The COVID-19 pandemic has touched countless lives across the globe, creating unprecedented challenges for people of all ages, and from every walk of life. With schools across Michigan closed until at least fall, the education community has been no exception as parents, teachers and administrators are now faced with a deeply uncertain timeline for the continued education of students.
At Orchard Academy, the health and safety of our students are of the utmost importance. Our administration is actively communicating with local health professionals, closely following all guidance from local, state, and federal health agencies, and taking every possible precaution to ensure that students will have access to a safe, healthy learning environment when they return to school this fall.
As we begin to welcome new students for enrollment for the coming school year, keeping parents and families informed about our safety measures, policies and procedures are one of Orchard Academy’s highest priorities as we navigate this unprecedented situation together.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K-12 Schools and Child Care Programs, providing new guidelines on what to expect for the year ahead. Under that guidance, Orchard Academy plans to open as scheduled in September upon approval from all relevant local, state and federal agencies.
As the school awaits additional recommendations from the newly-formed Return to Learning Advisory Council, a task force created last week by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to advise on the safe reopening of the state’s schools this fall, Orchard Academy is also working in consultation with Dr. Donald Levine, an infectious disease specialist in Detroit.
“Ideally, once you’re in a classroom setting, the optimal situation would be to have everybody wearing a mask, including the teachers and staff,” says Dr. Levine. “... Distancing would also be important, with a minimum of six feet between each person.” He adds that proper handwashing is critical to limit the spread of germs, in addition to screening students and staff for symptoms each day.
Although Dr. Levine says COVID-19 guidance for schools may change before fall as medical researchers learn more about the virus, he stresses the importance of continually adhering to all guidelines issued by the CDC as they are updated.
Closely following the current CDC guidelines, Orchard Academy is developing plans and procedures for the ongoing monitoring and screening of symptoms in students and staff, including the possible installation of infrared cameras for fever detection. Upon arrival to school each morning, students and staff will be screened. We encourage all employees and students that are experiencing symptoms of illness to stay at home, and will be working to develop flexible leave policies to support that protocol. Special protocols will also be developed for children and employees that are at a higher risk for severe illness. Students will maintain recommended social distancing at all times, and will eat lunch and snacks in their classrooms while practicing proper handwashing.
Orchard Academy is fortunate to begin its first school year in a brand new building in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. While the new location remains under construction, it has been custom-designed with the health and security of our students in mind. We intend to continually implement best practices for cleaning, disinfection and ventilation to prevent the spread of infection. Touchless sinks equipped with touchless soap dispensers will be available for every classroom, and face coverings will be worn by educators and students as necessary under the guidance of local health officials. All employees will be provided with extensive training about the school’s health and safety protocols prior to opening.
For the first year of operation, in an effort to reduce exposure and transmission of COVID-19, Orchard Academy will encourage social distancing through a limited K-2 structure, allowing a reduced enrollment capacity of only 65 students. Next year, when allowed by local health authorities, the school will expand enrollment to the regular K-12 structure, allowing for the normal capacity of 150 students. In addition to limited enrollment and social distancing, the school will also implement a plan to limit the risks associated with exposure to the virus under the guidance of local health agencies.
We understand that parents need to feel confident that their children will return safely home from school each day. Because today’s safety environment includes risks that extend beyond health, Orchard Academy has also worked with a local security consultant to develop a plan for campus safety. Our new building will be equipped with electronically-controlled touchless doors connected to the school’s fire system, which will open automatically in the event of a fire or similar emergency. The school will also be equipped with secured lobbies, and security guards will be on duty during school hours to ensure that students remain on campus and that outside visitors are not able to enter the building without permission.
In spite of the unprecedented situation we have all been faced with, Orchard Academy remains committed to our mission of educating the “whole child.” Our students’ health and safety are of the highest priority to us. Working together with local agencies and experts, we are dedicated to creating a healthy, inclusive space where your child can safely learn with us this fall.
For updates about this developing situation, please visit our website at www.orcharddetroit.org.
For more information about COVID-19 and schools, visit the CDC's Guidance for Schools.
- Student Safety