WFIS Reopening Schools Resource

Private Schools Reopening Principles, 2020-2021 SY

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To identify core principles and criteria into which flexible models may be incorporated that allow private schools to reopen on-campus instruction in the fall of 2020 in ways that are consistent with the mission and values of individual schools, with the needs of their community, and with guidance from public health.

Guiding Principles:

Health and Safety

Public: In order to be part of the solution for controlling transmission of Covid-19 for all, Washington approved private schools have a responsibility to engage in practices that support the health and wellbeing of the larger community.

School: In order to limit transmission risk of Covid-19 within schools while creating the most effective teaching and learning scenarios, schools should utilize the health guidelines provided by state and local government.

Community Wellbeing

Teaching and Learning: The goal is to return to school for on-campus learning to the greatest extent possible.  In order to maximize the student learning experience, schools will provide opportunities for students’ academic, social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth.

Mental Health: In order to promote mental health and wellbeing, schools will provide flexible, safe and healthy opportunities for ongoing connections with peers, faculty and staff.

Equity and Inclusion: Schools will work to provide teaching and learning opportunities that are accessible to all students and teachers, including enrolled students in high risk categories. Schools should demonstrate a commitment to equity and ensure quality education for all enrolled students whether on campus or remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Family Support and Communication: In order to support parents in the instruction of their children, schools should provide predictable schedules and clear communication about the services they are able to provide. There will need to be parental education and ongoing communication about how best to work in partnership with the school to provide students the most support.

Conclusion: These principles will be most effectively carried out if individual schools are allowed to tailor their reopening approach to meet the unique needs and circumstances of their communities.

Resource for Reopening Planning:

Private schools serve an important role in educating over 83,000 students throughout Washington.  They include day and boarding schools. They offer diverse educational programs to families including, but not limited to, Montessori, Waldorf, Independent, secular and religious schools. Some are small primary schools serving students beginning at infancy; others are K-12.  Some have enrollments of over 2,000 students and others with less than 10 students. Many serve unique learners, students facing economic deprivation or families in crisis. Private schools are the hub of many families’ communities.

To reopen safely, private schools will utilize the guidance provided by the State Department of Health (DOH), OSPI and local health jurisdictions. They will look to the models provided by OSPI, but will create unique models that reflect their missions, and the safety expected by both the state and the parents for whose children they are responsible. The Guiding Principles above will guide all carefully crafted reopening plans that will redefine the logistics of every aspect of a school day. The diversity of the state’s private schools means, similar to higher education, that “one size does not fit all.” Because many private schools have small enrollment and low population density, as well as flexibility within their physical plant, they can pivot to the new guidelines as the state reopens and innovate in such areas as hybrid learning models, facility use, schedules, and calendars to meet the needs of their students, faculty, and families.

Considerations in the Development of Campus Reopening Plans

Each private school should develop a plan for reopening that is consistent with the Private School Reopening Principles articulated above. Each school plan should consider four components:

  • repopulation of the campus,
  • monitoring health conditions to ensure detection of infection,
  • containment to prevent spreading of the disease if infection is detected,
  • shut down if infection cannot be contained or is otherwise necessary.

In formulating these plans, schools must be mindful that the course of the pandemic over the summer cannot be confidently predicted. It is possible that conditions may warrant reopening, but the pandemic worsens in the fall to the extent that the Governor would order a new shutdown. Private schools should be flexible and plan contingencies including a physical reopening and a potential closing with all scenarios incorporating the potential need of distance learning.

Private schools should consider multiple models for re-opening their campuses and select the one that makes the most sense for their unique circumstances of program, students served, location, and facility. These models include and are not limited to: a return of all students to campus with a variety of adaptations to meet state health requirements; some students returning and a slow integration of other students by age; cohorts of students on campus at different times; alternating days for students; the use of distance learning to “decompress” the campus population; extending the calendar and day schedule. Careful considerations of these and myriad other models allows a school to find the best approach for its school. Schools should be prepared to modify school calendars, the structure of a school day, the physical layout of their campuses, and policies for students, employees and visitors relative to hygiene, access to campus and safety protocols.

As private schools fall in the intersection of three educational systems — higher education, K-12, and early childhood — private schools should review all three kinds of plans for insights and ideas. It is important to note that all three systems will be following consistent guidelines from the Washington Department of Health.

Before a boarding school can reopen a residential program the school should take prudent steps to follow all applicable health guidelines for their boarding students which may include testing protocols for both students and faculty.

Components of an Independent School Plan:

An independent school plan should reflect the individual decision-making by the school regarding reopening and ongoing operation. An independent school plan should include:

  • Recognition it will follow Washington Department of Health Guidelines, as applicable.
    • This should include following applicable standards from the Reopening WA Schools Health and Safety Requirements created by the Department of Health regarding the use of facemasks for employees, students, and visitors; recommendations for screening (testing, temperatures); visitors to campus; responding to students or staff who are symptomatic; social distancing; personal hygiene, room cleaning, isolation or sick rooms; and the cleaning regimen for schools, day and boarding.
    • For boarding schools, this should include applicable recommendations for dormitories as modified to fit the housing and residential structures of the school and taking into consideration related faculty housing issues.
  • A transportation plan that adheres to safety guidance. Schools may want to consider teaming up with local schools to share busses.
  • A process to develop and communicate the reopening plan including collaboration with constituents.
  • Creation of a team who can help with school planning and support school relations to local and state Department of Health.
  • Consideration for vulnerable populations of students and staff.
  • Development of plans for shutdown should it be necessary.
  • Useful guidance for planning residential program reopening may be found in guidelines created for institutions of higher education.



