Diocesan Catholic schools release re-entry plan for post-pandemic learning

The Diocese of Palm Beach Office of Catholic Schools released a comprehensive re-entry plan, July 23 for students’ return for the 2020-2021 academic year on Aug. 24.

To determine the best course of action, the Office of Catholic Schools provided school parents, teachers staff, pastors and administrators with a second survey—the previous one having been months prior—to gain insight on their evolving concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the opening of schools for the new school year. According to the statement written by Gary Gelo, superintendent of schools, more than 3,200 parents and guardians and 571 employees responded to the survey. Shortly following, school pastors, presidents and principals met to review the survey results, as well as the ongoing work of the diocesan schools’ re-entry task force. The survey results indicated that both face-to-face instruction and at-home learning are the two options most desired by all parties involved.

The original start date of Aug. 10 was pushed to Aug. 24 “in order to provide teachers with ample time to prepare for the new challenges presented for the coming school year,” wrote Gelo. Teachers, however, will return to school on Aug. 10 and have two weeks of professional development and training in new procedures. “This will provide ample time for teachers and staff to be trained on sanitation and safety procedures already implemented at each school, along with the myriad of other orientation topics that are addressed at the beginning of an academic year – curricular, instructional, safety and the like,” Gelo continued.  

This decision has led many parents to ask questions related to facial coverings. “Because we cannot always maintain six feet of social distancing within most of our classrooms,” Gelo wrote, “facial coverings will be required for all students, teachers and staff. Principals within our five-county diocese will monitor local ordinances for appropriate ages for facial coverings.”

“The research is clear,” Gelo continued, “that our best protection during this pandemic is to maintain social distance, wear facial coverings and wash hands regularly with soap and water (or use sanitizer). We believe that these precautions protect not only ourselves, but our household members, friends and other community members from the COVID-19 virus.”

Each school principal has determined the best course of action for implementing safety measures at their school and have communicated to parents about how to go about registering their child for either at-home learning or face-to-face instruction. Parents and students will have the flexibility of reevaluating their chosen option throughout the school year and accommodations will be made accordingly.

Likewise, principals have met with teachers and administrators to review at-home learning strategies. Each school will determine its approach to distance learning, using either live instruction, prerecorded lessons or assignments completed by students individually.

“I’m inspired by our administrators and teachers and their love for the children in our schools,” said Gelo. “They want the very best for the students they work with and will give their all to have students both in-class and at-home continue to receive the stellar education that is the hallmark of Catholic schools. It’s evident that the faith of our teachers, parents and children has been the saving grace for so many as they work through the difficulties resulting from the pandemic. We know that where two or more are gathered, Jesus will always be there.”

In efforts to highlight the positive attitudes and loving spirit of Catholic school educators during these challenging times, the Office of Catholic Schools launched a new initiative, Aug. 1, 2020 called “Something Greater Together.” The idea for this initiative is to show the community how schools and dedicated school employees live the mission of the Office of Catholic Schools to, “develop the gifts, talents, and uniqueness of their students” by seeking to “prepare leaders and Christian stewards as a beacon of hope for the Church of the future.”

The theme of this initiative is derived from the 2019-2020 Office of Catholic Schools’ marketing campaign, “Something Greater,” which showcased how a holistic education means more than setting the highest academic standards. It also means revealing that there is more to life than personal success; there’s moral character, service to the community and ever-present faith. “There is something greater to pursue that makes a life complete,” said the campaign’s mission statement.

This school year, a new component was added to the theme: togetherness. “Together we are stronger, together we are more courageous, together we are more resourceful and together we are truly Something Greater,” the mission statement continued.

The Office of Catholic Schools has implemented a social media campaign in which quotes from educators throughout the diocese are being showcased on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accompanied by a photo that shows how diocesan schools are adapting to the changing times.

To read the diocesan schools re-entry plan, view the “Something Greater Together” initiative and stay updated on news regarding the Office of Catholic Schools, visit diocesepbschools.org or follow the office on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @DoPBCatholicSchools.