Headmaster's Study

Reopening STA: An Update

Dear St. Albans Families: 

Our parents and students have been extraordinarily patient and supportive as we have opened the school year in our Remote-Plus Model, but I know our community is eager for an update on our future plans for reopening our campus. 

With the guidance of the medical experts on our Health and Wellness Task Force, we have been closely following public health metrics, which have been steadily improving in the DMV region over the past few weeks. The aggregate test positivity rate has now decreased to almost 3% across the five major jurisdictions/counties in our region (and is even lower in the District itself, at 1.7% test positivity). Our medical advisors believe that it is safe to begin restoring more of the in-person St. Albans experience this fall, with appropriate precautions and safeguards in place. 

To this end, after extensive consultations with the Governing Board, our health and wellness team, and our academic team, we will begin bringing all of our boys back to school for in-person classroom instruction over the next several weeks. We will transition in phases from our current Remote-Plus Model to the Hybrid-Cohort Model, beginning with Forms C, B, and A the week of October 13 and Forms I-VI the week of October 26. 
We have been trying for several weeks to discern a thoughtful path forward for school reopening, which has proven complicated because of a DC regulation that appeared to require schools in the District to organize classes into very restrictive pods of 11 students and 1 teacher, with no mixing between pods. Given that our older boys take classes with many different teachers in a very diverse and varied curriculum, we have been struggling to determine how we could make this work.  Solutions had to this point proven elusive. 

After extensive engagement with the DC Department of Health, we received important and clarifying news on Friday.  DC Health has shared that their position moving forward will be as follows: While DC independent schools are mandated to follow the Mayor’s Public Health Emergency Orders, the provisions in the DC Health Guidance documents, including the limitations on the size and mixing of teacher / student cohorts, are not mandated for independent schools in the District.  

Accordingly, St. Albans is free to move to our next phase of reopening — the Hybrid Plan — without the concerns connected with the very restrictive “podding” of 11 students and 1 teacher, which would have made it virtually impossible to run our Upper School program.  The Hybrid Plan, which was developed in consultation with the public health and infectious disease experts on our Health and Wellness Task Force, allows students to take different classes with different teachers in a safe and regulated manner, within a framework of extensive health precautions, social distancing, small numbers in individual classes, and de-densification measures we have established for school reopening

While not a requirement, the DC Department of Health has invited us to submit our Hybrid Plan for their awareness, review, and assessment.  We plan to do so right away so we can benefit from their insights and maintain a collaborative working relationship with public health officials in the District, all within the context of the broader understanding that St. Albans, as an independent school, has the freedom to make the independent reopening decisions that are best for our mission and the health and safety of our community.

Our Path Forward: From Remote Plus to the Hybrid Plan
As we shared in August, Phase 1 of our school reopening was the Remote-Plus construct we began the year with in September. Phase 2, which we are now preparing to enter, is the Hybrid Plan, which we will roll out in the following way: 

For the Lower School, we will bring students back to campus for in-person learning in our school classrooms, beginning with cohorts of students from Forms C, B, and A the week of October 13-16. Each student in Forms C, B, and A, regardless of his cohort assignment, will be invited to campus at least once during this four-day week so that we can ensure all students are oriented to the Hybrid Model. Forms I-II and Upper School students will begin returning to campus in cohorts the week of October 26. 

The division of students into two cohorts is designed to reduce density and ensure the requisite 6 feet of social distancing in our classrooms: Only one cohort, or half our students, will be on campus on any given day. Students in the at-home cohort will be engaged in online learning, with a greatly enhanced experience afforded by the DTEN Zoom Room technology we invested in over the summer. We will be sharing detailed specifics about cohort assignments and what days your son will be on campus, starting with Forms C, B, and A, in the coming days. (Cohort assignments will be coordinated for siblings but otherwise we cannot honor specific requests, as the cohorting assignment process is crucial to ensuring social distancing in every classroom on a boy’s schedule.)

