July 17, 2020
Let’s not kid ourselves. I know many of you haven’t seen a breeze in at least a week.
In a normal year, we would all find ourselves immersed in the throes of summer before the reality of returning to campus comes home to roost. I do know that several of you are taking one last outing before we dig in for the final push toward the beginning of the year. Do try to take that time at least partially away. A change of scenery – even if just from the confines of your office to those on the porch – is good for you. As for me, I logged in a record 10 hours on zoom yesterday and I am thinking a bit slowly today as a result, so I will try to keep this Friday missive on the abbreviated side. Don’t feel too bad for me, Blackbaud is probably experiencing a little more stress.
Let’s start with some good news. As many of you saw, the administration rolled back their original run at greater regulations around international students. That was sort of a shame, as I had a great slide deck ready to roll that afternoon, but let’s just say that particular set of guidance would have brought greater complexity to our schools, and we don’t need much help in that department at the moment. The current issues really making international student attendance more onerous are the travel bans that are still in place from this spring. These bans will not allow people into the US who have visited these countries in the last 14 days. This means that students traveling from much of Europe need to shelter in some other country for 14 days before they can fly to the US. However, last night the administration announced that students were exempt from this ban, at least as it applies to Europe. This should bring some peace of mind to some parents and schools. Hopefully visas are also going to start getting issued more efficiently as well.
Some of you may have seen, there was a big article in NYT last night and they highlighted it again this morning in their morning newsletter. It focuses on the re-opening of private schools when public schools do not or cannot. I think it is important to read the comments to understand the sentiments out there. But I also want to flag this because I am thinking about this in terms of the line-calls that we saw in the article about Bowdoin and Middlebury and their differing approaches and how these comments reflect similar themes.
Along those lines, schools have been talking and thinking more about liability around reopening (if that’s possible). The Senate has taken up a bill that would presumably tie to the next major push for funding. The bill would limit liability for schools, higher education, nonprofits, and potentially other businesses. I am intrigued to see how this would work, exactly, as the federal government has never done this kind of thing before, as far as I know.
All of that being said, there are some things you should be thinking about in terms of liability. The main exposures for schools are around contracts (handbooks, policies, etc.) and negligence. As I mentioned in our zoom call on Wednesday (it was a good one, with polls and data that might be useful if you couldn’t be there), there is a lot packed into negligence but of particular relevance is the standard of care. Tying back to the public schools… if public schools are closed or have limited in-person classes because of the size of their student population, particulars related to transportation, buildings, etc., that is one thing. If public schools are following a formula related to community outbreaks (e.g., the numbers must be trending down for two weeks, the positive testing percentage must be below 5%, etc.), than that is a particular community standard of care that bears paying attention to as it has much broader application. It is also helpful as so few communities have clearly articulated phases, including which businesses should be open during each phase. This is becoming bizarrely political, as this recent spat in SC illustrates, and I know some of you are feeling this pressure. This link might help you track the state guidance out there around reopening phases. Do try to develop one or identify one. This article is hugely helpful, I think, in identifying some of the possible closure triggers, even though it is written for higher ed.
From another negligence angle, as you return to campus and start executing on your plan, do track how your various practices are holding up. Failing to follow your own policies is another place where negligence comes into play. Finally, if you are trying to re-find the research that has lead to various decisions, this Mass General publication that I shared last week is very helpful (e.g., it has the research on spread among children under the age of 10). The science is important, and what we learn from other countries helps. And, do stick to your guns on the policies with families. Our families are used to more flexibility than we are going to give them. Birthday lunches, discomfort exemptions from masks, etc. You are going to need to hold your ground.
As a general COVID related round-up:
And, it wouldn’t be Friday without something a little deeper on higher ed. This is my higher ed fall announcement page that feeds my curiosity. It covers return to campus, but also financial decisions and a lot more.
Many schools are also tackling diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice on your campuses. We are working on more resources here for the website, but I thought these might be useful to you. I know it seems like a long way off, but we do have an election ahead, so do look at what Riverdale is doing in particular.
Finally, I know we are all worried. We are worried for our families, our communities, stewarding our schools through these times, particularly in variety of complex issues that continue to present themselves. However, you have done such incredibly good and hard work over these many months. Many of you have created plans and options than you did not think were possible four months ago. You should be proud of the work that you and your teams have done, even if so many questions remain.
In the meantime, many of you know I am greatly buoyed by the antics of kids. It reminds me that, while there are a lot of concerns out there, their ingenuity is still strong and they are ready to continue to challenge us in new versions of traditional hijinks.
Have a great weekend and stay safe out there!
P.S. For those of you looking for culinary insight… It’s a home-food weekend. In our house that means chocolate babka (you know you want to make this and your old school KitchenAid can fit two of this recipe) and ceviche (I use this recipe with whatever really fresh fish is available).
The following is a recording from the heads of school virtual roundtable, which featured a discussion of current hot topics, followed by a presentation by Michael Nachbar and others from the GOA leadership team. They shared how they’ve created a student-focused competency-based grading system, and what insights they gained from data to deepen how and when they spot student struggles, and how they provide additional student support.
Coronavirus / COVID-19 Resources with sup-topics and sections