C17: skolgång i en pandemi = schooling in a pandemic
I dis-enrolled the kids from Futuraskolan International School this week. Yesterday, I returned their school iPads, math books and library books and picking up their official "leaving papers" from the school. Walked through the school gate, into the door, put hand sanitizer on, and walked in. Kids running everywhere, no obvious protection other than the hand sanitizer.
In between everything, we've been downloading grade reports, files, etc. It's been interesting to look at the correspondence from the school and how it's changed over time- I've posted a some of the correspondence from more recent times below (it gets a bit long but might be of interest).
On our end, we pulled our kids from in person school on 15 March and they've been working from home ever since. As noted before, one of the reasons for leaving Sweden is our concern about putting our kids back into a school with too many kids and packed hallways- especially when we feared that our kids would a) be a vector of contagion to school or b) bring something home.
Repeated requests from parents to know more about sanitation have not been answered. A request this week to meet with the school's CEO (this school is part of set of private schools)-- when all kids have been required to return to school this week-- was responded to with an answer of "I can meet you next week." When you have parents worried about the health and safety of their kids and their families, telling someone I'm too busy to meet with you until next week is poor form at best.
Individually, various teachers have been great- warm, caring, engaged. They have worked with the kids- helping us move Stephen into 8th grade to manage more advanced math, etc. We knew that school work wasn't going to be their main learning objective this year anyway- life and living abroad was. Who knew that managing critical health care and a pandemic would become part of the learning objectives too!
In between, I've been working closely with the State College Area School District (SCASD) staff to re-enroll our kids. I actually don't care if they are in school (I should, I know), but having structure and more to do for them is actually helpful- watching movies all day leads to grumpy kids fighting with each other (I've not yet written the blog post entitled "pointless arguments" but have thought a lot about it).
The SCASD management, teachers, and staff have been brilliantly helpful: kind, caring, reaching out to help us navigate re-enrollment, class selection for Stephen. We had a discussion with his principal and guidance counselor at Delta on Sunday. We've been planning to enroll Stephen in Delta, a new school for him, in the fall, but are doing so now- so he's learning a new school, new lingo, and how to engage in April for the school term. When trying to figure out delivery of chromebooks for school and a deep quarantine on our return, his new principal said he'd drop them off for us. Brilliant. Elizabeth will have a teacher we've worked with before- Kate Hallinger (Stephen was in her class for both 4th and 5th grade).
So we're making the school transition from Sweden... kids will get to manage the 6 hour time difference with us. Stephen's all school meeting today is at 2 PM eastern, 8 PM our time. Elizabeth's first official zoom class will be at 9 AM eastern, 3 pm our time on Friday.
Wish us luck!
If you want to see the evolution, below are some but not all of the recent pieces of correspondence from our kids' school in Sweden between parents and CEO.
April 20 letter from parents to CEO:
April 22 email from CEO to parents:Dear Mr. ____,We hope you and your family are in good health. The undersigned 144 parents are writing in response to the email you sent this morning, Sunday, April 19th, 2020. Although we appreciate your message, we must admit that we are a bit puzzled and do not understand why you seem to express surprise by the fact that some guardians have decided to keep children at home. A month ago, we had a lengthy exchange of communication directly with you in this regards and you even pointed out your respect and understanding for parents who exercised their “ethical and legal right to keep their students at home”. In fact, on that same chain of communication, you stated: "The Swedish Government has told me that all students have to be in school, or be learning on a school based platform, for 178 days each year.” We would kindly like to know what has now changed that does not allow for students to use the current online school based platform.Above all, we would like to emphasize that we are very grateful for the school’s prompt response to the crisis by incorporating distance learning tools for students to continue their academic development at home. We are especially thankful for the efforts of each and every teacher. Their support during this time has been incredible and we really appreciate the dedication and hard work they have put into assuring that our children reach their full potential remotely. Together with teachers and the school administration, us parents and caregivers, have also dedicated our days to support our children studying online, making sure all their work was presented with accuracy and on time to their respective teachers. We have engaged with teachers and school staff to ensure that our children’s routine continued as smoothly as possible.We all agree that it would be great to have things back to normal and have all kids attending classes and physical activities. However, we also feel that the current circumstances are not adequate to go back to the usual school routine given the rise in COVID19 cases and deaths. By the end of week one of online learning there were 16 Covid-19 related deaths in Sweden. There are now over 1500, from which a high percentage are in Stockholm. The cases and deaths are continuing to rise, making the risk of contagion very high. This is a global health crisis and those of us who decide to stay at home are doing it not just for ourselves, but for society as a whole. Although all indications say that kids are not at high risk of suffering severe consequences of COVID19, they are not yet excluded as a vector for