August 11, 2020 Summer Letter

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Dear Families,

We’ve made it to August, and while we still have many unanswered questions, we can feel the start of the school year moving closer and closer with each new sunrise. 

Our summer planning committee continues to meet weekly, reviewing the newest DOE guidance, articles from experts, and models from other schools around the world.  We remain centered around our values statement.  

To date, we’ve received health and safety guidance as well as instructional guidance for all NYC public schools.

This week, we submitted our proposal for our reopening model – one that includes different cohorts of learners. In writing this proposal, we needed to follow this important guidance from the DOE: “Note that no group of students may be prioritized above students with disabilities for in-person instruction, such that members of that group receive more in-person instructional time or in-person instruction ahead of a student with a disability.”

The Brooklyn New School currently serves approximately 200 students with disabilities from grades Pre-K through 5.  For many of our children, families reported that remote learning was very difficult in the spring.  Challenges related to attention struggles, the need for more hands-on support with related services including Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy, and disengagement from the screen, rendering services like Counseling, Speech, and SETSS particularly difficult to provide.  This resulted in a lack of appropriate progress towards the goals of student IEPs. This was especially true in the lower grades. 

In addition to the blended learning model, we will offer seats in a full-time in person cohort to students with IEPs, starting with the lowest grades and working up to fifth grade until capacity is reached.  This model offers full-time, in-person learning for children whose IEPs reflect the need for close, direct instruction and interactions with learning support specialists.  

It allows all of our students to be taught in small groups so that each teacher will be responsible for 12 to 17 children in grades K-5.  Groupings will be carefully crafted so that ICT mandates are met, and groupings will maintain the 40/60% ICT balance necessary by law. 

Additionally, this plan mirrors the Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday cohort model applied for by our sister & co-located school, Brooklyn Collaborative.  By having aligned models, we will be able to program siblings who attend both schools on the same days of the week. 

Wednesdays will be outdoor learning days for BNS students in cohorts A, B, and C. On inclement weather days, Wednesdays would be an additional remote learning day for all children in cohorts A and B. 

Here’s a visual representation of this plan:

    • Three in-person cohorts, one remote. 
    • Group A (Monday and Tuesday) and Group B (Thursday and Friday) receive in-person learning on two consistent days per week plus receive a third day of in-person instruction outdoors on Wednesdays; remote learning for non-in person days. 
    • Group C: full-time in-person.
    • Group D: remote every day with BNS teachers; consists of students who opt out of in-person instruction.

We are awaiting approval or directions for any revisions we will need to make. 

This is a year to reimagine education.  Our teachers and families must forego the usual summer planning and preparations for the start of a new school year, and instead enter September with a focus on relationship, play, and emergent curriculum as we invite the stories and lives of our children into our classrooms.  Speaking of classrooms, we are not yet sure that they will be ready for us.  

There is tremendous anxiety about the building, specifically about ventilation and the windows.  This is true for many school buildings around our city.  In response to our earlier outreach, teachers and families brought these concerns to the CEC for District 15 and to Councilmember Brad Lander’s office.  In late July, we conducted a walkthrough of 610 Henry Street with the Division of School Facilities (DSF).  We were promised that at least 50% of our windows would be operable by September 1st, and that we would have adequate water pressure in all of our sinks.   

We also had the chance to peek into the “girls bathroom” on the second floor, which is currently under renovation and not usable, at this moment.  This is promised to be ready by September 10th.  After this walkthrough, Alex Stimmel, our UFT representative, a BNS parent, and a third grade teacher, took the lead on a letter to Brad Lander’s office expressing our concerns. 

Next, we were connected with Joseph Allen, one of the co-authors of the Harvard article that’s been circulated.  Joseph Allen shared a metric for measuring the airflow in a room.  He taught us about the “air change rate,” and asserted that schools could reopen safely with proper ventilation – and that the best way to do this is with air purifiers, calculated to meet the needs of the square footage and occupancy of each room.  

In addition, we were connected to an independent mechanical engineer who offered a walkthrough of our building. Joseph Allen helped us prepare the precise questions that would let us know what is needed to make sure our “air change rate” meets standards.  The CEC and Brad Lander reached out to DSF and the School Construction Authority to request access to 610 Henry Street.  As of now, we have been unable to conduct this second walkthrough.  

Simultaneously, a group of parents including some in the BNS community came together to work on a position paper: “Too Many Deal Breakers: Why NYC Must Prioritize Safety, Equity, and Compassion.”  Another BNS parent organized a panel of experts called, “What Does the Science Say?”  As well, a group of parents coordinated with Brad Lander’s office to host a forum about outdoor learning and equity, including Pre-K teacher & BCS parent, Jennifer Garcia, as one of the panelists. 

As we reimagine education, let’s not forget the power of coming together and learning under the sky and amongst the trees. 

With so much information coming our way, we surely have a monumental planning puzzle.  

On August 10, we received our first report about remote learning registration for BNS students.  About 20% of our families have applied for fully remote learning.  If you want your child to learn 100% remotely for at least the first quarter of the school year, please fill out this form.  So far, 17 staff members (teachers, educational assistants, and others) have applied for fully remote work in the fall because of medical accommodations.

We predict that both of these numbers will continue to rise.

After we hear back from the DOE about our proposal for the fall, we will be in touch to hear from you about the two in-person options (blended and 100% in-person). 

We still have many questions to answer, but we remain committed to hearing from our community and gathering your input.  We will host our second family forum of the summer on Monday, August 24th at 4:00 PM on Zoom, the link will be shared on Konstella.    

See you then!

Anna and Diane

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