Dear Parents and Guardians,
Last night at the March 8th monthly Board of Directors meeting, our board voted to offer an option to parents /guardians to return to a hybrid model with a planned start date of no later than April 19. This decision does not require all families to participate in the hybrid model. Families will have the option to remain virtual. Second, we are working to accommodate staff and teachers who have health and safety concerns as reasonably possible. The start date allows for a full week after Spring Break to ensure enough time for families and staff to quarantine following any travel plans during Spring Break.
As many of you know, the board, staff, and school leadership have discussed and explored and reviewed the Reopening School Plan and criteria for the past 8 months in board meetings, in staff meetings, in special committee meetings, in 1x1s, via email strings, group text messages, and on Basecamp which has a plethora of links to resources, CDC recommendations, City of Milwaukee Health Department data, parent surveys, staff surveys and correspondence, news articles, and more. This decision was not made lightly and is in line with our school reopening criteria (link to plan) as well as new information and learnings presented over the past 8 months. Specifically, the current positivity rate has remained below 5% for the past month meeting the trend and infection rate criteria. By way of parent and staff surveys, a majority of our community members feel it is safe to return to school with a hybrid model at this time.
As board members, we are accountable and responsible for making decisions in the best interests of our students, our families, our staff, and our greater community. Each stakeholder is a valued and important member of the community. We believe a hybrid model offers an option for families to send students (60% of parent/family respondents to the latest survey) to attend some days of school “in person” while retaining the option for virtual school for others. Truly, a pathway forward that provides a solution for most of our families. Many of the concerns with offering a hybrid model from the teaching and staff perspective were discussed and addressed in reviewing and considering several hybrid models.
You may be wondering why the Board made this decision at the March 8th meeting versus the intended date of March 17, as previously communicated. There are a couple reasons for this change in timeline. On one hand, the Board of Directors felt that enough information had been collected and the concerns noted in the February board meeting had been addressed. There was ample opportunity for parents and community members to share feedback, and the surveys administered demonstrated levels of comfort in addition to the rate criteria having been met. Furthermore, the MPS Board of School Directors meeting that had been scheduled for March 15 was moved to a later date, March 23. The Board of Directors and school leadership felt that moving the decision-making date even farther back to align with MPS (as originally done in scheduling the March 17 meeting) was not in the best interest of our families. As a non-instrumentality charter school, we have the autonomy to make these types of decisions outside of what MPS chooses to do, and our board and school leadership determined there was enough information and confidence in the due diligence to discuss and vote ahead of this schedule. For these reasons the board chose to vote on this decision at the March 8 board meeting.
On March 17 at 6-7pm Highland will hold a virtual meeting to present the hybrid model plans. This is no longer a special meeting of the board. We will not be able to accommodate every question and comment at the meeting but will reserve time for questions and comments at the end of the presentation. Our goal is to arrive at a solution that serves the majority of our students and families.
Because HCS is always preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, we have made significant upgrades and changes to our environment and processes to align with as many of the CDC guidelines for schools as possible. Beyond the many school operating process changes, we’ve taken the following steps to improve air quality and ventilation, specifically:
- Quarterly filter changes, using MERV 10 filters that are doubled (recommendation is MERV 7)
- Bi-annual preventative maintenance of entire system with inspections during the other 2 filter changes
- The HVAC System runs before school hours and does not shut off until well after school hours
- The HVAC System has the ability to run 1.5 times per hour, which is not the recommendation, but also not a requirement per CDC guidance. Thus, we will use 1-2 box fans with open windows and doors to ensure proper air flow
- Bathrooms and kitchen have exhaust fans running continuously
- Beyond the windows with fans, windows will be opened for outside air to come in and out of the classrooms
- An Ionizer has been installed on our HVAC system and covers all areas of the building, does not require filter changes, and is not accessible to children. Third party testing says it kills COVID-19 in 30 minutes.
Please join us at the virtual March 17th meeting, currently scheduled from 6-7pm. The Zoom link information is below. For those families who chose hybrid you will receive more information via Transparent Classroom in the upcoming weeks.
Should you have any questions or thoughts in the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Leana Nakielski, Board President (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tracy Williams, Executive Director