In lieu of a graduation, some special little presents went out to the Fiddleheads Class of 2020 today.
May they be happy, may they be healthy, may they be peaceful, may they be filled with joy.
I hope that this finds you well and secure. The pressure is certainly on us all this summer, and I hope that everyone is finding some time for peace and levity and appreciation of the enduring beauty and order of the natural world.
I have some important news. I have decided that Fiddleheads in-person school cannot happen in September and we will instead continue with improved, more comprehensive online programming for those interested in the fall, and will delay to a planned January start date for in-person school. It has been very, very challenging for me to come to this decision, but there are three main factors influencing it and I want to explain how I came to make this call.
1. Community transmission rates and the effectiveness of the state's current response in tracking and containing the virus. I receive daily updates from OHA (Oregon Health Authority) and our state representatives and I have been studying them closely since March. We all know that this virus has the capacity to spread exponentially. I have been watching the Multnomah County numbers of daily cases increase every week over the last month from the 30s to 40s-a-day range up to the 70-90s-a-day range. The OHA acknowledges that for every case confirmed or presumed, there are 7-10 more that go unreported. This increase and the sheer volume is troubling on its own, but that combined with the testing and tracing situation gives me pause. Testing capacity, availability, and testing rates are failing to meet the necessary threshold to contain the virus without exception in every state in the US, including Oregon. Another very concerning factor is that Oregon's contact tracing efforts have so far been a failure. Senator Michael Dembrow acknowledged in his daily newsletter yesterday that now community spread is the main driver of new infections, and in most cases people are not sure how and where they are getting ill and the virus is not being effectively tracked and contained. Oregon's efforts and success at fighting the virus has certainly been much better than most states, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be stopping us from being in a very questionable place to start school again. The state released a model a couple of weeks ago that was circulated by the OHA and our local representatives. It projects Oregon possibly reaching a dangerous threshold with the virus in the next couple of months. You can download the study here https://lnks.gd/l/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJidWxsZXRpbl9saW5rX2lkIjoxMDYsInVyaSI6ImJwMjpjbGljayIsImJ1bGxldGluX2lkIjoiMjAyMDA3MTEuMjQyNDk2NTEiLCJ1cmwiOiJodHRwczovL3d3dy5vcmVnb24uZ292L29oYS9QSC9ESVNFQVNFU0NPTkRJVElPTlMvRElTRUFTRVNBWi9FbWVyZ2luZyUyMFJlc3BpdG9yeSUyMEluZmVjdGlvbnMvT3JlZ29uLUNPVklELTE5LVByb2plY3Rpb25zLTIwMjAtMDctMDgucGRmIn0.HfXtKxQefZAF_2AwGb52ol9XDFEXedi6KyXJ4QvEgKU/s/685836080/br/80943110947-l. This local situation of increasing, uncontained and untraced community spread is an insecure and risky situation to be in for entering into a routine of gathering groups of children together for close activity on a daily basis.
2. What we don't know. There are some encouraging studies about viral spread in children, and the most recent ones continue to support the conjecture that young children get seriously ill less often and spread the virus less effectively than older age groups. They do still get ill though, and they do still pass the virus to others, and there are many unanswered questions about the long term effects of the virus on children's health, so there are still many reasons to be cautious. There is little to no hard data concerning outdoor transmission, but it makes sense that the virus is much more difficult to pass outdoors, although we can't say that it is impossible.
I want to outline the details of reopening preschool. All childcare and preschool facilities in the state are certified by the Oregon Early Learning Division of the Oregon Department of Education, which I will refer to as the ELD. The guidelines for reopening and operating during a pandemic are put out by the ELD and are informed by the OHA. The ELD guidelines are designed to make childcare safer and to guard from large outbreaks in childcare facilities. But childcare facilities are necessary for the economy to function, so the guidelines are not designed with the objective that no one will ever become ill at daycare, they are designed to help childcare facilities stay open and to contain and isolate infections before they spread to the entire facility. You can study the documents here if you are so inclined. These are the basics of the changes and requirements for operating during the pandemic:
-Children must be contained in small groups of 10 or fewer. These groups cannot change or vary. They must have one teacher that is their main teacher. They cannot share space indoors or out with other groups and must remain separate at all times.
-There can be no volunteers or outside visitors in the classroom.