Private Schools play an essential role in the education of students and in the economy of Washington. The State has understandably recognized that for businesses to “re-open,” it is essential that day care programs, public and private schools, and colleges and universities open, as well.

Private schools have the potential to be impacted by declining enrollment due to both the economic downturn associated with Covid-19 and parental uncertainty. This will hurt both the private and the public school systems. A flood of displaced students into the public schools will place a logistical and economic burden upon public schools already severely stressed due to the dramatic impact of Covid-19. This, coupled with the need to promote safety and health, requires a close partnership with the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Government to successfully reopen private schools. Below is a list of needed resources that will enable private schools to successfully open:

  • Availability of necessary Covid-19 tests.
    • An adequate supply of tests is needed for all boarding and day school populations if testing of these populations is recommended by public health guidance.
  • An adequate supply of suggested PPE equipment, including masks, for all private schools.
  • An adequate supply of cleaners, such as hand sanitizer, wipes, cleaning material.
  • An investigation into the possibility of a “safe harbor” from liability based upon the development of a written plan consistent with the recommendations for K-12 schools.
  • Reporting protocols for informing health officials about known Covid-19 cases.
  • Acknowledgement that any recommendations are subject to change based on further guidance, evolving public health recommendations and/or changes in circumstances that may occur prior to the commencement of the school year.

Finally, like other industries that drive the state economy, private schools face serious financial harm even to the extent of jeopardizing their short-term sustainability given the serious economic decline the country and State are experiencing due to Covid-19. To help ensure that private schools remain a vibrant part of the educational landscape, provide a choice for families, and continue to provide substantial and reliable employment, the State should look at short-term, fixed-cost funding for private schools to help them through a potentially significant enrollment decline for 2020-21. Private schools are a key economic driver across the State, and much like other businesses and nonprofits, funding to assist in the sustainability of these schools in the short-term will alleviate economic instability and provide the opportunity for continued strength in private school programming, enrollment, and service.

APPENDIX:   Reopening Schools Safely: Considerations

  • Consider surveying the school community–students, teachers, administrators and parents– as soon as possible to understand their needs, wishes and limitations for the fall.
  • Consider what changes to your operations have a lead-time component and need to be addressed early this summer. Examples to consider include: health and safety equipment to be ordered, HVAC system upgrades, space alterations, and increased technology needs.
  • Consider enhanced professional development for faculty in online teaching as needed. When the State closed this spring, faculty had little time to learn best practices for online teaching. Online instruction may be the primary form of pedagogy in some instances and the default mechanism in the event of a second wave of infection. Plan for increased professional development for faculty both during the summer and throughout the school year.
  • Consider the school academic calendar to provide the best opportunity for a successful opening of school and continuation of programming.
  • Consider developing multiple scenarios for reopening.
  • Consider changes to time and space in calendar and scheduling to decrease density on campus such as elongating the school day or week, extending or altering the school calendar, repurpose spaces for classrooms, and other alterations.
    • Example: Compress the fall calendar for boarding schools so that students leave at Thanksgiving and do not return until the new year.
  • Consider developing smaller “cohorts” of students and faculty to decrease interaction among groups; in the event that there is a person who tests positive, such limited grouping might create least disruption to the whole school. Similarly, develop “family” groups in boarding schools to decrease isolation and increase a safe community size of students ages 11-19 for rooming, dining, and bathroom use.
  • Consider organizing the academic calendar into small sections so should there be a disruption, only part of the grading calendar is disrupted.
  • Consider using hybrid or blended models to deliver some courses or leaving some courses entirely online.
  • Consider using the late summer to offer online courses for students who need remediation.
  • Consider the daily drop-off and pick up routines, the use of multiple entrances, the repurposing of spaces to limit interaction.
  • Consider studying various plans that are being implemented including:
    • Sequencing the return of students to campus.
    • A rolling return of students to campus.
  • Consider flexible staffing configurations to accommodate faculty and staff.
    • Faculty in vulnerable populations may wish to teach remotely.
    • Offering courses where a faculty member is teaching remotely — some residential institutions are considering having students come to a classroom, with appropriate social distancing, and have the faculty member projected onto a screen in the room. This might create a greater sense of community than having students participate by themselves.
    • Many institutions may have to cap the size of larger classes to accommodate social distancing, break them into multiple sections, or teach them remotely.
  • Consider how to manage extracurricular activities and athletics: athletics, arts, and many activities (e.g., debating clubs, student newspapers, Model UN) as many might be pursued virtually or with social distancing.
  • Consider limiting visitors to campus. Schools should consider how to limit visitors, parents, and vendors coming onto campus as an effort to limit the transmission of the virus.
  • Consider requirements for instructional hours, days and graduation credits as required by the State Board of Education.
  • Consider in all planning the mental health and wellbeing of the community as paramount after physical health and safety guidelines have been met.
  • Consider creating a succession plan for teachers and administrators who become sick with Covid-19.
  • Consider referencing reopening guidelines created for institutions of higher education, if running a boarding school.