contagion.Although it is true that many countries are starting to reopen schools and going back to normality, World Health Organization has advised against going back to normality too abruptly. As we have said before, sending our kids to school implies going against many of the measures that the Health authorities recommend, such as avoiding public transportation, gatherings of more than 50 people and keeping social distance. It is hard to imagine social distancing in the school’s current facilities. There are some children that have underlying health conditions such as asthma and there are also families who have a member in the high-risk category. It is only fair that these children have the opportunity to continue with their online education.For the reasons stated above, we would like to kindly ask the school to reconsider the decision to stop online learning and continue with the current model, which we find to be working quite well. As of April 27th, there will only be 30 days left of school, which is less than the number of days we have been utilizing online learning.Similarly, we would like to ask the school to explain to us what measures will be taken to ensure the wellbeing and safety of our children, the teachers and staff when school’s attendance is back to normal. We find it very important to know that the school will take appropriate hygiene measures, as we outlines on our first letter to you at the beginning of March.We are committed to continue supporting our children in their learning activities to ensure that they continue to fulfill their academic responsibilities remotely. We would kindly request an opportunity to discuss this issue with you, with Ms. Macdonald and Ms. Pomeroy, in order to be able to exchange ideas and hear each other out. Perhaps we could use an online platform.We thank you for your attention and look forward to hearing back from you soon.
Good morning members of the Futuraskolan International School of Stockholm and Futuraskolan International Stockholm parental community,I hope this note finds you all well and that your families are healthy and in a safe place.I write to both communities today after a bit of investigation so that I could clarify the schools position and encourage you to have your children participate in school. I returned home from Futuraskolan International Gåshaga yesterday afternoon where the BBC did an expose on students and schools in Sweden during the coronavirus time. It was an awesome day and all of the 272 students in attendance at the school participated.The piece should be on tv this Thursday. I’ll be sure (of course) to inform the community when it is published.I’ve given a lot of thought to this letter and both the tone and the content I aim to relay. One of the core components of a communication strategy in the time of crisis is to keep things simple, clear and brief. You don’t ‘’micromanage a fire drill’’ is the concept. Still, I think you in the International community deserve some explanation behind our developments.Having talked with [wife] and the board of Futuraskolan we would like you to know that we are very compassionate to your perspective. I personally am more fortunate than others. Though my dad is aging and has physical challenges in America when I go home every afternoon these days I arrive to two teenagers. Both [wife] and I appreciate that our family situations are perhaps not as concerning as others so please know that we approach this issue of school openings and parents’ decision making without judgement.In the past week there have been some key decisions that have been analysed and responded to by the ministry of education. One in particular involved the closing of one of Internationella Engelska Skolan’s Stockholm area schools. This decision is particularly relevant to our decision making process.The Principal of that school had all students do distance learning from home for the following reasons, ‘’according to the principal, the goal of completely switching to distance education was to reduce the spread of infection in the community and reduce the risk of infections among the staff. She confirms that there is a lot of distance education because of a strained staff position, and that it is and has been difficult to find substitutes.’’In response the school inspectorate stated, ‘’the efforts of the principal has not been enough to guarantee students a normal school day at school.’’Anna Björk from Skolverket confirmed for me on the telephone yesterday that ‘’all students should be in school and distance learning should be minimized except in extreme cases.’’In response to this new direction from the ministry of education one municipality director, Johannes Pålsson who is the Head of Education at Ekerö Kommun, wrote a mail to all guardians in Ekerö Kommun on April 16 stating in part, ‘’In cases where the student has been away for an extended period and where there is uncertainty about whether the child is ill, we will request medical certificates. In cases where the custodian keeps his or her child at home without a justifiable reason such as granted leave or sickness, it may be the case with a penal injunction pursuant to Chapter 7. Section 23 of the School Act.’’I state this not because Futuraskolan plans to explore this course of action (Futuraskolan will not be exploring legal actions towards any parents in the community) but to illustrate that the guidelines from the ministry is clear, students in preschool to grade 9 should be present in school unless there is a valid medical reason for their lack of attendance.The way I see it there are two components of this conversation:1. How reasonable are the ministry of educations requirements, and2. Should Futuraskolan be following themObviously Futuraskolan will be following any directives from our governments various ministries. We have opened our schools and closed our laptops at our various schools in the organization. We have increased our cleaning contracts to include common areas, desks, handrails and doorknobs, as per the ministry of health’s recommendations. Attendance at all of our schools was over 90% both last week and this week. It’s only our two Stockholm schools that remain sparsely