-Children exhibiting any sign of illness cannot attend school. Temperature checks and intake questions are required at check-in every day.
-There is a specific cleaning regime (which is not really very different from a normal cleaning regime for childcare).
-There is a square footage per child requirement for indoor space.
And there are additional guidelines for reporting illnesses etc., and some additional paperwork. That is pretty much it, though. At Fiddleheads we would of course follow these required procedures and can meet their guidelines, and we would go beyond them to spend as much time as possible outdoors. But that doesn't change the fact that children will be gathered together, playing in close proximity for hours a day, and given local infection rates and what we don't know about outdoor transmission and the overall long-term health effects of the virus on children, I see risk gaps in this plan that definitely give me pause right now.
I also want to talk about the wearing of masks. Although masks are not required by the ELD in childcare and preschool settings, it is definitely safer to interact with masks. But for young children this poses many problems and I am not considering using them routinely at Fiddleheads at this time, and I want to explain why. First of all, it is developmentally inappropriate to expect young children to be able to wear masks all day while playing with friends. Some children can do this, but most won't be able to. Masks will get taken off and it will be a challenge to keep them from getting lost, wet, dirty, and mixed up with other people's masks. Not only would it be physically challenging for them to try and deal with masks, it would be emotionally challenging and potentially detrimental. Young children need the social cues that they get from seeing their friends' and teacher's faces. Having everyone's face covered would be disorienting and would disable some of the important social learning that children need at this age. The emotional impact of this could be significant, and not in a good way. Requiring children to wear masks for extended periods of time and to manage themselves socially without those facial cues, and thereby asking them to do something developmentally inappropriate, something which is outside of their natural range of ability and which goes against their social and emotional needs, can be psychologically damaging to children and this is not something that I am willing to undertake at Fiddleheads.
Even with the state's guidelines and all of our additional efforts and considerations at Fiddleheads, the major weak link that I see in any current reopening effort is the fact that children will be playing at close range, and will be interacting closely with teachers, all without masks, at a time when community spread is rising and uncontained, and we don't know definitively how being outdoors protects us. If we knew that outdoor transmission even without masks on was very improbable, if community spread wasn't what it is now, if daily infection rates were at a steady or a decreasing number, if the virus was closer to being efficiently tracked by testing and if contact tracing was more effective in Oregon, then I would feel fine about the risks involved in reopening Fiddleheads. Nothing is risk free, but there is good reason to believe that we can conduct a safer school experience than most by staying outside as much as possible. What we cannot do is create a wall against what is happening in the larger community. The local situation is not favorable for reopening now, there are some major unanswered questions about the virus, and there is so much at stake with the health of all of our students and families that I don't currently feel comfortable taking even the diminished risks that we have at Fiddleheads as an outdoor school.
3. Community sentiment. I heard from about 70 percent of enrolled families on our survey, and some others reached out to me individually. Over half of the families that I heard from are probably or definitely not ready to send their children back to school this fall, and even among those that are, many of you have some understandable trepidation. In a small sampling I am finding similar sentiment among our waitlist. In order to operate at this time we would need to be licensed as an emergency childcare facility, which would be possible to do as I previously outlined, but the reality is that we are not an emergency childcare facility, we are a community school. If I am having these doubts and concerns, and most of you are, too, then it is not yet the appropriate time to reopen.
The plan is to re-open for in person school with an early January start date.
I am so sorry for the disappointment that this will cause, and believe me, I doubt that anyone is more disappointed on more levels than I. There are several options from there, though, and I will need to hear from you about which way you want to go.
1. Let me know if you would like to be part of online learning this fall. You can read more about the program here. Your original tuition deposit will count toward the fall semester tuition. If we have enough enrollment, we will open up other options for circle time, too.
2. Let me know if you would like to wait and save your place for a January start date. If you want to do online learning in the fall and start in person school in January, then as I mentioned above your deposit could go toward the lower cost of online learning in the fall and you wouldn't owe in person tuition until January. If you want to skip online learning and just wait for in person school to start again, that is fine, just please confirm your place with me. Your tuition deposit will still go toward your annual tuition, the first payment of which would be due in January, and the tuition will be prorated to subtract September through December fees.
3. If you need to look for something else and Fiddleheads isn't going to work for you at all this year, please let me know that, as well.
