By Mike McCombs
There’s no guarantee that things will work out as hoped, but Beaufort Academy, nonetheless, has a plan. And that’s a solid starting point.
The private school on Lady’s Island in late June released “Envisioning A New Normal – A Plan For A Responsible Re-Opening At Beaufort Academy.
The nine-page document lays out a framework for students to safely – or as safely as possible – return to school this fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Head of School Dan Durbin feels like his team did a good job, given all of the variables.
“We had to ask ourselves, ‘How do we make this thing work for our kids and make this the safest environment we can provide?’” Durbin said.
BA’s plan was put together by a team of 12 with representation from administrators, teachers and parents. Durbin said the team actually did surveys about particular aspects with families and teachers.
“How can we make people feel comfortable, with a plan,” he said “… We’re listening to folks.”
According to the document itself, the team drew “from the best available science and public health guidance as well as the expertise of educators. Although we expect the plan to evolve and adapt over time, we are committed to providing the most responsible and safe reopening possible.”
Two kinds of students
One of the aspects of BA’s blueprint is the realization from the start that some families will not be ready for their kids to return to the classroom in the current environment.
The school will have a voluntary at-home option that must be requested by the parents or student, allowing the student to participate in classes streamed online.
“The hardest part will be teachers getting used to the fact that they will be doing live instruction and still have kids coming in on an Internet platform,” Durbin said. “Teachers will have to be aware there are kids at home and encourage them to include themselves.”
Like many parts of BA’s plan, the dynamics of classes may change as teachers and students work to make combining live and streamed classes more compatible.
“Our teachers need to be ready to include our streaming kids at the same time,” Durbin said. “We were looking for not just guidelines, but suggestions to make both work at the same time.”
Then there are the logistics of live streaming for 26 classrooms.
“How do we film all those classes?” Durbin asked. “Do we have enough bandwidth?”
These are questions Durbin says the school believes they have answered in general. But there are details to be worked out.
Keeping it healthy … and affordable
As for the kids physically in school, the chief concern is safety. Essentially, the efforts of the school on that front are broken into several categories: Sanitation, hygiene, monitoring, daily practices, after school activities, athletics and lab precautions.
BA’s plan addresses them all in detail – from taking students’ temperatures twice daily to hand sanitizers and masks to changing classes outside the building versus using the hallways.
But the solutions presented the school with more problems.
“We’re still working on where will our kids eat lunch and how to order it,” Durbin said. “We’ll only be able to deal with businesses that have individually wrapped things.”
Durbin said many students ate lunch from off campus, like pizza. Now those foods must be individually wrapped. And they had to address providing students with water while water fountains are unavailable.
And Durbin said the school had to address how it would clean restrooms between each class.
Some concerns were financial.
Plastic shields separating students, while sitting at their desks, was going to cost the school thousands of dollars.
“For every desk, that gets expensive,” Durbin said.
The school needed sprayers – backpack and machines that could spray classrooms at night. It needed the actual disinfectant. Hand sanitizer.
What do those things cost? What do they cost over six to nine months?
Does the school need to repeat all its procedures on the gym, as well?
“A bigger school district will have money for (these things),” Durbin said. “We’re having to look at how we ration out our money.”
Their best efforts
All in all, Durbin says his team feels like it has done a good job addressing what they can.
“There is an advantage to being a smaller school, being able to work through smaller classes,” he said. “It really is an advantage to be able to make plans. But the kinds of things that we’re doing are based on our situation. They may not work in another situation.”
Durbin says what worries him are the things he can’t control, like the governor.
“The biggest concerns are about things we don’t have say-so on,” Durbin said. “It doesn’t matter what we were planning, if the Governor says no, we have no say-so.”
Otherwise, Durbin feels like the school has done the best it could do.
“From a conceptual standpoint, we asked ourselves in every situation, ‘what is the best thing to do?” he said. “And we had to ask, ‘Practially, how do we make that happen?’”
If the coronavirus or the Governor or a hurricane throws BA a curveball, Durbin said his team will be ready.
“We will be prepared if … well, we’re going to be prepared no matter what,” Durbin said.
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.
Above: Beaufort Academy Head of School, Dan Durbin