Reopening Our School 2020-2021 - River Valley Charter School

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Reopening Our School 2020-2021 - River Valley Charter School
Reopening Our School

                     2 Perry Way
                Newburyport, MA 01950
                 Phone: (978) 465-0065

              Head of School: Jonnie Lyn Evans

Endorsed by the River Valley Charter School Board of Trustees
                      August 11, 2020
MESSAGE FROM THE HEAD OF SCHOOL ............................................................................................. 3

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY & REOPENING RECOMMENDATION ................................................................ 1

RATIONALE FOR REOPENING RECOMMENDATION ............................................................................. 3

INTRODUCTION: MISSION, PRIORITIES, AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES ..................................................... 4

PLANNING AND TASK FORCE MEMBERSHIP........................................................................................ 6

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE SPRING OF 2020..................................................................................... 9

REOPENING FEASIBILITY STUDY ....................................................................................................... 12

OPERATIONS AND SAFETY MEASURES ............................................................................................. 16

      Certification of Health and Safety Requirements .............................................................................. 22

MODEL #1: FULLY IN-PERSON LEARNING .......................................................................................... 23

MODEL #2: THE RVCS HYBRID APPROACH; NEARLY FULLY IN-PERSON* ............................................ 24

MODEL #3: FULLY REMOTE LEARNING MODEL................................................................................. 28


PLANNING FOR HIGHEST NEEDS STUDENTS ...................................................................................... 33

August 14, 2020

Dear River Valley Charter School Community,

Laying out a plan for the 2020-2021 reopening of River Valley Charter School during a worldwide pandemic fills
me with so many conflicting feelings. Over the last six months, I have spent thousands of hours reading, thinking,
evaluating, and analyzing everything I could get my hands on- news articles, social media posts, survey results,
political speeches, scientific studies, guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Departments of
Public Health, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the list goes on and on.
Every day I feel more anguished with the gravity of the decision I must make as the leader of River Valley. I take
this responsibility very seriously; the consequences of the wrong decision could obviously be grave.

I am eternally grateful for the faculty and staff employed at River Valley. When the pandemic closed school in
March 2020, they barely missed a step. Immediately, RVCS faculty and staff continued to do what they do best-
creating creative and engaging opportunities for student learning. Since then they have been thought leaders,
confidants, supporters, and worker-bees in support of a reopening plan that could supplement and/or improve upon
what was learned during the 65 days of remote learning.

Typically, summertime is pretty quiet around a public school. Teachers take off for two months to refill their souls,
recharge their batteries, and reflect deeply on their work. Only a handful of administrative staff works through the
summer. This year has been completely different. There have been in-person meetings (masked and physically
distanced of course), Zoom meetings, meetings in the pavilion, in the parking lot, in the gym, and via phone. Every
day another group of RVCS educators has gathered to craft a plan for the safe reopening of River Valley in the fall
of 2020.

I am committed first and foremost to the health, safety, and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. Every
decision is evaluated through the lens of safety before being considered further. Then, we talk about what we believe
is best for children and their development. We think about children holistically- their academic growth, their
physical growth, and their social/emotional development. If the safety hurdle can be vaulted, what then is in the best
interest of children?

River Valley is fortunate to be a small school. We are nimble and flexible and have drafted a reopening plan that
we believe meet the needs of the child in the best possible way at this particular time. We remain cognizant that at
any moment, our plans might need to be re-evaluated and altered to meet changing information, increased incidence
of the corona virus in our region, and learnings from other school reopenings across the country.

We have done our part creating this plan. Now it is your turn.

Going forward, your actions will inform and impact both your child’s and the RVCS faculty and staff’s future. As
parents and caregivers, you must to do everything you possibly can to keep River Valley teachers and children safe.
I pray that the decisions you make, like the ones I have made, are made with the realization that what you do impacts
all fifty staff members, all 288 students, all 175+ families, and their extended families. If you can commit to thinking
about them first, then the synergy of our efforts will ensure that we are doing what is best for your child, our teachers,
and the greater River Valley community.

It’s your turn. Please take your role seriously and do your part to keep us all safe. We will do ours.


Jonnie Lyn Evans
School Director, River Valley Charter School
River Valley Charter School administration and faculty and staff have been actively monitoring
information about the corona virus from multiple sources, with special attention paid to the Center
for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Departments of Public
Health, the Massachusetts Governor’s Office, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and
Secondary Education. Based on this research and analysis, and countless hours of brainstorming by
the school’s Reopening Task Force, we presented a reopening recommendation to the River Valley
Charter School Board of Trustees for its consideration on August 11, 2020. Below are findings and
recommendations for the reopening of River Valley in the fall of 2020.
Two pieces of information are of critical importance regardless what happens in the fall:
1) All plans are based on current information and are subject to change based on new information
about COVID-19, its spread, and its impact on humankind.
2) Families play a critical role in the success of the school’s reopening plan. Without their full
cooperation, the plan is pre-determined to fail. Families are implored to consider their commitment
and ability to abide by safe practices before returning their children to school for any form of in-
person learning program recommended in this plan.

   •   A commitment to the health, wellness, and safety of faculty, staff, and students guides every
       decision being made.

   •   In accordance with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s directive that
       all schools provide faculty and staff with ten professional development days in advance of
       school reopening, River Valley Charter School will hold its first day of school on Tuesday,
       September 8, 2020, following ten professional development days with staff.

   •   Daily in-person learning will be prioritized for children in grades K-6.