attended.Please help us to help your student by ensuring they attend school in person unless there is a valid medical reason for them not to attend. We will be filing attendance reports with all of our municipalities and social support agencies as per their request (statistics central office has already reached out to us for our attendance data, and intends to a few times every month).To clarify:1. Should you make the choice to keep your student home from school please inform us in writing of your motivation.2. Should your child be sick please provide a doctors certificate.3. Should you not include a doctors certificate we will simply report your students absence as ‘unexcused’.4. No special adjustments for home learning will be made for any student unless they have a valid medical certificate and an adjusted study plan is constructed and documented in collaboration with the Student Care Team at the school.On a personal note, please know that this mail wasn’t that easy to write. Both [wife] and I fully appreciate the difficult emotions and challenging family configurations that face many of the members in our community at this time. Once again I personally am more fortunate than most. When I return home from being in town at the end of the day I don’t have my parents living with me, or a relative who has an underlying health issue. For me personally, there is no fear of hurting someone I love by coming home from school. As such, please know that we relay these guidelines without judgement. Should you make the ethical and legal choice to keep your student home from school we will work hard to ensure that you are not penalized in any way.We are legally obliged to open our schools, disinfect them in a systematic manner, document student attendance (and grade performance), and report our attendance results to the authorities.Please help us to help your students by ensuring that they engage in the learning process over the following weeks until the grading process is complete and the summer holidays commence.Thank you all for your engagement and diplomacy towards us in this difficult time. We are grateful for your approach and wish to extend our sincere well wishes to all of your families, both in Sweden and abroad. Let us hope together that there is an end to this global condition in the very near future.Sincerely,CEO
April 22 letter from parents to CEO:
We were happy to hear from you and thank you for your response and information. Unfortunately, there is still the preference within our undersigned community to continue with the current online education model, especially from parents who feel that it is too risky at this point to go back to a normal routine and do not agree with sending their kids back to school on Monday. Kids themselves are very distressed and scared to go back to school. They feel safe at home and are happy with their online education model. As we said in our previous letter, there are parents who have major health or personal concerns and do not want to send their kids to school, but prefer to continue with online education. We would like to know what options the school can put in place for these parents and what the consequences would be in terms of the children’s academic reports. Would they still be able to finish the school year and obtain report cards? Considering that there is very little time left of the school year, we hope the school can accommodate for those parents. As per the Skolverket website, “principals are able to take into account the situation that is relevant at their particular schools and preschools, and thus be able to meet the needs of their children and pupils.” (https://www.skolverket.se/regler-och-ansvar/coronaviruset-och-covid-19---regler-for-skolor-och-forskolor/coronaviruset---fragor-och-svar-utifran-skollagstiftningen)
We understand that the school must follow directives of the Government, but we also know that other international schools have come forward to the Government with valid arguments to continue to be closed or with online education. You know that the circumstances of our community can’t be compared to those of the schools you give examples of in your letter. First, your example about the Internationella Engelska Skolan and how the school inspectorate stated that ‘’the efforts of the principal has not been enough to guarantee students a normal school day at school’’, is not really our case. Of course, physical presence is the best system, yet for the students that have been undertaking online classes; we feel that it has worked just fine. Our children are virtually present at school the whole day, and they have quite a lot of work to do at the end of the day. We repeat, we are very grateful for this option you gave us and applaud and appreciate our amazing teachers. Their support has been incredible both towards students and parents. Second, the scarce attendance at our school that you mention can be due on one side, to the fact that Stockholm is dense, people rely on public transportation and contagion is the highest in the country; but most importantly in our case, it is due to the international nature of our school. Whilst most parents at Swedish schools will usually choose a school within walking distance from their homes; we in the international community do not have this choice and most of us live in different points of the city, relying on public transport to go to and from school. Many of us have to travel for an hour each way and some parents of younger children need to accompany their kids, so they do these trips 4 times a day! As we all know, avoiding public transport is one of the recommendations of the health authorities and it seems contradictory that they expect kids to go to school, regardless. In our community, some of the families have both parents working from home and it will be difficult for them to have to make 4 trips a day to take and pick up their children to and from school. This is not only a risk for the children, but for parents and family members as well. Given the speed of the spread of this virus, we will be much more exposed to it and if parents get sick from COVID19, childcare will be an issue, as we have no extended family in the country.
