July 30, 2020
“If you seek an example of patience, none more excellent than the cross will be found.” –St. Thomas Aquinas
“Love is patient.” –1 Cor. 13:4
Dear Parents of St. John Paul II Catholic Schools,
This is an email of high importance in order to give you updates on our back-to-school plans, which were approved yesterday by our Board of Directors. At this time, we plan to begin the year with in-school learning.
With these plans, we seek to strike a balance between safeguarding health (in all its dimensions: physical, mental, social, emotional, spiritual) and the best means of accomplishing our mission of providing Catholic education in this time of COVID-19. That will require applying the principles of the common good, solidarity, charity, right reason, and sacrifice—all rooted in our Catholic faith. There are a variety of opinions—some diametrically opposed—within our school community about how to accomplish our mission in this time. We must continue to pray for the wisdom to discern the best possible path forward and for the courage to follow it.
With this email update, we also ask for your patience and cooperation as we work to implement the guidelines, complete the plan details for each building, and prepare together as best we can for this new school year, which is beginning unlike any other. The plans lay out a process for doing that as a system and in each school building. There will be heightened responsibilities on your part as parents, and working with the principal(s) and teacher(s) of your student(s) will be crucial.
1. First day of School-Delayed to Thursday, August 27
Due to the need for extra time for staff training and preparation (health and safety plans, teaching and learning plans, new technology integration, school environment preparation, etc.) for this unique school year, the Board of Directors has approved a two-day delay for our first day of school. The original Tuesday, August 25 start date for classes will be moved to Thursday, August 27 for all students (Little Deacons-Grade 12). There would be no students in school August 25 and 26. The state class minute requirements for those days can be covered through our daily schedule for the year. With weather cancellations of in-school learning, we can pivot to e-school learning days. The built-in storm days can remain in our calendar as vacation days. We also see merit in having just two days of school that first week followed by a weekend in order to make needed adjustments. Then we would have a five day week followed by the Labor Day long weekend. These changes will better enable us to prepare for and begin the school year.
2. Health and Safety Plan and Teaching and Learning Plan (attached)
On July 14, Governor Burgum directed that back to school Health and Safety Plans and Distance Learning Plans needed to be developed in broad consultation for each school district, approved by the board, and shared with the school community.
Broad consultation for this process included surveys of parents, students, and staff members last spring and also earlier this month; review of planning guidelines from state education and health agencies, the Diocese of Fargo, and Catholic education experts; Catholic school principals of the Diocese of Fargo; JPII Catholic Schools Principals and Administrative Team; Essentia Health officials; parent medical professionals; and our advisory council leadership.
Yesterday, our Board of Directors completed its review, vetting, and approval of the plans. We are now sharing them with you. We also will be posting the plans on our website.
We envision three scenarios for learning: in-school learning, modified in-school learning, and e-school learning. Please note that some of our families may choose e-school learning from the start for medical or personal reasons. We are committed to providing a Catholic education for all our families and have designed the plans accordingly. New technology investments and training for our staff will better enable us to keep that commitment.
The resulting plans are our general template for St. John Paul II Catholic Schools. Each of our five schools will be developing building-specific details for application of the plan through a principal-led team of staff. The yellow highlighted areas of the plan are those which need further building-specific details. The gray highlighted areas are those to be determined.
Since information and recommendations about COVID-19 are frequently revised and evaluated in light of new findings, we will have to be discerning and flexible. These plans will be updated and modified as needed throughout the school year. They will need to be living and responsive plans.
3. Other Considerations for Parents
We first want to express our gratitude once again for your partnership last spring amidst all the uncertainties. We accomplished our mission during the entirety of fourth quarter and completed school as planned on May 20. The in-person Shanley graduation for our 86 seniors was a real highlight in a challenging spring. Thank you one and all.
Now, we appeal to your good will and spirit of collaboration as we prepare to accomplish our mission once again. Let’s be patient, understanding, and flexible while striving to do our best to “teach the total person and foster the following of Christ.”
As we focus on that mission, expect this school year to be different. Many beloved school events and traditions will have to be modified or eliminated. School activities in particular will be under the relevant guidelines from state or conference officials, and those are being updated frequently.
A few words about safeguarding health through masks/face coverings and social distancing: COVID-19 is highly infectious and especially spread through respiratory droplets between persons in close contact. Social distancing and face coverings help to prevent its spread. For congregate settings such as schools where strict social distancing is not always possible, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) was the clear recommendation of all health care professionals and agencies we consulted. While not absolute in prevention, even cloth coverings decrease transmission rates, and are increasingly being required in most public settings and businesses. Earlier this week, the Fargo City Commission approved a mask directive which included schools. Health care professionals recommend masks for students 10 or older and thus we are requiring masks for students in grades 3-12 and for all staff. For students who cannot wear masks for medical reasons, please refer to the relevant portion of the Health and Safety Plan for details. We encourage you to plan with and prepare your student(s) for this new reality. Please be patient as we all get used to this particular cross to carry. Please be courteous to one another as we incorporate this charitable practice which helps protect others: “Love your neighbor.”
Please read and review these plans in the spirit described above. Continue your preparations in the coming weeks as we approach the first day of in-school learning on Thursday, August 27.
Please continue to pray for the end of the pandemic, the patience and love to bear its burdens, and the grace and strength to be indeed “a community inspiring excellence through faith, learning, and service” in this new school year.
In Christ our sure and certain Hope,
Mike Hagstrom Mary Beth Traynor
President Vice President