   •   Assuming key indicators for reopening remain relatively static, River Valley Charter
       School will reopen with a program designed to offer every child time for in-person
           o   Grade K-3 students will return to in-person learning for half days. Cohorts of
               approximately eight students will attend either a morning or afternoon session with
               their classroom teacher. In the afternoon, those students will participate in follow up
               work and/or online participation in specials classes such as music, art, engineering,
               and physical education.
           o   Grade 4-6 students will return to full-day in-person learning. Cohorts of
               approximately twelve students will attend school in the 2 Perry Way building or
               outside, offsite, at one of four outdoor learning locations. The eight cohorts of
               students from the four Elementary 2 classrooms will rotate weekly between in-
               person and outdoor learning.
           o   Middle school students in grades 7 and 8 will be broken into five cohorts of
               approximately 10-12 students. Every cohort will participate in both in-person and
               remote learning from home. On any given weekday, three cohorts will be on site,

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                             Page 1
representing three in-person days for every student. Two days per week, two cohorts
               will be learning remotely.

   •   Students designated as high need (special education, 504, and/or economically
       disadvantaged) may be invited to attend in -person learning for additional time where it is
       determined appropriate.

   •   Students who are children of RVCS teachers may be invited to attend additional in-person
       learning to ensure that our staff are available to meet the needs of the entire RVCS student

   •   All individuals in the school building will wear masks/face coverings, including our youngest
       students in grades K-2.

   •   Families who opt not to return to in-person learning, for whatever reason, will be offered a
       family-selected, fully remote program taught by RVCS educators.
           o   In grades K-1, the remote program will be facilitated by classroom teachers using
               both Google Classroom, the SeeSaw platform, and/or Google Sites. The program will
               include both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Enrichment programming will
               be offered through remote programming.
           o   In grades 2-3, classroom teachers will oversee remote learning instruction by
               including fully remote learners in both synchronous and asynchronous learning via
               Google Meets, the Google Classroom, and SeeSaw. Enrichment programming will be
               offered through remote programming.
           o   In grades 4-6, a dedicated remote learning specialist will oversee a cohort of remote
               learners using Google Classroom. Enrichment programming will be offered through
               remote programming.
           o   In grades 7 and 8, the remote program will be facilitated by current middle school
               staff using the Google Classroom. Enrichment programming will be offered through
               remote programming.

   •   Student attendance will be mandatory and coursework will be assessed for all students
       whether participating in remote learning or in-person.

   •   Faculty and administration will participate in ongoing re-evaluation of the school’s ability to
       continue offering safe in-person programming. If for any reason it is determined that it is no
       longer safe to continue to bring students into the school building, River Valley will transition
       to a fully remote program, overseen by classroom teachers.

   •   There will be ongoing collaboration with local departments of public health, the school’s
       physician, the school nurse, and local area school nurses.

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                              Page 2
•   The Reentry Task Force sought to follow DESE guidance, bringing all students back for 100%, full
    day, in-person learning. An analysis of feasibility, based on safety, indicated that this was not safe.

•   While our building is technically large enough to arrange for all 288 students to attend school
    three to six feet apart, it would require the use of all building space (music room, gymnasium, art
    room, etc.)

•   A full return to 100% in-person learning for all students is not possible because we would not
    have adequate staff coverage for student groupings and subgroupings necessary to meet cohort
    and spacing requirements designed to ensure staff and students safety.

•   The Reentry Task Force then attempted to follow DESE guidance, bringing all students back for
    100% in-person learning utilizing outdoor space on school grounds. Despite multiple creative
    approaches to educating students onsite through the use of parking lot space, playground space,
    tents, awnings, etc., it was determined that it was impossible to provide appropriate educational
    programming for students in this manner.

•   With a firm belief that in-person learning is ideal for students and teachers, the Reentry Team
    then turned its attention to creative solutions for in-person learning.

•   River Valley Charter School is a regional school serving students primarily from the
    Newburyport, Amesbury, Triton and Pentucket. Using the recently-released Massachusetts
    COVID Command metric for selecting a learning model, and at the time of this writing, our local
    area has average daily case rates per 100,000 is in the “white” or “green” categories, indicating
    less than 5 viral cases per 100,000 or less than four cases per 100.

•   Safety precautions have been evaluated for our ability to support the safe return of students and
    staff and we have adopted a number of new safeguards including: the installation of motion
    activated bathroom sinks and lighting, upgrades to our air filtration system, the creation of small,
    manageable cohort sizes, limitations to the use of shared space, etc.

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                                  Page 3
This plan was created through collaboration with the goal of safely bringing students back to school
for the 2020-2021 school year. As a community, we believe that students learn best when they are
engaged in learning in-person with the support of teachers and peers. Our ultimate goals is to have
students return to “normal” in the fall of 2020 but we know that this will not be possible unless we
can create a school environment that is safe for everyone.

We have sought to create three separate learning models, and each has its benefits and
disadvantages. The three plans were developed with River Valley’s Montessori mission as its beacon
and with three main priorities held top-of-mind.

The mission of the River Valley Charter School is to provide a rigorous academic program based on
the Montessori philosophy and rooted in the history, culture, and ecology of the Merrimack River
Valley. Students will reach their full potential as scholars and become self-reliant, productive
members of society. They will be adept at critical thinking and creative problem solving and will be
fully prepared to succeed in future schools, careers, and civic life.

