7/21/20 Community Update

Community Update 7/21/20

Dear La Tierra Community,

In light of some questions we’ve received regarding our plan for starting school on August 17th, we wanted to outline for you the resources and process we have used to inform our decision to start the school year with distance learning. As we face the incredibly difficult decisions about reopening our school, our first and foremost goal is to have children back on campus while ensuring the health and safety of our entire community. To achieve this goal, we utilize a thorough and well rounded list of resources that we are in nearly daily contact with.  These include the Arizona Department of Education including their Roadmap to Reopening Schools, CDC Considerations for Schools guidelines, Yavapai County Health Services, Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter, School Leadership Consultant Nancy Alexander and collaboration with multiple local schools both charter and district.

Additional resources used would include the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Guidance for School Re-entry. Per the AAP these re-entry policies should include the following “key principles”:

  • School policies must be flexible and nimble in responding to new information, and administrators must be willing to refine approaches when specific policies are not working.
  • It is critically important to develop strategies that can be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission in the school and throughout the community. 
  • Policies should be practical, feasible, and appropriate for child and adolescent developmental stages.
  • Special considerations and accommodations to account for the diversity of youth should be made, especially for our vulnerable populations, including those who are medically fragile, live in poverty, have developmental challenges, or have special health care needs or disabilities, with the goal of safe return to school.
  • No child or adolescents should be excluded from school unless required in order to adhere to local public health mandates or because of unique medical needs. Pediatricians, families, and schools should partner together to collaboratively identify and develop accommodations, when needed.
  • School policies should be guided by supporting the overall health and well-being of all children, adolescents, their families, and their communities. 

These principles are the same principles we have been using to inform our decision making process on the re-entry of students to LTCS.  Additionally, the precise terminology used by the AAP “With the above principles in mind, the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”  It has been the goal of LTCS since the original school closure in March and remains our primary goal to have students physically on campus as soon as it is safe to do so.  We were very disheartened when we had to modify our original plans for starting school in person due to safety considerations for all members of our community.  

Another report which was released by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine also clearly states that “The decision to reopen schools should be iterative, and schools should be prepared for future school closures based on the progress of the pandemic. The report recommends public health officials develop a protocol for monitoring COVID-19 data to make decisions about changes to school virus mitigation strategies, and make judgments about future school closures in partnership with school districts. States should ensure that districts have access to ongoing support from public health officials.” 

Finally, additional information considered would include that fact that over 100 school administrators submitted a letter to Governor Ducey this past week requesting a later start date due to safety concerns.  Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman was quoted last Wednesday, July 15th saying “At this time, I am not optimistic that Arizona will be ready to open for in-person instruction on August 17th”. Finally, a majority of local and state superintendents firmly believe that the announcement from Governor Ducey this week will be to delay school closures beyond the 17th. Starting on campus for the first day of school,  only to find it necessary to institute an immediate school closure due to rising cases is not a wise course of action.

This is not an ideal situation for anyone involved.  There is nothing any of us want more than to resume school in person, however this must be done in a way that ensures the health and safety of our community and takes all of the variables into consideration. We want to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, not contribute to higher and higher numbers of outbreaks and deaths in our community. We all agree that children learn better and do better emotionally and socially when able to attend school in person and it is our foremost responsibility to ensure that students are back on campus as soon as safely feasible.  

At this time we are working very hard to create a distance learning plan that will be engaging and rigorous and still hold true to our mission statement to provide an active, transformative educational experience that values a respect for diversity, academic rigor and commitment to social and environmental justice. We continue to place the utmost value on children’s sense of curiosity and discovery as well as their ability to think critically, reflect upon their world and promote positive change in their community. We will do this to the best of our ability and will be constantly reflecting and evaluating so as to best serve our students, parents and community.

Rhette Buller Julie Jongsma