In addition to our main distress about sending kids back to school, we are also very concerned about the measures the school is to take to protect staff, teachers and pupils when the school goes back to normal operation and pupils go back to the premises. We are glad to hear that the cleaning will be enhanced, but would also like to know what the school plans to do regarding social distancing. We have looked at the recommendations of the Swedish Health Authorities regarding avoiding the spread of COVID 19 at schools:
· Extend the distance between tables in classrooms, dining rooms and other spaces if possible.
· Avoid, as far as possible, larger gatherings of children and pupils. This may apply, for example, in the dining room, cloakroom, auditorium and other areas. For example, the school can ensure that not all students eat at the same time, delay school start and end of school, and place breaks in a way that limits large numbers of students.
· Minimize activities that bring together many people, such as open houses and music performances for students and parents.
Look at the opportunities to place activities and breaks outdoors. Activities in preschool and leisure home, but also some teaching such as sports education, may have greater opportunities to be conducted outdoors. Avoid sports and other activities that include close contact if possible. (https://www.folkhalsomyndigheten.se/smittskydd-beredskap/utbrott/aktuella-utbrott/covid-19/verksamheter/information-till-skola-och-forskola-om-den-nya-sjukdomen-covid-19/?fbclid=IwAR3m3LF8l68NRvsfYBfybJR36gq2zXqS8ouPwHts7LAJ_B7GIJ39v3b3Afg)
Taking this into account, we would like to make a few suggestions / inquiries that we hope the school can consider:
1. We would appreciate it if the school could expose the specific circumstances of our international community to the Government and the reasons why some parents have chosen to keep their kids at home and receive online tutoring. We know of other international schools that have done this and are now closed or offering online schooling (at least at the time this letter is written).
2. In order to facilitate social distancing, you might consider Implementing 2 school shifts, for example 8-11:30 and 12-3:30, adjusting outdoor lessons to complete the remaining hours of the day.
3. In order to avoid public transport, could the school look into a private bus route? Some parents have expressed their willingness to contribute to pay for this service.
4. We would like to know what measures will be taken in the lunch room.
5. Apart from the professional cleaning of the school premises, we kindly suggest that gym, music and art equipment be thoroughly cleaned / disinfected after each use.
6. We recommend that pupils don’t change classrooms in order to avoid congestion in hallways.
7. Finally, we would like to know what we need to add to our procedures in order to be legally allowed to continue with our current model of distance education.
Mr. Callahan, as we all know, this is a global crisis and we all know the dreadful consequences of this virus. We respect the Swedish authorities and would like to find a way to follow their rules, but at the same time, keep our children and ourselves safe. We hope you can take our concerns and requests into account. More parents have added to this cause and we are now 166 undersigned.
We thank you for your attention and look forward to hearing back as soon as possible, so that parents can make appropriate adjustments before Monday.
April 26, 2020 letter from principal to parents:
In the past week you have been informed through a letter by our CEO, ____, that starting from Monday the 27th of April we will resume our regular schedule and distance learning will no longer be provided.
We understand that there are many feelings surrounding this decision. It is a very challenging and stressful time living in the Covid-19 global pandemic. We are empathic to your concerns, and we aim to ensure you that we care about our students and consider what is best in their return to school on Monday.
We have made changes to routines for entering the school in the morning, lunch times and increased hygiene procedures. Our contracted cleaning company also has been providing increased cleaning at school.
We are asking all parents and extended members of our school community to refrain from entering the school’s playground or school building, and to stay outside the school’s front gate. We will have staff outside to greet the students at 8:15 and between 8:15 and 8:25 will we be gathering the primary students in the playground and lining them up outside to be collected by their classroom teachers.
This is to ensure that all the primary school children are entering the school at the same time, giving staff the opportunity to greet them, welcome them to school, and impose hand sanitization. Fritids will still operate as usual with additional hygiene routines upon entering and leaving Fritids in the morning.