Key design elements of the River Valley Charter School program include:
• An educational program based on the Montessori philosophy
• A curriculum rooted in the history, culture, and ecology of the Merrimack River Valley
• A focus on the development of students’ critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities.

The three priorities for the development of our reopening plan that also remained at the forefront
of our decision-making are:

•   Safety of staff and students
•   Equity for all
•   Focus on the holistic development of the child, valuing all three elements of growth equally:
    physical, social/emotional, and academic.

We determined that providing a high-quality grade K-8 Montessori program, not only within the
construct of the Massachusetts public school sector, but also while facing a worldwide pandemic, is
not only challenging, it is nearly impossible. The operational safety measures we will implement are
highlighted in the Operations and Safety Measures section of this document.)

Tenets of the Montessori philosophy include the idea that the hand teaches the mind (hand-held
manipulatives), that children learn best through collaboration with their peers, and that freedom and
movement is integral to child development. None of those tenets translates easily to the COVID-19

On the topic of equity, we have identified a new calling: to ensure that all decisions, actions, and
offerings, are viewed first through a lens of equity. Recent events in our country have further brought
to light the imperceptible inequalities that exist within our country’s organizational structures and
systems and in both private and public entities. Much needs to happen to address these inequalities.
Education is a powerful tool in the fight against them.

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                              Page 4
The following guiding principles have been observed in creating this plan:

•   RVCS adhered to the directives and guidance issued by the Massachusetts Department of
    Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The first directive being the investigation into
    three reopening plans: a fully in-person model, a hybrid model, and a fully remote model.

•   RVCS prioritizes health and safety over convenience and efficiency. There is nothing “normal”
    about returning to school during a pandemic. RVCS’ plan for reopening is one that is created to
    accommodate the current state of the world, while also holding our Montessori principles as close
    as possible.

•   Collaboration has always been and continues to be of utmost importance. RVCS will solicit input
    from key stakeholders including faculty and staff, parents and caregivers, medical professionals,
    and others who will help guide our planning.

•   Our efforts to reopen school are made while simultaneously understanding that COVID-19 has
    had an irrefutable and lasting impact on families, children, and staff members. There is, and will
    continue to be, mental health implications and academic implications resulting from having the
    unprecedented experiences we have all experienced over the last six months.

•   River Valley is committed to advancing student learning with a focus on equity for our most
    vulnerable students.

•   Feedback and reflection from our experiences during the 65-day closure can and will inform
    future offerings so that we can continue to improve and enhance our remote instructional
    practices during the continuation of this worldwide pandemic.

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                             Page 5
Beginning as soon as the 2019-2020 school year ended, all staff were invited to join the Reopening
Task Force. The commitment was to meet weekly, either in person or via Zoom, for the purpose of
brainstorming ideas for the opening of school in the 2020-2021 school year. At that point in time,
virus containment efforts were well under way and we were hoping that by following stay-in-place
orders, things might settle enough that children would be able to fully return to school with a few
safety precautions in place.
The Reopening Task Force included representation from almost every level or department including
kindergarten, Elementary 1, Elementary 2, Middle School, special education and specialists. We are
grateful for the time, talent, and creative input of this team. The list of members, and their role at
River Valley follows:
               Jonnie Lyn Evans                School Director
               Dan Bouchard                    Assistant Director
               Colin Vandenburgh               Middle School Coordinator
               Kimberly Putney                 School Nurse
               Katy Field                      School Counselor
               Patti Innes                     K-3 Special Education Coordinator
               Pam Jones                       Technology Coordinator
               Christina Carico                E2 Special Education
               Mary Carpenter                  Tech Education Teacher
               Beth McQuade                    Middle School Math Teacher
               Lainie Ives                     Engineering Teacher

We initially drafted a list of areas on which to focus: Policies, Facilities, Health and Wellness,
Scheduling, Academics, Outdoor Classrooms, and Technology.

At that first meeting, we affirmed that “our north star” had to be the guidelines put forth by the Center
for Disease Control and Prevention. That sentiment has not changed. Every conversation and
decision have been informed by input from RVCS School Nurse, Kimberly Putney, with input from
our School Physician, Jonathon March, as well as the MA Department of Public Health, local public
health officials, and our local Department of Public Health.

At the end of June, we added an Outdoor Classroom Task Force that includes the following members:

    Jonnie Lyn Evans                 School Director
    Dan Bouchard                     Assistant Director
    Colin Vandenburgh                Middle School Coordinator
    Pam Jones                        Technology Coordinator
    Kristen Veale                    E2 Lead Teacher
    Lainie Ives                      K-8 Engineering Teacher and Outdoor Education candidate
    Mary Carpenter                   Technology Teacher and Outdoor Education candidate
    Tori Lane                        E2 Assistant Teacher
    Mary McCormack                   E2 Lead Teacher
    Andrew Soracco                   E2 Science Teacher and Outdoor Education candidate

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                                Page 6
Ali Fields                      E2 Lead Teacher
    Jon Ellen                       E2 Assistant Teacher
    Rebecca Schwer                  Middle School Science Teacher
    Drew Balanoff                   Former Instructional Assistant and Outdoor Education