Thank you so much for sticking with me through this very long research paper/persuasive essay/tome of an e-mail. I look forward to and I wish you all well. May we all be happy, may we be healthy, may we be peaceful, may we be filled with joy.
I hope that this message finds you well and safe and able to enjoy your summer. My family has been very grateful for time and space outside, our garden, our favorite books and movies, and the beach.
Since the end of school, with a little more space and time during the summer, I find myself with a persistent sense of being overwhelmed. Perhaps you do too. While we all continue with many unanswered questions, still things are moving ahead at Fiddleheads and we seem positioned to remain a thriving institution next year. Even with all of the uncertainty, I wanted to reach out to the school community and let you know what we are doing and the plans that we are working on for the fall.
For the past two weeks Arielle and I have been interviewing candidates to replace Ginger for next year. It continues to be gratifying to see how many skilled, talented and insightful people show interest in working at our school. We will hire someone this week and I will let everyone know once everything is final.
I have been in touch with the Oregon ELD and we are preparing to apply for our emergency certification to be able to open in the fall. So far it looks like we will be able to fairly easily meet all requirements.
We will still be providing aftercare next year. We will be sending out signup info for that at the end of this month.
Some things will be different this year due to the state's early childhood regulations for programming during a pandemic. We will not be able to keep all of the kids together and function as a large group, but instead we will be breaking into two smaller "stable groups". This is the current accepted early childhood method for providing care to young children during the pandemic. Social distancing and mask use are not possible to effectively or safely achieve with young children, so instead the strategy is to limit exposure. This means that we will have two stable groups of 8-10 kids, each with a designated teacher, and these groups will not fluctuate members and will not share space with each other. Your child will be in contact with only the other members of their small group. At Fiddleheads we are taking the added precaution of bringing the program entirely outside as much as possible, including putting cubby spaces outside and creating sheltered spaces outside for the children to eat lunch in inclement weather. Also, we are going to skip cooking day for the time being and keep to our normal forest schedule on Fridays.
Because we cannot socially distance with young children, we will all be reliant on our small groups, our outside time, our sanitary practices, and each other and our own personal responsibility to stay safe and healthy. The health of Arielle and I and our new teacher are statistically the most at risk from any infection at the school, and we must all recognize and remember there are people of vulnerable health in our immediate school community. As we get closer to opening, I will send out some guidelines for personal safety that we will be requesting that all families follow to the closest of their ability to respect each other and keep each other safe.
Some pandemic inspired new initiatives that we are moving ahead with at Fiddleheads are our online program and a new kindergarten program. We are finalizing plans to launch our online program to new families, and we will offer the option of attending school online to any current families who do not feel safe having their child attend in person school. We are also planning a small, low key kindergarten program 3-4 afternoons a week. We are working on the details of this program soon. Let me know if you might be interested in sending a child. This will not be aftercare, it will be designed to get some socialization and outside play for the kids while also working on the basic reading, writing and math skills addressed in a more traditional kindergarten.
I usually base our school calendar on the pps calendar, but I am not sure if that will work this year. I'm waiting to see what pps decides, and I will try to get a Fiddleheads start date and school calendar out as soon as I can. While we are putting a tremendous amount of work and care into preparing school next year to be as safe, healthy and resilient as we can, I am also reading all of the time, watching numbers rise, following the rt factor, and waiting to hear what the state leadership and the public schools decide to do for the fall. As with everything these days, we just need to take things one step at a time.
Some really great news is that while my family left our house in Oregon and have been renting it out since late March, our last tenants left and a new Fiddleheads family moved in for the summer. Kristin and Dave Prukop and their sons Nathaniel and Sebastian are currently renting the house while they are having some renovations done on their nearby home. Their youngest son, Sebastian, will attend Fiddleheads next year! Kristin has volunteered to plant the garden for us, so that we will be able to have a garden to come back to for school in the fall. I am so grateful!
And last news, I had special posters and t-shirts made for the kids moving on from Fiddleheads this year in lieu of a graduation ceremony. I'm sorry they have been so slow to arrive, but the t-shirts should come next week and then I will get them out in the mail to everyone. I still hope for an in-person meetup sometime if we can.
Best wishes for a great July to you all and I will be in touch soon!
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful, may you be filled with joy.