Middle School students are asked to come into the building at 8:15, make sure that they apply available hand sanitizer when entering the school. The students will be instructed throughout the day to wash and sanitize their hands and working areas before and when leaving the classrooms.
To ensure a safe environment in our lunchroom we have adapted our routines. We will have additional staff in the lunchroom to help serve the food so the children do not touch any serving utensils, plates, glasses or cutlery.
We have updated our Health and Sickness policy. In this policy you will find our guidelines and procedures. If your child has any symptoms of COVID-19, your child has to stay at home and needs to be reported ill, following the regular procedures. If you decide to keep your child(ren) at home, please email the classroom teacher, Ms. ____ and Ms. ____ with your motivation.
If you must keep your child home due to their underlying or high risk health conditions, please provide a doctor’s note noting their medical condition. Please be aware that with the high volume of communication it will take longer than usual for your message to be answered, but please be assured they will be.
Attendance rules have not changed and are being requested to proceed as normal. If your child misses over 20% of classes from April 27 we will again be reporting to proper school authorities.
As distance learning will no longer be offered, there will be no option on Admentum to report that your child is attending by distance learning. As the situation within Sweden changes and students return to school, please look for further communication with updates to our school routines as many decisions must be discussed across both schools populating our Erik Dahlbergsgatan location.
April 27 email from CEO to parents:
Good day parents of the Futuraskolan International School of Stockholm community,
Thank you for your mail everyone and for your very relevant perspective. I appreciate this is a difficult situation for yourself and your families. Thank you for your honest communication and for your engagement.
I have taken your perspective into account. Based on my analysis of the situation and the guidelines that govern our procedures I have decided to open all of the schools and preschools within Futuraskolan and discontinue the general online teaching procedures.
I have spoken with [Principal] and [Vice principal] today and there are plans to adjust both room assignments and transition times. For all questions concerning a particular school or preschool please contact that school's Principal, Vice Principal or your students classroom mentor for clarification.
We are eager to provide the online teaching option to students with documented medical concerns. Please contact your schools administrator or leadership team to formally explore this option.
I would be happy to meet with either all of you or a small, representative group. I am available the following times and dates:
May 5 - 11:00-12:00 or 13:00-14:00
May 6 - 10:00-11:00
May 7 - 13:00-14:00
Please inform me how many people will be in attendance so I can book the appropriate room.
Thank you again for your honest communication. I will be conferring regularly with Nicole and Veronna and will send an updated information letter to the entire Futuraskolan community should the government or Futuraskolan adjust their position on the issue.
Have a nice evening,
27 April, 8:37 PM Email from Parents to CEO
We thank you very much for your response and agreement to meet with us. This past month and a half has been very difficult for all of us. In our particular case, we, the undersigned parents, have dealt with a lot of stress and feelings of fear, anxiety and frustration in the last week, to say the least. As you know, we are a significant group of parents at the Futuraskolan International, representing around 25-30% (if not more) of the total number of students at the school. We have spent countless hours communicating to each other and compiling all our concerns in the most organized, respectful and diplomatic way, as you, yourself , have kindly pointed out. For this reason, the least we expect is to be respected back and heard out . We need our requests to be taken into account, not for next school year, but for now, when the crisis is happening. In that line of thought, we thank you very much for agreeing to meet with us, but we can't wait until next week.. We are running out of time, Having barely a month left of school, we really need a solution now, not next week. We would like to propose that we meet latest, either on Wednesday 29th or on Thursday, April 30th at a time of your convenience. We thank you for your kind invitation to your office, but would propose to meet via zoom to follow the Health Authorities guidelines. We will be only a handful of parents in representation of the whole group and do not plan on taking more than 30-45 minutes of your time. We look forward to your reply in order to proceed.
28 April, 8 AM email from CEO to Parents
Thank you for your mail everyone. I and the rest of the families and employees in the organization share your concern and the challenging emotions you are facing.
Meeting in the next two days is impossible for my schedule. Please see my available times in my previous mail or please suggest a few times after those dates that would suit your schedules.
Note: on April 26, the Swedish authorities released new remote schooling guidelines: https://www.regeringen.se/pressmeddelanden/2020/04/okade-mojligheter-for-fjarr--eller-distansundervisning-vid-franvaro-kan-underlatta-for-elever-och-larare/ReplyDelete