First Day of School Now September 8

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Dear Providence Families,

Yesterday, the Bell County Public Health Department issued this order for Bell County Schools, which prohibits all public and private schools from on-campus, face-to-face teaching through September 7. Due to a previous ruling by the Texas Attorney General, private religious schools, like Providence, are not required to submit to this order, but the Bell County order states that private religious schools “are strongly urged to comply with these restrictions to assist with decreasing the spread of Covid-19 in our communities.”

Last night, the Providence Board met to make a decision on how the school would proceed. School leaders have considered scientific research, parent survey feedback, and teacher survey feedback. Based on all of this information, the Providence Board has decided to delay the first day of school to Tuesday, September 8. Because we will be missing the first three scheduled weeks of school, we will be adding a few school days onto the calendar. In short, this decision reflects the board’s commitment to prioritize in-person learning, and to do so in a safe manner. 

Why are we not meeting in-person on August 18? 

Schools all across the country are scrambling to figure out the logistics of what we’ve been perfecting for nine years: reducing seat time and class size. Our board physicians and school administrators have formulated a conservative, common-sense reopening plan, and we feel we can safely resume in-person instruction. However, we understand that the county has not issued this mandate lightly, and, while private religious schools may be exempt from this order, the directive prompts us to thoughtfully consider our part in mitigating the virus spread. Compliance with the order shows our support of our community and their initiatives to curb the spread of the disease. In addition, we would be putting our friends (and landlords) at First Baptist Church Belton in a complicated position by asking them to enable us to ignore the order when they have not yet elected to do so.

Why are we delaying rather than starting school virtually?

We came to this conclusion after careful consideration of both parent and staff feedback (and a bit more indirectly–we’ve heard from a number of students, as well.) We are proud of the work that we (students, parents, teachers) did together last Spring — we were able to accomplish quite a bit in extraordinary circumstances. From that experience, we learned some ways that we think we could do it better, but I think we all learned that virtual learning will never replace face-to-face learning. It is inordinately more burdensome for our faculty to teach virtually. For a number of our parents, attending to virtual learning five days-a-week is very difficult, and it poses particular challenges for many of our students, as well. Furthermore, a virtual start to the school year is, frankly, a bit of a sad way to start the school year, and we particularly feel for families who are brand new to the school. We’re eager to see the non-pixelated, real-life versions of each other! 

A Priority On Meeting In-Person on September 8

If we’ve learned anything over the past five months, it’s that some things are out of our control. (Fortunately, our Lord is sovereign, and His ways are good. I know that I am growing in my trust in Him, and I know many of you would say the same.) The Providence Board has made in-person learning the priority, and we’re committed to doing whatever we can to make that work on September 8. Most of you indicated a willingness to return to school in-person, granted that the school takes appropriate precautionary measures, and our health advisory council agrees. We have a couple of things working in our favor: small class sizes that allow us to spread out in classes, and a hybrid schedule that limits the amount of time that students are in proximity to one another. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be rolling out a plan with measures in place to limit the spread of the disease. Of course we know that covid-19 will spread, despite our best efforts. There will be some risk, unfortunately, but we can, and have, put in place measures to mitigate the spread while enjoying the benefits of in-person instruction. Since we know that adults are most likely to spread and contract the virus and most susceptible to serious symptoms, we are doing everything we can to help our faculty members feel confident about returning to school. 

How does this affect the school calendar?

As you can see on the updated calendar, our Fall semester will now end on Thursday, December 17 (for all students, no school on Friday, December 18). We are also shortening Fall Break to one day (Monday, Oct. 12 will still be a day off). The last day of the Spring semester will be May 20, and graduation will be on Friday, May 21. We have always had a concise calendar at Providence, so simply eliminating three weeks of instruction would impede our ability to achieve the goals of our scope and sequence plans (especially considering our students will need more review this year than usual). But by adding these days, we’re optimistic that we can reach these goals. 

We have decided to keep our teacher training and co-teacher training days as scheduled. (New teachers will meet on August 4-5, all faculty members meet on August 6-7, and Co-Teacher Week is August 10-13.) We guessed that a number of you have already procured childcare for those dates, and we don’t want you to have to scramble to change those commitments. These events will be held in new locations, and we’ll publish details soon.

We are rescheduling House Howdy (a back to school event focused on welcoming all new 5th-12th grade students into our special “House” community) for a date that is closer to the September 8 start date. We’ll publish that date soon, too. 

Finally…

It is not lost on me, or any of us in leadership, that you have committed to this school during a difficult year. We endeavor to do the best that we can to honor this shared commitment to Christian, collaborative, and classical education. We love this community. You may disagree with decisions that the school makes — decisions that we make now, and ones that we will make in the future. I’m sure that I would sympathize with your point of view. This is an incredibly complicated issue, and I have thought about this from so many angles that I’m dizzy. Please know that we have taken all of your survey feedback to heart and tried to make the very best decisions possible for the school as a whole. 

While we have to address these unusual logistical issues, we are looking forward to a rich year of learning. Our teachers have been working all summer to make sure that our students will persevere and thrive through this year. We’re on about the seventh iteration of the reopening process, and during moments of frustration, I’ve found it important to remind myself to take care when talking about the pandemic and school reopening with our kids. I’m trying to model flexibility, enthusiasm, and, above all, a trust in God through uncertainty. I’ve found it particularly helpful to focus on gratitude and intercession for those that are suffering.

I think it’s time to quote Lord of the Rings again:


“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. 

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

In Christ’s Service,

Bret Billman

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