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Adam Eilath

Dear Wornick Community,

Following up on our communication last Wednesday when San Mateo County was placed on the watchlist, I wanted to send you all an important update on our reopening plans. I've recorded a video message for you all that I hope you can find some time to watch. I have also included a summary of the message below. 

In June, we wrote to you sharing our plan to open our school for in person instruction for every student, every day. This plan was based on San Mateo County's Pandemic Recovery Framework Plan for schools and the rate of community infections in San Mateo County at that time. Since then, three important things have happened: 1) Rates of community infections have continued to rise; 2) the Governor issued an order on July 17th prohibiting schools from reopening for in person instruction if they are located in a county on the watchlist; and 3) San Mateo County was placed on the watchlist Wednesday, July 29th for a three day period, which was confirmed on Saturday, August 1st.

Since our school year ended, our team has been immersed in planning for all learning options including in person learning, hybrid learning, and remote learning. We are very proud of the work we have done and we are extremely appreciative of the work of our teachers who have dedicated hundreds of hours throughout the summer to prepare for the school year. We feel prepared to deliver an outstanding Wornick educational experience within the framework of each of these learning modes in the 2020-2021 school year.

Throughout this time our school has been guided by a few important principles:

  1. The safety and health of our community is our number one priority. For the safety of our children, families, and our teachers, we would meet and in most cases exceed the guidance set forth by the county, state, and federal authorities to ensure the safety of our community. (For example, we chose to require masks for all students even though it was only required for students in 3rd grade and above).
  2. In person learning and interactions must be prioritized when possible.
  3. We would be guided by the values of community, adaptability, and interconnectedness in our approach to learning, policy development, and community building.

Our county was placed on the state watchlist for failing to meet the criteria of having less than an average of 100 new cases per 100,000 people over a fourteen day period. As of August 3rd, our county's fourteen day average was roughly 140 cases. Being on the watchlist means that a school cannot open for in person instruction. In order to be eligible to resume in person instruction, schools must be located in counties that are off the watchlist for a minimum of fourteen consecutive days. At this point, it seems statistically improbable that our county would be off the state watchlist by August 25th when our first day of school is planned. Importantly, while the state has announced the possibility of waivers that may allow for exceptions even for schools in counties on the watchlist, San Mateo County has not yet determined this process nor published its waiver application yet. We have expressed interest in receiving a waiver application from the county so we can evaluate what is required. At this point we do know that waivers will only be available for students through 6th grade. This means that as long as we are on the state watchlist, there is no path for 7th and 8th grade students to return for in person instruction.

Based on the information we have today from the State Department of Education, the County Department of Health, and current infection rates, we believe that we need to make decisions about how our school year will start for the sake of our teachers who need clarity on how to plan for the first few weeks of school, for our parents who will need to adjust their schedules, and for our students who need clarity on what learning will look like in a few weeks.

As of today, we are committing to beginning the year in remote learning for 3rd through 8th grade through September. The first possible day of in person instruction would be Monday, October 5th. For K-2, we will start remotely while we work through the waiver process. We will provide an update by Friday, September 4th. We are currently awaiting confirmation from the County Health Department as to whether TK can begin in person (falling outside the waiver process), and will provide an update before August 11th. Additionally, we are working with the County Health Department to be able to offer in person community building activities and social emotional programs for students in small groups. In all cases, we will have to evaluate current circumstances at the time, and what is in the best interest of our community.

There are a number of important factors impacting our decisions:

  • The safety and health of our community is our number one priority.
  • We have reached out to the San Mateo County Department of Health about a waiver but they have not yet developed their waiver process. In fact, the State of California only provided guidance to county level authorities on what the waiver process should entail late on August 3rd. San Mateo County recently estimated that they would still use this week to develop the waiver process. We are not expecting to even see an application until the end of this week or early next week.
  • Our school needs to evaluate what is included in the county level waiver application and if we feel that we can meet the requirements of the waiver application.
  • The state guidelines indicate that the waiver needs to be submitted at least two weeks ahead of the date when in person instruction would begin. Based on the current timeline, it seems improbable that we would receive an application and be able to turn around all of the documentation in time to get approval prior to the start of school.
  • While it made sense to plan for all options in early summer, the increasing likelihood that the only option available to us will be remote means that it makes most sense for us to commit to and plan for one opening scenario to ensure that we are able to deliver a high quality educational experience for our students and families.
  • The limitations on indoor learning, human resources, rising number of cases, and concern for the health and safety of our community weigh heavily in favor of a more phased approach.

With this development, we are going to cancel the August 10th and 11th mandatory trainings and postpone them until we are closer to in person learning. We will still be holding the TK-2 Parent, Grades 3-5 Parent, and Middle School Family meetings, so that we can do more specific grade level training and discussions. Finally, while we had hoped to share our full plan today, these changes necessitate additional time to finalize our plan. We will publish it by next Wednesday, August 12th.

We appreciate your understanding and support as we continue to navigate this ever changing terrain. We know how important in person education is, but we are well-positioned to provide an excellent educational experience for our students in any of the modes that we have been preparing for all summer. We will continue to keep you updated on any developments, and we look forward to seeing you at the grade level meetings. 

In partnership,