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GPS & COVID-19: GPS Safety Protocols and Preparation for the Fall

Dr. Kirk Walker shares plans for Fall 2020
Dear GPS Community,

In my 33 years as a head of school, I have never written a “welcome back to school” letter like this one. As a lifelong educator, the start of a school year is always exciting, always filled with new possibilities and adventures. This year will be no exception. But the journey will hold unique challenges.

In the ever-changing pandemic landscape, it is impossible to predict with precision (even in July) how school will be conducted when we begin the first day of class on August 19. Our intention is that all girls will join us on the GPS campus, and we look forward with great anticipation to welcoming each new and returning student into our learning community. But, we must be prepared to deliver the GPS experience regardless of the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic at any given time during the school year. Flexibility is key.

Preparation for the fall has long been underway at GPS. The GPS COVID-19 Taskforce has developed a comprehensive plan for the reopening of school to include safety protocols and policies that follow guidance provided by the CDC, Hamilton County Health Department, and TN Department of Education. Additionally, in order to deliver our curricular and cocurricular programs while protecting those at greatest risk, a flexible student engagement model has been developed that will allow us to be agile in abiding by local government ordinances as pandemic conditions evolve. The three learning engagement scenarios possible at any time during the course of the school year are described in the graphic below: On Campus, Hybrid, or Distance Engagement.

During the summer, teachers attended a three-week professional development course on hybrid learning and have developed a comprehensive learning program for our students, which they are prepared to deliver whether we are meeting on campus or online.

SCENARIOS FOR STUDENT ENGAGEMENT
CAMPUS AND CLASSROOM PREPARATIONS
A variety of campus improvements are underway to fortify student and teacher health and safety while increasing flexibility in the delivery of instruction. Classrooms are being reconfigured to enable 6-foot distancing by students and teachers, sanitation practices are being enhanced to improve air and surface cleanliness, and food preparation and distribution will also be modified. 

Among the efforts GPS is taking to enhance our campus:
  • Where needed, classrooms are being expanded to allow for proper distancing by all occupants; this includes the removal of 15 walls and reassignment of teachers’ classrooms.
  • Additional covered outdoor spaces will be created to enable community members to be outside and unmask as weather permits.
  • Classrooms are being equipped to allow our highest-risk community members (teachers and students) to participate from home and still interact with those on campus. New technology integrated with iPads in each classroom will use cameras that follow teachers and display their whiteboards on screen to remote participants.
  • Food preparation and distribution is being redesigned to maintain the safety of all diners. Our dining vendor is equipping and training its staff to high safety standards, and food will be distributed in several locations for dispersed consumption.
  • Sanitation supplies, staff training, and scheduled regimens will enable more frequent cleaning of public spaces. All student desks will be cleaned during each class break, as will rooms used for students during free periods. An in-depth overnight cleaning regimen will also address classroom disinfection.
  • High-touch doorknobs, faucets, and fountains are being replaced with no-touch options, where possible.
  • Sanitation stations will be deployed to classrooms and public areas, where appropriate, allowing for more routine hand sanitizing.
  • Signage and other directional instructions are being installed to facilitate distancing in halls, restrooms, and other public spaces.
  • Bus transportation will be modified to accommodate distancing and increased sanitation.
SAFETY PROTOCOLS FOR STUDENTS
As students arrive at school, their temperatures will be checked
. Any student with a fever will be escorted to a quarantine area, and her parents/guardians will be contacted for pickup. Additionally, a system will be in place requiring each student to answer a series of questions related to symptoms and risk before entering campus. Adults will be asked to meet the same requirements in order to access our campus.

In the classroom and in areas where students congregate, a physical distance of at least six feet will be implemented. All desks and seating in classrooms and other spaces will be placed six feet apart across campus.

In order to accommodate physical distancing requirements, students will not use lockers this year. Additional spaces for storing backpacks will be provided in classrooms and around campus.

Students and employees will be required to wear face coverings while they are inside but not when they can safely practice distancing outside of school buildings. GPS will provide all students and employees with one GPS cloth face covering. Students and employees may wear their own coverings as long as they are a solid color and comply with CDC recommendations.
 
SCHOOL SCHEDULE
The schedule for the 2020-21 school year has been redesigned to maintain the integrity of our academic program, maximize in-person class time, and decrease the number of transitions between classes for students and teachers, while facilitating social distancing.
  • Community Days on Wednesdays will allow students to continue to build relationships with their classmates through IMPACT programming, advisory, and multiple club opportunities. Additionally, this time away from classes will allow students time to complete asynchronous lessons between classes.
  • Middle School students will be on campus every Wednesday, but due to space limitations, the Upper School students will alternate their time on campus during these Community Days. These larger blocks of time will give us an opportunity to do some very intentional social-emotional work with our girls.
  • Office hours and Help classes will shift to occur before and after school and are optional for students who need additional support or more personal academic guidance from teachers. More information about the specifics of the schedule at each grade level will be shared by the division heads with girls and their families in the coming weeks.
As mentioned above, new technology in classrooms will allow students who are not comfortable or unable to join classes on campus to participate remotely. Please notify your division office as soon as possible to make these arrangements.
 
ATHLETICS
We understand that the value of athletic participation for our student-athletes goes well beyond what is visible on a scoreboard, and we plan to support as much activity as possible this fall in a manner that is safe for our athletes, our coaches, and their families.

Our fall sports teams are expected to begin tryouts and practices on their previously announced start dates. Most of our varsity sports will start practice on Monday, July 27. A current Executive Order that bans contact sports in Tennessee through August 29 will impact the way we prepare for our soccer season, and further changes to our plans are likely between now and the first day of classes. While many of our athletic programs fall under the jurisdiction of the TSSAA, some sports such as rowing and swimming are independent of that organization, which means GPS will follow guidance from the National Federation of High Schools and the CDC to ensure our girls are able to return to their activities safely. 

Please remember that all GPS student-athletes must have their required forms submitted to the athletic office before starting any practices with their teams by August 1. Students who do not have their forms submitted may not participate in tryouts for their sports. The concussion and sudden cardiac arrest forms can be completed online through MyGPS. The health form and consent forms can be submitted to sportsphysicals@gps.edu.

FINE AND PERFORMING ARTS
Currently, fall theater and productions for both the Middle School and Upper School are on hold as we evaluate how to best engage our girls in this space in a safe way. Mark Krawcyzk, GPS Theater Director, has been brainstorming clever ways to involve our thespians in theater productions that would adhere to the CDC guidelines while still allowing the girls to perform. More information will be forthcoming.

COMMITTED TO KEEPING YOU INFORMED
The pandemic situation remains in flux, as do government directives. For this reason, communication that is clear, timely, and accurate is crucial to our partnership. We will be sending you updates as they become available and as changes to our current plans are required. In the meantime, we continue our preparations to keep our community healthy and to deliver an enriching and significant year for our girls, one which they will joyfully and proudly remember.

We appreciate your flexibility, understanding, and ongoing support as we move forward together.

Sincerely,





R. Kirk Walker Jr., Ph.D.
Interim Head of School
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