This team analyzed the idea of an outdoor program for all students. This included studies into other
countries and schools offering outdoor education programming. Initially the idea was to recreate
school outdoors. An outdoor school might look like pods of outdoor classrooms set up such that the
teacher would deliver instruction to students similarly to an indoor program. The only difference
being that the classes were held outside. This concept was rejected because there was little indication
that a program with fully outdoor classrooms would be feasible for our site, nor supported by our
families. While many faculty members and families support the idea of “getting outside as much as
possible”, we could not create a program that would be sustainable for the long term.
At this point the committee decided to evaluate the idea of a part-time outdoor program, specifically
for a smaller group of students. Because River Valley had a couple of staff members with significant
outdoor learning experience, we were able to tap them to lead an analysis of this as a possibility. The
team was able to identify a way to introduce a small outdoor pilot program to accommodate
approximately 100 students utilizing current staff and for relatively incidental cost. The plan was
hatched and has been under development since.
During the first week of July, another Task Force was created to begin thinking about grade K-3
programming. One idea that had been percolating since early June was the idea of reevaluating the
organization of students in our multi-age classrooms, especially to support our youngest first grade
students who would be returning from a tumultuous introductory year to education in which they
spent 1/3 of their educational experience in a remote learning environment.
Members of this task force included:
         Jonnie Lyn Evans                School Director
         Patti Innes                     K-3 Special Education Coordinator
         Mary Lytle                      K Lead Teacher and future K1 Lead Teacher
         Susan Bynorth                   K Lead Teacher
         Brooke Guilbault                K Lead Teacher
         Nell Francheck                  K Assistant Teacher
         Karen Popken                    E1 Lead Teacher
         Jane Noyes                      E1 Lead Teacher
         Melanie O’Keefe                 E1
         Rebecca Hamel                   E1 Co-Lead Teacher
         Emily Gala                      E1 Co-Lead Teacher and future K1 Lead Teacher
         Lynne Taylor                    E1 Assistant and future K1 Assistant
         Deb Collins                     E1 Assistant and future K1 Assistant
         Melissa Wilkinson               K-3 Instructional Assistant

At the end of July, a Middle School Task Force began meeting weekly as well. The team included the
following members:

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                              Page 7
Colin Vandenburgh                                  Middle School Coordinator
   Laura Hunt                                         Middle School ELA Teacher
   Eli Rosen                                          Middle School Humanities Teacher
   Beth MacQuade                                      Middle School Mathematics Teacher
   Tom Brace                                          Middle School Mathematics Teacher
   Rebecca Schwer                                     Middle School Science Teacher
   Betsy Howgate                                      Middle School Special Education Teacher
   Joanne Lightfoot                                   Middle School Special Education Teacher
   Lucinda Cathcart                                   Middle School Arts Integration Specialist
   Jonnie Lyn Evans                                   School Director
The middle school team considered multiple scenarios for a return to in-person learning for middle
school students including an analysis of four cohort groups, five cohort groups, six cohort groups and
eight cohort groups.
Ultimately the team devised a model that would maximize the number of students who could return
for in-person learning by bringing in three cohorts for in-person learning while two cohorts were out
for remote learning. This ensured a manageable rotation for parents, one that they could easily
remember and have success with. Rotations would occur on a weekly basis such that students
attended three days in-school per week, and two days out per week. The remote portion of our hybrid
model includes double sessions of ELA and humanities as we found these subjects to be more
conducive to online teaching than math or science.
Early on the team determined that any family choosing to remain in a remote learning model (while
other students returned to in-person learning) would need classes to be led by each of our middle
school content specialists (the math, science, ELA, and humanities teachers) rather than by assigning
students to a cohort and one teacher. The team has worked hard to find a solution to this challenge.

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                             Page 8
We collected feedback about our spring remote learning program multiple ways. Early on, teachers
surveyed parents directly to solicit input on the remote learning options being provided. We also
held 1:1 virtual check-ins with parents. Later, we administered an anonymous survey for parents to
reflect and respond to questions about their child’s remote learning experiences. The questions were
open-ended and asked parents to comment on what worked and what didn’t during their child(ren)’s
65-day school days of remote learning.
Key Finding #1: There is a need for increased consistency throughout the school and
especially by levels.
There needs to be more consistency throughout the teaching and learning process with remote
learning. This includes scheduling of meetings with students, expectations for attendance and
participation, work expectations, communications, learning management platforms, and the way that
teachers use them, etc.
As a result, River Valley will be implementing learning platforms more consistently across
classrooms. At the Elementary 2 and middle school levels, Google Classroom and Google Meets will
be used. This will be a streamlined approach for students and parents ensuring they can access
assignments, learning resources, educational links, and instructional platforms more easily. Students
will also follow a regular schedule, varying by level, but not by classroom. Schedules will remain
consistent if we move to a fully remote learning program. Faculty and staff have spent many hours
during the summer to finetune their future plans for remote learning. A final set of expectations will
be shared with students and parents at the start of the year. At the 2-3 level, Google Classroom and
SeeSaw will be used. K-1 will use Seesaw and a custom website they created and continue to stock
with teaching videos.
Key Finding # 2: Faculty and staff need training in virtual teaching and learning.
As a Montessori school, we tend to focus on interpersonal relationships, hands-on and experiential
learning, project-based instruction, and collaboration. Making the transition to virtual teaching and
learning, while trying to stay true to our instructional expertise and our students’ familiarity with it
was challenging. In most cases, especially at the lower grades, our classrooms had never significantly
utilized technology for teaching and learning. Grade 1-6 classrooms had a few devices to access the
internet and technology was primarily usually used for research, word processing, and some basic
instructional reinforcement. It was not part of our teacher’s repertoire either, favoring direct, 1:1 or
small group instruction where teachers could easily check for understanding and follow student
interest in tangential learning.
We are acutely aware of our faculty’s need for additional training in order to deliver better
instruction virtually. Over the summer many staff members used their personal time to further their
knowledge and understanding of learning management platforms. Our reopening committee and
especially our technology coordinator and level teams have discussed a more consistent approach to
virtual teaching for the reopening of school this fall. We have settled on a set of software applications
and a more unified approach to their use will occur. Further, the ten days of professional
development prior to the opening of school will be used to provide training on the best use of these

