Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Open Schools? It's Being Done. Here's How!

School families at Philadelphia Parish and Regional Elementary Schools and Archdiocesan High Schools previously received detailed plans for the safe reopening of school in the fall. Those plans are outlined in digest format below.

Senior administrators from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office of Catholic Education have worked in conjunction with various partners over the past several months to develop plans for the safe re-opening of school on time in September. This critical work was accomplished through dedicated task forces focused on the unique educational, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of students and school families in elementary and secondary schools as well as schools of special education throughout the five-county region.

Maintaining the health and safety of students, faculty, administrators, and staff while providing a continued high-quality Catholic education were the principles guiding this work. As such, the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education were central to Archdiocesan planning for the coming academic year.

The plans that were ultimately developed have a strong structural framework that seeks to provide the maximum educational experience for students. Key differences among the plans allow for best practices of meeting the needs of students who represent a broad range of physical, emotional, and intellectual growth within the Pre-K-12 spectrum.

In addition, flexibility is a hallmark of the reopening plan with two factors in mind. First, the Archdiocese recognizes that students and families in its school communities may face a host of health concerns as well as general anxiety regarding the potential for the spread of COVID-19. As such, virtual and other distance learning options are available at most schools for any family that feels uncomfortable sending their children to school for in-person instruction. Second, the Archdiocese has recognized the essential need to be nimble in the face of the ever-evolving pandemic landscape. Developments will be constantly evaluated and plans adjusted accordingly. We have the capacity and are prepared to provide a virtual learning environment to the greatest extent possible if necessary. 

Parish and Regional Elementary Schools
The parish and regional elementary schools plan Catholic Schools Onward: Best Practices and New Opportunities as We Move Forward outlines the foundational premises that the plan is built upon.  Andrew M. McLaughlin, Ed.D., Secretary for Elementary Education for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia shared in a recent letter to school families, “The plan is based on several key principles, cohorting – students remain with the same classmates throughout the day, social distancing, strategic use of masks, enhanced cleaning, a modified attendance policy, situational virtual learning, and an enhanced partnership with parents.” The full plan for parish and regional elementary schools can be found here.   

Archdiocesan High Schools
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia high schools’ document Catholic High Schools Compass: Continuing Excellence in Catholic Education provides detailed information on their plan. In a join introduction letter accompanying the plan, Sister Maureen Lawrence McDermott, I.H.M. Ph.D., Superintendent for Secondary Schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Irene Horstmann Hannan, Chief Executive Officer of Father in the Future Foundation said, “The document outlines the key components of our plan….like the four points of a compass, [the plan] is firmly grounded in directional principles: safety, academic excellence, technology, and faith formation.” The full plan can be found here.

Outlined below are some of the key highlights of the plans developed for the respective divisions with the Office of Catholic Education. It is important to note that differences allow for the distinct educational and physical needs of the various student groups based on best practices.  

Parish and Regional Elementary Schools:
  • In-person Instruction Model: This model has a greater impact at the elementary level as it allows time for students to develop spiritually, socially, emotionally, physically, and academically based on their levels of growth and maturity.  
  • Learning Management System (LMS): When a physical presence in the classroom is not possible, a LMS will be provided to centralize materials, lessons, instruction, assessments, feedback, and communication.
  • Social Distancing: As it relates to the classroom set-up; desks should be placed the appropriate distance from the center of each desk to the center of the next desk.
  • Home-Based Temperature Screening: Parents/Guardians to take temperatures and assess for COVID-19 symptoms of child before they leave home.

Archdiocesan High Schools: 
  • Hybrid Instruction Model:  Reduced class sizes using a hybrid A/B instruction plan that allows for half of the total number of students to be physically present each day.  
  • Learning Management System (LMS) Utilizing Schoology:  This learning platform complete with Zoom capacity allows for seamless integration with platforms already in use. Cameras will be in classrooms so that students receiving instruction may do so in real-time and for a full day.
  • Social Distancing: As it relates to the classroom desks will be spaced at the appropriate distance.  Social distancing will also be observed at lunch, in hallways, and all other aspects of the school environment.
  • Temperature Screening at Home and School: Students should screen themselves for symptoms and temperatures before leaving for school each day.

Archdiocesan Schools of Special Education: 
  • Learning Model: Five days per week in person instruction. Students will remain within their specific cohort; each group of students stay together for in person instruction and for lunch.  Teachers rotate in and out of the rooms rather than the students.  Art, gym, and music teachers will use this routine.
  • PPE:  Sneeze guards will be set up on each student's desk, face masks/face shields will be worn in shared areas of the building.  Classrooms will be equipped with a no touch thermometer, hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, face masks, face shields, and gloves.
  • Social Distancing:  Students will not share materials or food.  Water fountains will no longer be available.Students will remain in classrooms most of their day as a cohort.  Students will travel only with their cohort and utilize other areas of the school such as bathrooms, computer labs, and gymnasium.
  • Temperature Checks: Parents take temperature before the student leaves home.  Thermometers will be available within the classrooms.

The Office of Catholic Education is steadfast in their promise to keep school families informed and to remain in dialogue with them.  A dedicated point of contact where parents and guardians can share questions is available. Messages can be sent to covid19@archphila-oce.org .  

There is also an established point of contact for families seeking spiritual support. Messages can be sent to spiritualsupport@archphila-oce.org .  In the coming weeks additional information will be made available through the website aopcatholicschools.org/covid-19-information/ .  

Note: For more information about Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, please visit aopcatholicschools.org/ .  For more information about Faith in the Future Foundation, please visit www.faithinthefuture.com/ .

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