June has arrived but while the weather is a lot warmer than when we started our lockdown journey together, clarity as to what will allow us to keep all of our students and staff safe while learning in the classroom is still in short supply. Nonetheless it’s time for another coronavirus update. And it’s time to give everyone a bit more certainty regarding our plans for the near future. Based on the difficulty of protecting everyone when asking 30 or so to share a single classroom, even once Nashville declares that such close physical proximity might be allowable, we have decided to delay any return to “normal,” full in-person classroom activities until at least Labor Day (Monday, 7 September). This adds approximately 10 weeks to our remote classroom schedule from the last announced end date, June 26.
We are announcing the extension for remote classes in order to give students and staff more clarity regarding their schedules over the summer. We decided that pushing the possible restart date by only one month didn't make a lot of sense. We don't believe that a single month delay will provide enough time to learn more about the disease and the effects of reopening around the country and then give us time to take action to prepare our facility and our curriculum as needed to adapt to any new information.
Additionally, by Labor Day, those students and staff with school-age children will know whether schools have returned and what schedules are for their children. We’ll all know a lot more about the availability of day care for children. Most importantly, we’ll know a lot more about the disease itself and the actual risks we are all taking, we’ll know whether reopening Nashville and other cities has resulted in increases in the disease, and there may be some visibility regarding effective treatments or possible vaccines.
This does not mean that there will be no activity at our classroom facility between now and Labor Day. We are still considering returning some activities to the building during the summer. Any such activity will either be restricted to only staff or involve limited numbers of students for limited periods of time. Such activities might also be optional rather than required and have online alternatives for those who feel unable to return. Such small group activities will permit physical distancing and whatever other protective measures seem called for while still allowing us all to gain the benefits associated with physical proximity, including greater social and emotional connection than is possible online. No such small group activities have been identified at this time - we’re only keeping the option open. Any scheduling of such small group activity will depend on progress in the lifting of Nashvillle’s restrictions, our assessment of the readiness of students and staff to return, our preparedness, including access to supplies, to support the necessary protective measures, as well as balancing the risks of returning against the benefits of returning.
One important input to this decision was the information we’ve gathered from our surveys of students and staff during May. Both surveys showed that there are a significant number of students that have concerns or outright barriers to returning to our facility. While 70% of students lean positive to the idea of returning for small group activities, that still leaves 30% unwilling or unable to come back for short/small group activities. Fully 40% are unable or unwilling to return to full in-person classes. Many of these individuals have personal or family health issues that make return high risk. We simply don’t see sufficient benefit, at this time, to holding classes in-person, to make it worth asking people to take such risks and/or to force them to be excluded from such activities. And we’re not able, at least not at this time, to provide both in-person and online support for most activities, although some have suggested we look at this option.
We expect that June will give us significant additional information regarding the disease and the risks associated with different groups of people. We expect it to give everyone more clarity regarding the benefit of measures such as wearing masks and some of the other recommendations that even different groups of healthcare professionals can’t agree on. It will also give us more time to determine whether ongoing regulatory waivers will exist to permit higher education flexibility to offer programs online. And it will give us some time to design longer-term answers to the structure of our courses as needed to suit an environment where the pandemic may be with us well into 2021.
We’ll keep you all posted as our plans evolve. In the meantime, we’ll all keep getting better and better at this remote, online environment that’s quickly becoming an essential part of the technology world - both for learning and for working. Remember - take time for yourself, get outside and get some fresh air and sunshine (Vitamin D!), and keep alive your social connections - physical separation doesn’t require social isolation.