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                                Page 9
Key Finding #3: Parents and students need explicit training in virtual learning in order for
students to be successful.
Our remote program was built after we transitioned to online learning. Were we to have had time to
prepare for it, we would have had a different approach. For one, we would have had more consistency
(see finding #1 above). With that consistency, we would have been able to develop opportunities to
share with parents and students what general expectations were. We also would have developed
protocols and processes for the work we were doing. We would have frontloaded lessons in simple
things like, “what lesson-ready looks like”, or what appropriate Zoom behavior is.
The use of technology, more than its availability, was the primary challenge. Teaching how to use
technology on different hardware devices also created challenges. It was hard to direct a student, or
parent, to certain features because the location of functions was in different places across different
machines and platforms. Next year all students will access remote learning through a Chromebook.
This will improve our ability to support students. In addition, training teachers on their own use of
technology will allow them to better support students (see finding #2 above).
We have developed an extensive list of trainings for teachers, parents, and students that will be
offered prior to the beginning of remote learning as well as during the school year. We have a much
better understanding of our training needs and are better positioned to address them moving
Key Finding #4: It is very different motivating students over a virtual platform than it is in
in-person programming.
Our Montessori programming typically shies away from the use of traditional grading as a
motivational tool, especially at grades K-6. (At the middle school we start to introduce the concept
of grading systems to prepare students for their transition to high school.) As such, our teachers are
masters at creative in-person motivational strategies. These strategies did not, however, translate to
remote teaching and learning. We struggled to keep students motivated to do work and to stay
engaged and were frequently changing up our approaches, our work assignments, and our
expectations in search of motivationing experiences for students.
Part of the lack of motivation could be attributed to the complete shock students and families found
themselves in. No one had ever lived through a pandemic; and with the degree of uncertainty and
media attention given to the situation, most adults and children were unable to focus on anything
except thoughts about their physical safety. Without a feeling of safety and security, many students
were not able to attend and some parents were equally as distracted from supporting their children
with school work.
Key Finding #5: Remote Learning needs to be more robust for the long term.
While the majority of parents indicated how impressed and satisfied they were with our teaching and
learning offerings, many, when asked during the summer after reflecting on their children’s
experience, indicated that should remote learning return as a long-term solution to education, our
programming would need to be more robust.
Last spring’s remote learning experience occurred somewhat close to the end of the school year. If
this will be a yearlong approach to teaching and learning, or if it happens early in the school year, we
will need to have developed greater skill for teaching in the virtual world. Fortunately, our teachers

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                              Page 10
are gearing up for this now and will continue with technology professional development
opportunities prior to the opening of school.

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                             Page 11
River Valley Charter School undertook a feasibility study that included research and analysis of
multiple areas including the school’s ability to implement the health and safety protocols as defined
in DESE’s reopening guidance, the physical spaces within the school’s 36,100 square foot facility, the
human resources available to bring students back for in-person learning in smaller cohort groupings,
lessons learned from our experiences with remote learning, as well as multiple opportunities to
collect input from staff and families. We also followed the Massachusetts Department of Elementary
and Secondary Education’s overarching priority to bring back as many students as possible to an in-
person learning environment under a prescribed set of comprehensive health and safety measures.
In addition, we prioritized adherence to our Montessori principles in our decision-making
process. Key findings from the feasibility study follow:

    Analysis of Facilities
•   The RVCS building has large classrooms with space to accommodate the majority of our students
    if we reconfigure our multi-age groupings and the physical spaces.

•    Using the Cannon Design Parametric Capacity Dashboard software provided by DESE, RVCS
    measured the dimensions of each classroom, inputted the data into the Parametric Capacity
    Model and determined the safe, physically distant capacity of those classrooms. It was
    determined that, while many of the classrooms are large enough to accommodate 16 students at
    the DESE recommended minimum of 3-foot distance, RVCS would use the Center for Disease
    Control and Prevention’s recommended 6 foot distance between students. We believe that it is
    more appropriate to ensure staff and student safety.

•   Considering the 6-foot standard in our feasibility testing, we looked to additional space within
    the school (library, gymnasium, etc.) to expand use to more routine classroom learning space.
    Given the size of our building and available space, the 6-foot distancing standard would likely
    accommodate all 288 of our students for in-person learning using all these additional spaces, if
    class sizes were reduced across all grade levels. This would mean, however, the need for
    additional instructional staffing K-8, adding excessive cost to the school.

•   The RVCS faculty is a talented and flexible group of individuals who are dedicated to their
    students and are willing to support whatever plan is identified to provide the best options for
    safety as well as students’ social, emotional, and academic learning.

•   Staff members are eager to return to work and have confidence in the school’s ability to support
    a safe and healthy learning environment.