Parents may also opt not to send their son back to campus for in-person classroom learning at this time. The students who opt for full distance learning will still be assigned to a cohort for tracking and re-entry to the in-person classroom experience if and when families choose to return their son to campus. We understand that this is an important decision based upon a family’s individual circumstances; and we are eager to support all families in making the choice that is best for their child. In the coming days, you will receive an email asking that you notify St. Albans if your child will be attending in person or choosing to receive instruction via distance learning. If the choice is for distance learning, you will have the opportunity to re-evaluate that choice and switch to in-person learning at defined intervals, most likely at the 3-week and 6-week marks. (Of course, if a student starts off in the Hybrid Model, parents may at any time switch him over to the at-home distance-learning option. If such a switch is made, they will have the opportunity to return to the in-person model at the next pre-announced transition point.)

Commitment to Safe Reopening 
In our Reopening Guide (which is being updated to reflect the transition to the Hybrid Model), we detail our new health and wellness policies and describe the changes we have made to our facilities to help ensure the safety of everyone on campus. In addition to those measures described in the reopening guide, the school has purchased portable IQ air purification units to go in individual classrooms to provide an additional layer of protection and to ensure an even greater level of indoor air quality. We will strictly follow the recommendations from our Health and Wellness Task Force, starting with the most essential safe practices of 6-foot social distancing, mask wearing, and hand hygiene, as well as completion of the daily health screening survey through Magnus. And we are committed to continually considering additional measures, such as testing options, as we go forward.

As eager as we are to bring our students and teachers back together, please know there is nothing we take more seriously than the health and safety of each adult and child on campus. I thank all of you in advance for joining us in this effort to ensure a safe reopening. And of course, we will continue to monitor health conditions in the region to ensure we are adjusting our reopening framework in response to emerging developments, always with the goal of ensuring the well-being of all members of our community. While we hope to sustain the Hybrid Model for as long as health conditions allow, the unpredictable nature of the pandemic requires humility and flexibility. Future public health developments may require us to re-evaluate our plans and revert to distance learning, depending on local public health mandates and our own independent assessment of the health landscape within our region and school community. 

Community Covenant Reminder
Unlike a self-contained university or the “NBA Bubble” in Orlando, St. Albans is a day school where students, families, faculty, and staff exist in complex networks of relationships, commitments, and activities that extend beyond the boundaries of our physical campus. We are confident that we have created a very safe and healthy environment while students are at school. But our community is only as safe as all of our choices, both on and off campus. 

Eight months into the pandemic, when so much of our boys’ experiences and routines have been disrupted by Covid 19, it is understandable that our boys and their families are seeking outlets for their energies and ambitions, whether it’s an athletic tournament or a social gathering next door or some other off campus pursuit. As we prepare to return to more in-person, indoor learning, however, the stakes are much higher. Reopening school, especially a day school, in the middle of a pandemic is an extraordinarily complex and fragile undertaking. We have heard clearly and unequivocally from families that school needs to reopen. We have heeded that call and are investing a great deal of time, energy, resources — and trust — to make this work for our boys. And we need your help for this to succeed. 

Some element of risk inheres in every choice we make at such a difficult, uncertain time, even the task of going to the grocery store. And we are not seeking to enforce unreasonable and unrealistic limits on the lives of our students. But we are asking our boys and their families to think about the entire constellation of their choices at this moment, knowing that every increment of risk that accrues from a discretionary off-campus activity increases the odds that school will need to close again, at enormous academic and social-emotional cost to the entire community. We respectfully ask that families adhere to the expectations in our Community Covenant, including DC’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine after non-essential travel for any one who travels to a state on the District’s self-quarantine list. And we ask that everyone approach this moment in a spirit of shared sacrifice and collective responsibility. In keeping with that shared spirit, we may contact you to discuss whether or not a student may need to quarantine after travel and take part in his classes via distance learning.

We look forward with great enthusiasm to welcoming your sons back to St. Albans in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please let me know if you have questions or concerns, or would just like to talk about this next important step in our school reopening plans. 

Jason Robinson
Located in Washington D.C.,  St. Albans School is a private, all boys day and boarding school. For more than a century, St. Albans has offered a distinctive educational experience for young men in grades 4 through 12. While our students reach exceptional academic goals and exhibit first-rate athletic and artistic achievements, as an Episcopal school we place equal emphasis upon moral and spiritual education.