August 14, 2020
Dear Darnell School Community,
We closed the Darnell School doors on Friday, March 13, 2020, and we have all faced many changes in our lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the impact of the virus continues to change the most fundamental aspects of how we live, including how we hold schools. Reopening of school is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many children and families are experiencing additional economic hardships, social isolation, and other stressors. Schools are a critical component of communities and have tremendous impact on the health, well-being, growth, and development of students and families.
The upcoming school year will look and feel different than any we have previously experienced. Never have we started a school year during a global health crisis. The COVID-19 coronavirus has changed the very foundations of how we gather as a community. We will continue to follow, and process, all provided national, state and local guidance. The publication and receipt of guidance from DESE has been ongoing since the end of the school year and throughout this summer.
The Darnell School Reopening Committee was established in mid May 2020. The committee includes our Vice President of Children’s Services, Program Director, Program Administrator, Program Clinical Director, Chief Learning Officer, the School Contracted Physician, School RN and LPN. The work of the group was to process guidance, build understanding of the principal needs of our students and protocols when a return to school is established.
There are three options for which school districts must plan for returning to school in the fall: In-Person, Hybrid or Remote-Only. The In-Person model was identified as the most necessary due to the complexity of the students we support and feedback from parents. We recognize that the circumstances of every family and staff member are different, and that no plan ultimately will satisfy everyone in our community. But we are working diligently to explore every option available to us and we will remain guided by the science to keep our students and staff safe and healthy. We will be prepared to adjust along the way if the public health conditions or other variables change over time. As educators, we will continue to meet the complexities we are faced with and will remain student centered throughout our work. Any plan and recommendations will continue to need refinement.
In conclusion, we are required to build a Comprehensive Plan then submit the plan to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The goal is to ensure our framework for reopening can incorporate additional guidance and changes through adjustments. Collectively, our best work is ahead of us and we are thankful for your understanding and continued realization that these are unprecedented times and the answers to every question may not be readily available but will be forthcoming.
Jolene M. Perry, M.S.Ed, BCBA, LABA
Vice President of Children’s Services
This document contains the Darnell School 2020-2021 Comprehensive Fall Plan. The plan was prepared in accordance with the State’s current requirement for a full return to in-person learning for this fall, with a virtual option for families who wish to opt out. It also addresses how the school is preparing in case the current risk from COVID-19 rises in the future. The School Administration approves any modifications to the school calendar. The fall calendar year will start on Monday, August 24, 2020. All of our student population is vulnerable and will return to school in phases based on their level of need. A link to the 2020-2021 Darnell School Calendar is here.
As outlined in our reopening protocols, the health, safety, and well-being of our students and staff is our top priority. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued a series of guidance documents over the summer which were used, in combination with CDC guidance and DPH guidance, to develop Operational Protocols for the safe return of both students and staff. The Operational Protocols are inclusive of Health and Safety Guidelines, general and specific operational procedures, Covid-19 mitigation strategies, training protocols, cleaning protocols, and communication protocols.
The Comprehensive Fall Plan includes the details for a full return to school for students, as all the students are considered vulnerable and at-risk students. In summary, the state requires each school district to develop one School Year 2020-2021 Reopening Plan with three models for reopening – in-person, hybrid, and remote. Based on DESE guidance suggesting that students with the most significant needs should be prioritized for in-person services, along with feedback we received from students, parents, and guardians who talked about feeling overwhelmed by the combination of having to work from home and ensuring their children kept up with their studies, the Darnell School chose the in-person model as the primary model to open with. Families who opt to receive services through the hybrid model or to remain fully remote will also be able to receive instructional services through these configurations.
- In-Person: within this model, students will be in their classrooms which have been reconfigured to maximize social distancing. Students will participate in educational services from 9:00am to 3:00pm 5 days per week. Outside therapists will continue to consult with teachers through a remote model, as outlined in the students’ IEPs. Materials will be specific to each student and staff will remain with the classroom to minimize exposure from other students and staff in the building. Six-foot distancing markers have been put down in the classrooms and directional arrows have been applied in the school to identify the safety protocols more visually. All staff have been equipped with walkie-talkies to ensure that common areas are free prior to students and staff walking through the building. Cleaning protocols have been developed for both the classrooms and the common areas to ensure that spaces are kept hygienic. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been purchased and is available to staff for use during the school day. Masks and eye coverings (goggles or face shields) are required for all staff during the school day with masks for students to the extent that they can tolerate it. Access to community sites will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. A COVID Safety Officer, trained and fluent in these protocols, is always in the building. An isolation room has been identified, and designated staff have been trained on the protocols and procedures if there is a sick staff or student. All staff were trained on these protocols using Behavior Skills Training during the summer program, and the school will provide continuous training through regularly scheduled building meetings. All parents will be contacted on a daily basis at minimum by their child’s head classroom teacher via email.
- Hybrid: In our hybrid model, students and staff will be divided into two separate groups, Group A and Group B. Group A students will receive in-person instruction on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Group B will receive in-person instruction on Thursdays and Fridays. The opposite group will receive remote learning on those days. On Mondays, all students will receive remote instruction. IEP objectives that cannot be targeted remotely will be targeted on days that students attend in-person learning. Students will receive synchronous lessons with their licensed Head Teacher and 1:1 staff while remote during the same time frames as identified in the in-person model. Outside therapists will continue to consult with teachers through a remote model, as outlined in the students’ IEPs. All in-school safety protocols will continue to be adhered to during in-person learning time. In order to ensure adequate access to technology and materials for all students learning at home, the Darnell school is currently seeking out grant money in order to ensure all staff and students are fully equipped to deliver and receive a robust educational curriculum when not in the school building.
- Remote: For our remote learning model, we will provide students with access to a full six-hour school day remotely. Each student will be scheduled to work with their case manager and 1:1 staff from 9-2pm, rotating between staff on an hourly basis to ensure generalization. The licensed Head Teacher will be responsible for developing and training all staff on lesson plans that will be implemented remotely. On a daily basis all students will convene remotely with all students in their classrooms to work on social skills and have the ability to engage with their peers. Outside therapists will continue to consult with teachers through a remote model, as outlined in the students’ IEPs. Head teachers will be available by email or video chat for any parent wishing to communicate with their child’s teacher. As outlined in the hybrid model, should we need to reenter an all-remote learning environment during the next school year, we will ensure families who need technology and other learning tools will have them.
- Our staff have learned a great deal since the emergency school closure. We expect the teaching and learning in the fall will look different than what you experienced during the emergency school closure that began in March. Staff will engage in additional professional development opportunities such that they can better plan and provide maximal instruction to students regardless of the model in effect. Professional development will be reinforced throughout the school year in order to support educator’s implementation of this comprehensive plan.
As stated at the outset, reducing the risk and spread of COVID-19, the health and safety of our students, our employees, and our community is our highest priority. With any plan in place, we need your help to meet any level of success. With any in-person instruction occurring, this starts at home each morning with you. Any student not feeling well must be kept at home. With all remote learning needs our planning expands your role to that of mostly a facilitator of assigned student work. We will establish daily schedules and we need your help to meet your student’s schedule. We greatly appreciate everything you did for your child over the first five months of this pandemic, and with your partnership, we plan to upgrade our engagement in remote learning this year. As such, we depend on the full community’s continued commitment to working collaboratively to ensure that all our students are safe and fully engaged in learning.
We reserve the right to make changes to all aspects of this return-to-school plan, as we consider community feedback, additional guidance from the State, and continue to monitor COVID-19 trends.
See the full plan here