•   While the busses that are used to transport students to River Valley are typically not filled to
    capacity, our busses are dependent on the Newburyport Public School District’s (NPS) bussing
    schedule. NPS’s reopening decisions, and resultant bus scheduling will impact our ability to
    transport Newburyport children to school. We have initiated conversations with the bus
    company to determine the feasibility, impact, and cost to adding bus routes to meet our individual
    needs. We anticipate minimal issues with our morning and afternoon transportation needs, at
    least on four days of the week, as we currently understand the Newburyport district is returning

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                            Page 12
for hybrid learning on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. We are working with the bus
    company about Wednesday transportation.

•   We have also communicated with (Newburyport) parents to assess their ability to get their
    children to school if the District’s transportation efforts were different than under normal
    circumstances. 100% of responding parents indicated that there were other transportation
    modalities that would ensure their children could get to and from our building.

•   For students attending our half day programs, and our offsite program, we are working with
    families to ensure that every child has access to our programming regardless of a family’s ability
    to transport them.

•   In-person learning supports positive relationships, holistic education, and project-based
    learning, hallmarks of our Montessori program.

•   Although classrooms are large, spacing 16 students six feet apart in a classroom would drastically
    change our instructional practices. We believe this would negatively impact teacher’s ability to
    appropriately instruct children, children’s social/emotional health as well as their ability to

•   Multiple surveys with families indicate that 62% of families want their children to go back to in-
    person learning in the fall.

•   Families are fortunate to have the means to get their children to school.

•   Parents understand the necessity of the proposed health and safety protocols and they are willing
    to support their children in abiding by them.

•   Feedback from the school’s Special Education Parent Advisory Council indicated that families of
    children with disabilities recognize and value in-person learning over remote learning.

•   99% of RVCS families have access to reliable internet.

•   If offered, parents would enthusiastically support an educational program that included outdoor

Solicitation of Input
In order to include as many voices and ideas into the planning process as possible, River Valley
administered a number of surveys to its constituents, families and teachers.

Parent Feedback
A number of surveys and town halls were held to share information and solicit questions from

In mid to late April, teachers administered surveys by level, directly with the parents of children in
their classrooms. Questions were fairly general:

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1. How would you rate your families’ remote learning experience thus far? (We are overwhelmed
   to We are in the groove.)
2. How do you think your child would rate the remote learning experience so far? (They are not
   enjoying it to It’s as good as the real thing.)
3. What describes your family’s approach to teaching and learning? (Multiple options were given
   including: We depend on everything the school sends to We are unschooling, to Our focus is on
   practical life skills.)
4. How independently is your child able to complete schoolwork?
5. Is there an adult in the home available to support your child’s remote learning?
6. Information on devices and accessibility.
7. An open-ended question about what was working well and what was difficult.

In June, following the end of the schoolyear, a survey was sent to parents to assess their thoughts
about re-opening in the fall. Questions included:
1. It is a given the River Valley will follow safety guidelines recommended by DESE and the CDC.
   Knowing this, do you intend to send your child(ren) for face-to-face learning in the fall?
2. Please indicate your level of comfort regarding your child(ren)’s return to in-person learning this
3. What safety precautions would you expect to see at school in the fall?
4. Does wearing a mask impact whether your child(ren) return to school in the fall?
5. If River Valley were to offer a hybrid model, what type of program would work for your family?
   (Week on/week off, Day on/day off, Half days)
6. Please rate your response to the concept of a program that included regularly scheduled days of
   outdoor, offsite learning.
7. Are you depended on school-based transportation to get your child(ren) to school?

In late July, another survey was sent to parents. It was similar to the June survey and allowed us to
compare results as news about the pandemic increased. We also investigated the availability of
technology and childcare more thoroughly if we were to reopen school remotely. Finally, open ended
questions were asked about child(ren)’s remote learning experience.

Teacher Reflection and Input
Teachers were asked in a number of different venues to reflect on their experiences during the
closure. They did this individually as well as in groups by level/department. They were also invited
to share thoughts and feelings about their experiences during the closure in less formal meetings,
both in whole group and by department/level.

In early August, teachers were invited to participate anonymously in a survey to gather their input
for the development of River Valley’s reopening plans. Questions on the survey included the
1. Please indicate your level of satisfaction regarding communication about reopening plans.
2. Please rate your level of confidence about your personal safety under an in-person return to
3. Please rate your level of confidence in your ability to support student safety under an in-person
   return to school.

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                            Page 14
4. Please rate your level of confidence in your ability to teach under the in-person model as it will
   be structured in the fall.
5. Please rate your level of confidence regarding you students’ ability to learn under the in-person
   model as it will be structured in the fall.
6. Rate your level of confidence in your ability to teach in a fully remote model.
7. Rate your level of confidence regarding your students’ ability to learn under a fully remote model.
8. What supports do you need to be successful in a fully remote model?

River Valley’s ability to communicate with both families and staff has always been strong and is
further evidenced by the past six months. The Director remains in communication with staff on a
daily basis during the school year, sending out a daily email highlighting events and sharing
information that comes out of board and committee meetings. During the pandemic, this obviously
continued, and in some instances, increased.

Communication with families has also continued to be strong. The Director uses multiple methods of
communication including text messaging, email, and live meetings. This ensures that communication
is clear, streamlined, and two-ways with families.

Data collected during this past summer via surveys and check-ins was invaluable for a number of
reasons. For one, it ensured that parents and staff voice was considered in all planning efforts. It also
provided a level of transparency for our constituency so that they could be a part of the thinking and
planning process. Last, it provided valid data on which to make decisions. Response rates for all
surveys were superior, representing significantly more than 80% of the respective family and staff

We are confident that our approach to any of the reopening models will address the concerns of our
constituents. We are also confident that we will reopen with knowledge to improve upon the past.

