I want to give you some background on the decision to close school today and, more importantly, let you know what is coming next. As I sit here typing, I hardly know where to begin, so I apologize if this gets too wordy and maybe not in the best order.
I have been telling you that the decision to close school would come from the Lancaster County Health Department and the Diocesan Chief Administrative Officer. Dr. Hecker convened an advisory group of pastors, principals, and diocesan leaders to help decide how we should proceed. We were faced with the distinct possibility (and probability) that Lincoln Public Schools would cancel school next week, which they indeed ended up announcing today at 1 pm, while we were meeting. I don’t know for sure why LPS canceled school, but I imagine that they were heavily influenced by the number of families who might have been traveling over spring break, and weighing the risk that someone could unwittingly expose their school community to COVID-19. Even though this concern doesn’t apply to the Lincoln Catholic schools, and even though we don’t have a single confirmed case of COVID-19 in Lancaster County (as of this writing), we were faced with the reality that it is a good idea to act in solidarity with our brethren at LPS. If we cancel and they don’t, it makes them look bad should a new case arise. Or, the opposite could also be true. What if we have school and they don’t? In the end, I think partnering with LPS on these decisions is the best way for us to go, even though their circumstances in this particular moment are a bit different than ours. The reason I want you to know this “backstory” is that I don’t want you to think that we came upon any new information that there is a new risk in Lancaster County. Though I tire a bit of the phrase “an abundance of caution,” that phrase is most apt with regard to this decision.
Now that classes are suspended for the following week, here’s what’s next:
· We are suspending all extra-curricular activities, including practices, rehearsals and performances. We realize that there is a spring musical scheduled two weeks away, and that our kids have invested quite a bit of time and energy into its preparation. We have not yet made a decision as to whether, or under what conditions, the show will go on. We will make decisions about extra-curricular activities on a week-to-week basis.
· Our teachers will be moving in earnest to an online instruction format. We know that online instruction is not a full substitute for face-to-face instruction, but we feel that with 1200 healthy students at home, we need to do all we can to provide opportunities for student learning. Our teachers were aware this possibility was coming, and we will spend Monday and Tuesday getting ourselves up to speed for an online presence. I told your kids today that they should expect to see assignments and instruction posted on Powerschool Learning (or perhaps email) by Wednesday, March 18.
· The main office and phone lines will be staffed from 8 am – 4pm Mondaythrough Friday. Even though we are canceling classes, our building will still be available to guests/visitors/calls.
· Our guidance staff will still be available. Even though we are closed to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus, Pius counselors and support staff are available to help. Even if you would like to come to Pius to see a counselor, that option is available. If you need to contact your counselor or the Pius guidance office staff, please visit https://www.piusx.net/guidance-office/ for information on how to do so.
· Please call Pius if your child is sick. We will continue to communicate to teachers which students are sick, so they know not to expect homework. It will also be helpful to us to know where our student population is in terms of illness. For example, this week’s report indicated only 4% of our students reported illness, with 1% complaining of a stomachache, and 0.5% with flu-like symptoms. This is good information for us to track.
· We are making laptops available for families who don’t have a computer in the home. We have a limited number of laptops available, and want to provide them to students who don’t have access to a computer, ipad, or other mobile device for instruction. If you need a laptop for your household, please visithttps://www.piusx.net/covid19/ and click on “Request a Laptop.” Please understand the following:
o Requesting a laptop will mean that you assume financial responsibility for any damage done to the computer while it is in your possession.
o Laptops will be available starting on March 18.
o If you can pick up the laptop at Pius during normal office hours, that will be our preference. However, if you can’t, we will deliver it to your home.
o Requesting a laptop doesn’t guarantee receiving one. We will contact you to make arrangements for pickup or delivery if you will receive one.
o Spectrum has announced that they are offering FREE wi-fi to all k-12 students who don’t currently have access. Details can be found at this site: https://www.1011now.com/content/news/Spectrum-to-offer-free-WiFi-to-college-K-12-students-impacted-by-closures-568778921.html. The number to call is 1-844-488-8395.
o Each laptop will come with a unique username and password that will be different than the student’s normal login. Once a student logs in to the computer, he or she will be able to use the normal login credentials when accessing PowerSchool Learning and/or Office 365.
o Our school’s Acceptable Use Policy will apply to the use of our laptops.
· We will continue to report grades through the parent portal, but…our teachers recognize that online learning will be a different experience for many of our students. Depending on how long we are out of school, we will make decisions about student grades in as fair of a manner as possible. We want students to take these grades seriously, but don’t want them to get too upset if they are making a great effort and not getting the results they want.
· Closing school doesn’t mean your students are quarantined. The CDC continues to encourage all of us to avoid large gatherings. In the last few days, I have seen a rise in reference to “social distancing”, which means that you try to maintain at least six feet from others in public settings. In crowded places (such as theaters and arenas) it is not possible to maintain this sort of distance, which increases the risk of spread. This doesn’t mean that friends can’t get together, though of course that is entirely your call. I would avoid large gatherings of friends at a single house.
I hope that I have hit everything I need to. I don’t know that I will have much to share in terms of updates in the next couple of days, but will let you know if I come across any new information to share. I marvel at the level of commitment that our faculty and staff have demonstrated throughout this process. Their heart has been unwaveringly directed toward the well-being of your kids, they have been patient and flexible in an uncertain time, and they haven’t batted an eye at the prospect of having to switch over to a new form of instruction. To the contrary, I have seen a gleam in most teachers’ eyes that says, “Bring it on. I am going to do this well.”
We will sure try to “do this well.” As I said last night, we continue to put our trust in God’s great love for us and for your kids. May He continue to bless and protect the Pius family.