Reimagining 2020 Westtown Upper School Fall Semester

Reimagining 2020 Westtown Upper School Fall Semester

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Pam Nagy started this petition to Head of Westtown School Tori Jueds and

Dear T. Tori and Esteemed Board Members,

We write today as a collection of Upper School parents to express our concern and disappointment with the decision made to do online learning for the entirety of the Fall semester. Along with the fact that Westtown already had a detailed Reopening Plan to pursue On-Campus Learning (Interim Reopening Plan on westtown.edu), the health trends in Pennsylvania and Chester County and the actions of other institutions make us believe that this decision should be reconsidered, or at least amended. We are proposing that Westtown considers a phased reopening plan in place of a fully online Fall semester, which will provide the opportunity for Upper School students to have in-person instruction.

In this document, we have clearly outlined scientific data, plans from other institutions, and anecdotal concerns about exclusively online-learning to support this proposal. Addressing Concerns Highlighted by Westtown in T. Tori’s July 28 th Communication

1. Testing

 We understand that the reasoning to pursue Westtown Distance Learning for the Fall semester revolved heavily around testing.  Quest Laboratories are offering a service called “Back to School.” Many colleges are using their services. In the Chester County area, testing is plentiful at Rite Aid, CVS, Main Line Health drive through, and the Chester County Health Department. Come early September, rapid testing will become more widely available.

2. Health Trends & Projections

 An article from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that decisions to reopen K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemic should be based on the following indicators: the number of new cases diagnosed, number of new hospitalizations and deaths, and percentage of positive diagnostic tests for SARS-Cov2 (aka positivity rate). Number of new cases diagnosed in the Chester county is stable, number of new hospitalizations and deaths are very low. In fact The Main Line Health system’s five hospitals have continued, since May, to have very low admission and death rate of Covid + patients. If more information regarding the MLH data is needed, please contact Pam Nagy,MD (P'22). Chester County’s positivity rate is currently at the promising level of 5.3%, with <5% being the goal. See www.covidactnow.org or worldometers for more data.

3. Actions of Other High Schools -The Hill School (PA), George School(PA), The Lawrenceville School (NJ), and Phillips Academy (MA) and other boarding and local day private schools (Episcopal, Shipley) are bringing students back to campus.The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District plans to open schools and hire additional teachers to facilitate smaller classrooms. Some local public schools are also reopening with a hybrid model. 

Repercussions of Online Learning for the Entirety of the First Semester

As parents of students who already endured three months of Distance Learning in the spring, we believe the costs of not bringing students back to campus in the first semester are high:

- The value of education is dramatically reduced without face-to-face interaction. Online education does not compare. Overall their learning and academics will suffer. 

- Students will not be able to have hands-on-learning in labs and collaborative in person team-building projects, which are essential to Westtown’s philosophy on education.

- Student leaders will not be able to fully pursue their leadership roles.

- Athletic pursuits will be compromised. Losing another season or an opportunity to grow with their team and coaches will be detrimental to attractive recruits.

- Students will lose out on participating in clubs, in person theater, art, and school traditions and events, and forming new friendships. To date we have seen no plan fo co-curriculars. We have all heard time and again how these classes/co-curriculars help students cope with the stresses that come with academics and busy lives.

- Students who have two working parents who are unable to work remotely will be left alone in their homes.

Opinions from Other Experts:

“When schools are closed to in-person instruction, disparities in educational outcomes could become wider” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school…” (American Academy of Pediatrics)

“Keeping schools closed comes with massive, long-term individual and societal costs. Many students cannot effectively learn, grow, engage, socialize, be active, eat healthy food, or get support until schools reopen.” (Harvard School of Public Health) 

Our Proposal: Thank you for reading to this point. With all the aforementioned information in mind, we are proposing that Westtown considers a phased reopening of Upper School in place of a fully online Fall semester. This plan can begin by allowing local students to return to campus as day students; this itself would significantly reduce the number of students on campus. To reduce exposure even further, we could adapt a hybrid model that includes 2-3 days of in-person instruction and the other 2/3 days are online instruction. These measures, along with social distancing and mask wearing, and implementing the use of outdoor spaces as proposed in the Interim Reopening Plan, would significantly reduce risk. Once success is demonstrated with this model, we can slowly begin bringing boarding students back by grade level. We all know there is no way to open schools and entirely eliminate risk. That is clear. But the impact of school not opening is even larger. We ask that you consider our proposal. If Westtown chooses not to accept our proposal, we hope you can propose an alternative, more flexible solution than being completely online for the entire Fall semester.

Sincerely. 

Concerned Westtown Parents

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