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Regardless whether River Valley returns to a fully in-person model or a hybrid model of teaching and
learning in the fall, there are multiple operational and safety measures that must exist in the school.
River Valley is committed to ensuring all safety protocols and expectations outlined in the
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s reopening guidance
documents are established and in place for the opening of school in the fall.

General Cleaning and Disinfecting Protocols
The school has developed a set of enhanced cleaning protocols and procedures required to ensure
our building is kept clean and safe on a daily basis to the greatest extent possible. These enhanced
cleaning protocols build upon our existing daily protocols of wiping down all surfaces, cleaning the
various types of flooring, etc., by adding a disinfecting procedure. The daily disinfecting procedure
includes the use of electrostatic sprayers. These sprayers will be used to cover all high-traffic areas
and classrooms with a thin layer of disinfectant solution. It should be noted that the electrostatic
sprayers are completely safe to be used in the presence of students and staff though they will be
deployed late afternoon or evening.

RVCS has hired a Day Porter, who will be responsible for cleaning the building throughout the school
day, particularly high traffic areas like: handrails, entry and exit doors, bathrooms, tables and chairs
between morning and afternoon sessions for our younger students.

Physical Distancing
Physical distancing is essential to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread. Physical distancing, also
called “social distancing,” means keeping a safe space between yourself and other people who are not
from your household. Consistent with the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
a distance of at least six feet is required to be maintained at all times between individuals while inside
the school building.

To better facilitate proper physical distancing, we are developing practices and protocols in various
settings. Additionally, signage will be located throughout the school building as a visual reminder to
students and staff. Examples of signage will include distancing markers in the classrooms and
hallways, as well as reminders to practice general hygiene, and keep masks on at all times.

Physical distancing also requires us to re-design classroom and office configurations to ensure
individuals are separated by an appropriate distance (6 feet). Our school building has designed a
layout that takes certain key elements into consideration, including the following:
    • Classroom configurations (spacing students 6 feet apart and not facing each other)
    • Safe office configurations
    • Hallway and staircase travel plans, including one-way movement as needed
    • Safe storage of individual student belongings
    • Use of outdoor space on the school grounds or alternative outdoor educational sites
    • Use of plexiglass table dividers will be in use for shared tables in the middle school
    • A moveable wall has been brought into the middle school space to create more delineation
        between learning areas
    • Removal of a wall to create a larger classroom space to safely accommodate a cohort of

In order to optimize the capacity of each room while following physical distancing requirements,
non-essential furniture has been removed from classrooms and other learning spaces.

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It is important to remember that physical distancing is just one element of our overall building safety
plan. It is essential to pair physical distancing with other safety measures such as face covering
requirements, protocols regarding staff and student movement throughout the building, and hand
washing and sanitizing.

All students and staff will be provided with instruction and training on COVID-19 related physical
distancing expectations, hygiene practices, as well as other safety protocols. Staff training will occur
within the first days that employees are due back on-site, prior to the first instructional day of school.
For our students, this training will occur at the very beginning of the school year. In both cases the
training sessions will include clear guidelines for various school routines such as school entry and
dismissal, entering and exiting the building, and movement through the hallways.

Personal Protective Equipment
The wearing of face coverings and masks is one of the most important risk mitigating measures to
contain the spread of COVID-19. All students, staff, and visitors are required to wear a face covering
at all times while on school grounds. The only exception to this requirement is for students while
eating lunch, and every effort will be made to eat lunch outside, or while partaking in a designated
mask break. Masks must be worn in a manner so that an individual’s nose and mouth is covered at
all times. Parents and guardians will be responsible for providing students with face coverings or
masks each day while in-person learning is in session. River Valley has an inventory of disposable
masks available, should a student not provide one for themselves. Staff may choose to provide their
own face covering, or have one provided by the school. Time will be provided at designated points
throughout the day for “mask breaks” where students and staff do not have to wear masks. These
breaks will ideally occur in an outdoor space but could occur indoors if absolutely necessary.
Regardless of location, all mask breaks will occur where at least 6-foot physical distancing can be

Additional safety precautions and more extensive PPE is required for school nurses and those staff
supporting students with disabilities because physical distancing protocols cannot be reasonably
maintained. The additional PPE that will be made available to these staff members include eye
protection (face shield or goggles), N95 respirator masks, disposable gowns, gloves, etc. All nursing
staff and those staff members supporting students with significant disabilities will receive additional
training prior to the start of school on what types of PPE are required to be worn during certain

All students and staff will receive direct instruction on the correct way to properly use face
coverings/masks. For staff members, this training will occur prior to the start of the first instructional
day of school. For students, the training will occur on the first instructional day of school. To reinforce
the importance of wearing proper PPE by students and staff, signage will be placed throughout the
building to serve as a reminder of school PPE policies.

Personal Hygiene
All students and staff are expected to practice frequent handwashing and hand sanitizing throughout
the school day. Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is a simple but
effective precaution that can prevent virus transmission. Hand sanitizer dispensers will be provided
by the school in all classrooms, building entrances, and other common areas. Regular opportunities
for students to wash hands or utilize hand sanitizer will be incorporated into the school day.
Protocols regarding the correct way to wash hands and use of hand sanitizer will be shared with
students and staff, along with protocols on when hand washing and sanitizing is expected throughout

Reopening Our School in 2020-2021                                                                 Page 17
the day. Hand sanitizer will be provided in our Outdoor Education program as well. Students and
staff will be reminded frequently of these routines and expectations through the use of signage
located throughout our school building that reinforce personal hygiene practices to help reduce the
spread of COVID-19.

