Skip Navigation

Back

Saint Paul's School Covid Update

July 23, 2020
By Seth Yocum

St. Paul’s School Families,

I will make this letter as brief as possible as I’ve attached a great deal of reading for you already, and I do understand how I can -- at times -- grow a bit verbose. I’ll do what I can to keep this short and focused.

As stated in an earlier communication, Governor Newsom’s Pandemic Plan for Learning and Safe Schools pertains to St. Paul’s School, as it pertains to all public and independent schools in California. As of today, this order impacts our K-8th grade programs, but will not impact our Preschool or PreK programs. As such, we plan for our Preschool and PreK programs to begin in person educational programming on August 13th as anticipated with the appropriate modifications listed in the RePopulating Plan.

For our K-8th grade programs, we are still planning to begin our fall semester on August 13th, and must anticipate beginning the year in a Distance Learning format. This is not our choice, rather it is our obligation as stated in Governor Newsom’s plan. Although I do believe Governor Newsom’s plan is intended to protect the health of our communities, I am disheartened in that our leadership teams have been working diligently to put together a RePopulating Plan that complies -- in every way -- with the recommendations laid out by the California Department of Public Health. In fact, by capping our class sizes back in May to allow for physical distancing, we are able to accommodate the recommendations in the one way that is perplexing to so many other schools. In short, we’ve got this. Unfortunately, we are not able to implement our plan just yet.

We are currently investigating the waiver program referenced in the aforementioned publication, and made contact with the Tulare County Health and Humans Services Agency on Monday morning to file for this waiver. As of Monday, our county health officials were unaware of the parameters of the waiver and informed me that “based on our current epidemiological data (in Tulare County), we will not be approving any waivers at this time.” I kindly thanked them for their prompt response, and sent them our RePopulating Plan anyway, explained to them our circumstances, much as I did for you in the preceding paragraph. After receiving our RePopulating Plan, I received this follow up communication: “Good evening Mr Yocum, in follow up to the ongoing communication, I did want to clarify that the Public Health Department does have concern with approving any waivers for schools based on the current epidemiological data, but we are still determining our processes and strategy in addressing all requests. The health department alone does not make the ultimate decision and consultation from the State is required.” As I understand it, our county health department should have a better understanding of the waiver process and strategy by the end of this week or beginning of the next.

Following an in depth conversation with our board of trustees last night, we will continue to pursue the waiver program in the hopes that our elementary school (K-6th) will be able to resume in person learning as soon as our local and state public health agencies deem it safe. If there is any way that I can lump our 7th and 8th graders in there too, I’ll be sure to make it happen. This is predicated on the fact that our RePopulating Plan addresses -- in every way -- all of the recommendations for resuming in person instruction as outlined by the California Department of Public Health. We can prioritize health screening, hand washing, deep cleaning, face coverings, and we can physically distance. We can cohort and coordinate, and spend plenty of time outside. We can utilize every square inch of our seven acre campus, and deliver in person learning in bold and creative ways. We have the community and resources to make it happen. Most importantly, we can attend to the health and safety of our staffulty, and the social and emotional lives of our students. Now we simply need to convince our county and state to see it this very same way. Although I am confident of our plan and our ability to make it happen, I’m not holding my breath quite yet. If our RePopulating Plan is the metric that matters the most, I’m confident that a waiver is well within reach. If it comes down to our county’s epidemiological data, there is still a lot of work to do. That is what worries me most, because that is entirely out of our control.

As a final thought, I want to talk about the “dimmer switch” approach to in person learning that our families will have once we are able to repopulate our campus. Our families will not have to choose between a distance, hybrid, or in person model on a term by term basis; rather our families will be able to exercise that choice on a day to day, week to week basis. You will decide when you are comfortable sending your kids to school1 , and when you would rather keep them home. Whether you are choosing to attend in person or online, our robust educational programming will be available in either format each day, and our teachers will be there to support their students each step of the way. Obviously there is no substitute for in person learning, but these are not ordinary circumstances, and we must evolve our programming to match the circumstances.

1 Obviously unless they are sick, have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, or have traveled outside of the state. Then,they must stay home. Sorry, those are the rules. See the RePopulating Plan.

As we all are abundantly aware, these are not the best of times, and the circumstances that we must accept regarding school this fall, are far from what we had hoped in the spring. There is nothing that St. Paul’s School can do about that. But we can continue to offer the best educational experience in our community, regardless of the circumstances. We are a community built on a commitment to our mission, to be a school “of high academic standards in a Christian environment; where children can develop their intellectual abilities and their sense of self-worth and responsibility; and where student, parents, and staff form a close, caring community where all support and share in each other’s growth.” We are now -- as a school community -- tasked with this challenge in a paradigm that was literally unimaginable prior to this past spring. We only have so much energy that we can invest, let’s all invest it in the education of our students, in our commitment to a positive and healthy community, and in an effort to create a better future for our children. We need to view the 2020/2021 academic year as one of the greatest challenges in our collective lives, and simply say “challenge accepted.” We will not be bested by problematic circumstances. We will teach our kids to be resilient, dedicated, and committed to a cause greater than themselves. If we stay focused on this goal, we will light the way through the darkness of our times. The world has plenty of problem noticers, let’s take this opportunity to teach our children that leaders are problem solvers. Of all the things worth doing this fall, let’s commit ourselves to this, and make it the work of our school community.

Oh yeah, please read the attachments. Obviously, one is our RePopulating Plan. All of your questions will likely be answered there. The other is our 2020/2021 Parent/Student Handbook, an important agreement between your family and the school. Pay particular attention to the added “Force Majeure” language, and the updated language in the “Distance Learning” section. Also, please look forward to a follow up communication from our Parents’ Guild leadership regarding the upcoming Zoom sessions with the Head of School. My understanding is that you can submit questions prior to our Friday meetings, and then I’ll do the best I can to address the questions and concerns within our community.

There, I did it. Short and sweet.

Take care, and see you on Friday,

Seth W. Yocum

Head of School

St. Paul’s School