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Some private schools plan in-person learning in places where public schools are not

Written by on July 17, 2020

As Atlanta-area public schools plan to remain online this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, private schools are set to reopen — with their classroooms fully occupied.

That contrast in Georgia’s largest city is typical of other parts of the country.

A group of New Orleans private schools is opening full time next month. But while public school students from pre-K to fourth grade will return full time, students from fifth grade to eighth grade will be only part time and online.

Yorktown Christian Academy, a private school in Corpus Christi, Texas, was poised to start in-person learning next week as the surge in COVID-19 cases forced two area public school districts, Tuloso-Midway ISD and London ISD, to push back start dates and abide by a county health order issued Thursday permitting them to provide online instruction only.

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Washington state private outfit Gateway Christian Schools said all students will return to the classroom full time, as public school districts in Kitsap and North Mason counties bring students back to the classroom only part time and online.

Westminster School in Atlanta

Westminster School in Atlanta (Google Earth)

Money is one of the reasons private schools have a jump on public schools as the new school year approaches amid the coronavirus. Another is smaller enrollments.

In addition, private schools have more flexibility to change curriculums, facilities or the work force. They face fewer regulations and, in most cases, no teacher unions to negotiate with, according to the paper.

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“We’re nonunionized and really want to stay that way,” Mike Walker, the head of school at San Francisco Day, a private school, told the paper. “There’s a different ethos, a different culture. I chose to work in a smaller system because I think we can make decisions more quickly.”

He said when the San Francisco public school system said this month that it would probably be unable to open schools in the fall, “it raised really considerable issues of equity,” he said. “It breaks our heart.”

In Honolulu, Punahou, a private school for kindergarten through grade 12, will open full time for all students, as public school students go back to school for only part of the week.

Punahou has spent $3 million on health, technology and hiring in response to the pandemic, according to The New York Times in an article Friday. It increased its financial aid by 50 percent, to $12 million, to allow families who took a financial hit because of the pandemic to still enroll.

“We’ve been very fortunate in this respect that our donors and our alumni have been able to give us additional money to make that possible,” Mike Latham, Punahou’s president, told the paper.

One of the private schools in Atlanta planning to open full time on Aug. 13 is Westminster, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Friday.

A school spokeswoman said the school was  “fortunate to have a large campus, including a new academic building and extra modular classrooms, which will allow for smaller class sizes and increased social distancing,” according to the paper.

The paper reported that Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw has installed a microbial air filtration system to combat the virus. It’s opening Aug. 11.

Mount Paran spokeswoman Tiffany Westbrook told the paper the school has plenty of room to set up a large tent for an outdoor cafeteria. Social distancing won’t pose much of a problem indoors, with average class sizes of 12 students per teacher.

“Our class sizes are so small already that we can pretty much do it without modifications,” she said, according to the paper.

In New Orleans, the Independent Schools Association for the Southwest said its 15 private schools will open next month, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

“All policy considerations of the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. That is the goal come August,” Joseph Kreutziger, the head of slchool for St. George’s Episcopal in Uptown New Orleans, told an online town hall meeting Wednesday, the paper reported.

“As educators, we know this is how children learn and socialize best, even if we have to plan for and possibly enact other scenarios presented to us by the pandemic,” he said.

Yorktown Christian with 180 students is opening July 22 even as COVID-19 cases in Corpus Christi have skyrocketed, the Corpus Christi Caller Times reported Thursday.

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Punahou School in Honolulu.

Punahou School in Honolulu. (Google Earth)

Yorktown principal John Gilbert told the paper he was prepared for a potential countywide order to delay opening schools. But in the meantime, he planned to stick to the July 22 start date.

Gilbert said in early July that school leaders discussed delaying the start of school as COVID-19 cases grew, “but what it really comes down to is most people want their kids back in school.”

According to the Caller Times, Yorktown Christian will offer what Gilbert called an “enhanced classroom” consisting of in-person learning and remote learning via Google Classroom for all students.

That way, they can easily continue instruction if a student or an entire class has to quarantine, Gilbert said.

Gateway Christian weighed a part-time model but administrators realized they could accommodate nearly all students in both locations while maintaining the social distancing, the Kitsap Sun reported Wednesday.

“We have a slightly different situation than the public schools,”  the school’s Ken Ebersole told the paper. “We can decide if we want to cap enrollment.”

In a letter last week, Gateway Christian told parents that it felt its opening model offered the “optimal situation for quality learning, and also contains other positive elements like scheduling and family convenience.”

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The school is also taking precautions recommended by state school regulators. They include health checks for all those entering schools, social distancing in classrooms and other areas, and the requirement for staff and students to wear masks or face shields except when eating or playing outside, the paper reported.

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