Screening Students/Staff for COVID-19 Symptoms
RVCS is working diligently to establish and reinforce a culture of health, safety, and shared
responsibility. For this reason, it is critical that all families assess their child’s state of wellness each
day before leaving home for school. If the child has a temperature greater than 100° and/or any
symptoms of COVID-19, they should not go to school. The family should follow the routine
procedures and notify the front office to indicate that the child will be absent and the reason for the
absence. If ill, the school nurse will follow-up with the family regarding the child’s symptoms, and
check if the child was seen by a healthcare provider and if a COVID-19 test was performed. The
student can return to school once cleared by the school nurse or the health care provider. Families
will be provided with clear protocols in easy-to-understand language prior to the start of school. Staff
members are expected to follow these same protocols.

If a student is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms on the school bus while on the way to school the bus
driver and/or monitor will call ahead to the bus company dispatcher, who will then reach out directly
to the school nurse or front office, notifying them of the potentially symptomatic child. Once arriving
at school, the child will be met by the school nurse and guided to the designated school medical
waiting room. The child’s parents or guardian will be notified and instructed to come pick up their
child at school. If a student is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms while at school, they will be met by the
school nurse and guided to the designated isolation space, and the child’s parents or guardians will
be notified and instructed to come pick up their child at school. There is a separate exit from the
isolation area directly connected to the medical office.

In both of these scenarios, the student will be required to either self-isolate at home for 14 days from
the onset of the symptoms or receive a COVID-19 test. If the student tests positive for COVID-19 the
parent or guardian should notify the school, as well as the local public health nurse.

If a staff member is not feeling well, they should adhere to the existing procedures regarding calling
in sick. If they are exhibiting any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, they should follow these
same procedures, as well as contact the School Director and school nurse. The school nurse will
follow-up with the staff member regarding their symptoms, and check if the staff member was seen
by a healthcare provider and if a COVID-19 test was performed. The staff member can return to
school once cleared by the school nurse or the health care provider.

Additionally, all staff should be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19 and should observe themselves
and their students throughout the day. Staff members, including bus drivers, should refer students
who may be exhibiting symptoms to the school nurse, ensuring strict adherence to Family
Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulations which protect student privacy.

Nurse Facility and Isolation Room
RVCS created a new Nurse’s office on the first floor of the building to provide more space for potential
needs of our Nurse and to provide an isolation room with separate exit from the building in the event
of a suspected case of COVID-19 during the school day.

To minimize the spread of COVID-19, protocols for students visiting the nurse’s office have been
developed in accordance with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and DESE guidelines. Students

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who are ill but not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, who are injured, who need medications, or who
otherwise need to access the nurse’s office will follow the existing procedures already established for
our school.

Facility Alterations
Multiple alterations have been made to the RVCS facility. We have installed touchless faucets for all
classroom sinks and we upgraded several kitchen sinks to help reduce the risk of spreading disease
such as COVID-19. Motion activated lights were installed in all bathrooms in the building to minimize
contact wherever possible. A wall was removed between two classrooms to increase the size to create
a single K-1 classroom.

A new nurse’s office was created to provide more space for potential needs of our Nurse and to
provide an isolation room and a separate exit from the building in the event of a suspected case of
COVID-19 during the school day. Plastic, fillable jersey barriers were purchased to create safe,
protected direct drop-off/pick-up areas for all students on the first-floor classrooms.

Shared Use of Equipment
As a Montessori school, the use of manipulatives is an important part of the learning process for
children. This presents a challenge for our teachers to effectively educate our students while staying
faithful to our Montessori roots, while being as safe as possible. In that vein, teachers and students
will be responsible for sanitizing each material that they use, after each time they use it. Additionally,
students will have their own personal supplies for pens, markers, paper, scissors, etc.

Lastly, our day porter will be cleaning the classrooms throughout the day and more thoroughly
between morning and afternoon sessions which will quickly and effectively clean the surfaces of the
classroom and the materials.

Face Coverings/Masks
The safety of our staff, students, and overall community are our highest priority. As part of our
continued commitment to safety and wellness, River Valley Charter School will be requiring ALL
students and staff to be wearing masks/facial coverings upon arrival and during school hours while
the pandemic persists, until further notice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
and Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) attest that wearing a face covering or mask
reduces the potential for transmission of COVID-19 between individuals. The American Academy of
Pediatrics recommends that children over the age of two wear face masks when they are out in public
and cannot maintain a distance of six feet from others at all times, and/or if they are unable to control
the impulse to touch frequently used surfaces.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that is known to be spread through respiratory droplets.
Respiratory droplets are dispersed when an individual coughs, sneezes, or speaks. Spray may be
visible to the naked eye, or microscopic. Individuals may be symptomatic for illness or may not
present with any symptoms but still spread illness to others. In a school setting, the implications are
that the virus could spread between individuals and infect entire cohorts. If cohorts were to mix,
larger groups could become infected, and students and/or staff could then infect family or
community members after leaving school.

The mortality rate for COVID19 has been reported as high as five percent and while the initial R
naught (reproductive number) was determined to be around 2.2, some literature reported the R
naught peaking as high as 5.8, meaning that the transmission and fatality rates are higher than
average for a virus. River Valley Charter School believes it is responsible for all students and staff to

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