a long list of variables, including another shut-down or county-level school closure. And it carefully addresses the varying comfort levels of individual families.
Plans have also been made for a graduation weekend beginning July 31 for Class of 2020 seniors.
“Of course, it’s all subject to change,” said Jennings. “This is what we’re going to be doing as of right now.”
The plan, created over the past three months by separate teams focused on education and operations, appears to parallel the three options put forth for public schools by the Indian River County School District in a survey sent out last month.
Those options, slated to be discussed this week on Facebook Live, include traditional classes in school, distance learning, which follows the classroom’s schedule and content online, and virtual school, in which all educational activities occur online.
If state or county mandates prevent schools from opening, all St. Ed’s students would move to digital learning that “will closely mirror our academic schedule with enhanced synchronous classes supported by small group sessions and office hours,” the plan said.
If the closure has been lifted, families will have to choose between in-class learning and live-stream learning, enabled by new technology the school has installed. That includes cameras in the classroom – including one aimed at the whiteboard, the document points out. That way the school will be prepared “for waves of interruption to on-campus learning,” according to the document.
“Our goal is to be able to not only quickly pivot to digital learning, but also to potentially accommodate students who are unable to attend classes because of illness,” the document says.
“In the event our local community experiences a spike in COVID-19 cases, a shift to digital learning will happen immediately.”
If the campus opens and remains open, students who attend and staff members will have to wear face coverings “when distancing is not possible.” Temperatures will be monitored at the start of each day – and lower school kids will be checked before they even get out of the car in the morning. Middle and upper school students will go straight to the library or gym on arrival to have their temperatures checked.
Desks will be set up with 6 feet of space around each one. If a classroom gets too crowded, middle and upper school students will move into the gym, while lower school kids will use the extra classroom space.
Parents will not be allowed to accompany their children onto the campus, and they will have to wear masks at pick-up and drop-off points.
Field trips are off for the first semester. Recess using playground equipment is still being debated but the re-opening document did say the school intends to make the most of its 26-acre lagoon-front campus to encourage social distancing.
The school hopes to be able to offer afterschool programs and any sports activities will be in accordance with rules from the state’s high school athletic association.
Monday, St. Ed’s hosted a handful of lower-school kids for a scaled-back version of its traditional summer camp. Later in July and August, it will hold ACT and SAT prep classes for eight kids at a time. “We’re still trying to help the community, still trying to have ‘private school, public purpose’ ideals but with some changes,” said Hirstein.
“Our size allows us to be nimble when directives change, and that’s crucial to maintaining a sense of continuity for our students. Our goal is to create a learning environment that is agile and safe while embracing all the benefits of a St. Edward’s School education.”