March 11, 2020
Dear OA Families,
I understand that information about a pending facility closure due to coronavirus was discussed on the OA parent Facebook page this morning. A private conversation between administrators was overheard by a student and the information got out. I apologize that this email is arriving several hours after the fact, and I’ve learned my lesson about keeping doors closed and voices low.
We are indeed planning to transition to Virtual School tomorrow. To our knowledge, no person in the OA community has been exposed to the coronavirus. Our decision to close school is proactive, not reactive. While our facilities will be closed to students, the school will remain in session. Classes will be held, clubs will meet, All School Meeting will occur, and hopefully, the Bryson and Simon Show will keep filming. But everything will be virtual.
Before I go into details about Virtual School, let me walk you through my reasoning for making this transition now, ahead of most of our peer schools. First and foremost, we are committed to the health of our community, and this includes our faculty/staff. The heart of OA is the relationship between teacher and student and we have nine faculty/staff who are in high-risk categories for COVID-19 for several reasons. The Contra Costa County Health Services yesterday issued a warning for at-risk populations and recommends that they avoid mass gatherings (of over 50 people). School itself is a mass gathering, and so it is ill-advised for people in high-risk groups to be at school.
In addition, public health experts are advising anyone who can work from home. The debate about keeping schools open is currently focused on the health of students, which makes sense, but it leaves out the health of teachers, who are the ones at risk. And without healthy teachers, we don’t have any school, virtual or otherwise. So, in consultation with the OA Board of Trustees, we have decided that today will be our last day on campus for a while.
Please read the following carefully. I will be in touch regularly, perhaps daily, with updates and information about how this is going to work. Thank you in advance for your patience, support, and partnership as we figure this all out. We are all in uncharted territory, but we are not alone. We have each other, not to mention all of the communities across the country and world who are facing this very challenge.
Here are some details:
We are having an All School Meeting this morning to explain all of the details to students. You will no doubt hear a lot from them. If you have any questions about what your child is sharing with you, please ask us!
All aspects of our program will continue during Virtual School: classes, support services, activities (to the degree that we can transition them online), and student and parent access to teachers and administrators.
We have created a new daily schedule that, based on our research, is suited to Virtual School. Teachers will deliver content electronically, using Google functions (docs, forms, etc.) and Zoom, a platform for face to face interaction. Teachers will be testing Zoom in class today and we will use tomorrow as a test day to get everyone up to speed on the platform.
We have created five Cohort Groups and assigned each student to a group. The Cohort Groups will be led by senior administrators: Mollie Mowat, Laura Turnbull, Sara Hall-Kennedy, Janet Harrison, and me. We will be the point person for students and parents for the duration of Virtual School. We will check in with you every school day and be available to answer questions, troubleshoot, and provide support.
Educational Adventures Week (March 30-April 3) has been canceled, but Virtual School will be in session in its place. This will no doubt disappoint students, but we would like to keep the school going that week so we can use those days later in the spring for fun excursions. If your child is planning on visiting colleges this week, we will be in touch. If you would still like them to travel that week, we will figure out how to manage missed work. We recognize that college visits may be a priority and we will ensure that students do not suffer any academic setbacks or penalties.
The Feather the Nest Fundraiser, scheduled for Saturday, March 21, has been postponed. We will be in touch with details about rescheduling.
This is probably not an exhaustive list; much remains to be discovered about how this will work. As I said, we will be in regular contact, and please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions VIA EMAIL. We may not be available on the school phone line.
Finally, our current plan is to resume on-site classes on Monday, April 11. We have no idea how realistic a goal this is, but we can hope!