FAQs: Creative Minds’ Plan for Reopening

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Updated on October 13, 2020:

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Schedules & the School Year
Learning & Instruction
Social-Emotional Support, Development & Activities
School Meals & Food Delivery
Health & Safety: The School Building
Health & Safety: Community Members
Learn More: Contact Information

Creative Minds is starting the 2020–21 school year, which begins on Monday, August 31, on a virtual-only schedule. All students will be learning remotely. Our guiding principles are the health and safety of our community, the continued learning and growth of our students, the Creative Minds mission and philosophy, and the importance of maintaining an inclusive environment.

The protocols for safety and health that will be implemented if we eventually offer in-person schedules are based in science. They follow all requirements from OSSE, the DC Department of Health, the Deputy Mayor for Education, and the DC Public Charter School Board. They also follow the recommendations of these organizations, whenever possible.

This FAQs page is evolving. Please check back for updates.

Schedules & the School Year

Why did you choose to start the school year on a virtual-only schedule?

Choosing to start the school year on a virtual-only schedule was a difficult decision, one we made after hundreds of hours of discussion, debate, and analysis. We were guided by consultations with city agencies and by feedback from staff and families.

We acknowledge that remote learning is a particular hardship for parents and caregivers who are unable to work remotely. We also know that in-person learning is best for most, if not all, students. Both realities meant that deciding to start the year virtually was not easy for any of us.

What took precedence was the health and safety of our community. Enhancements that will make our building safer are in progress. We’re developing safety protocols for any return to in-person learning. But we knew that we could most safely start the school year, with the most consistency for students, if we returned to class via remote learning.

We are committed to the growth and learning of our students and to delivering high-quality instruction, resources, and support through our virtual-learning program. Please see the “Learning & Instruction” section below for details.

For how long will students be learning remotely?

The simple answer is that we don’t know. Safety is our top priority, and much depends on the public-health situation. We would like to offer in-person schedules, though a virtual option would remain in place for any family that chooses it. See the next question for more information.

Will you eventually offer options for in-person learning? When might this happen?

We would like to offer in-person schedules, if we can safely do so. Our first check-in point, when we’ll send an update to our community, is early October; the V Schedule (all virtual) will remain the only option until at least the end of October.

When we check in, we’ll look at the public-health situation and the status of our safety enhancements for the school building and determine whether in-person instruction is feasible. The V Schedule would remain an option, even if in-person schedules were implemented.

How will you determine that it’s safe to reopen the school building and offer in-person schedules?

Any decision to reopen the school building and offer in-person schedules will be based in science and will happen only if we think it’s safe to do. For the first two months of school, we’ll be tracking how well our virtual-program is going. In October, we’ll look at the public-health situation, review guidance from city agencies, analyze feedback from staff and families, and share information about whether in-person schedules will be offered in 2020 (before winter break).

Would you consider outdoor instruction if you offer in-person schedules?

We have considered holding classes outdoors, and we’re fortunate to have so much outdoor space available to us on campus. No firm plan has been developed, but discussion is ongoing. Abby Sheffer, director of lower school, and ten of her teachers will be attending a conference on outdoor education to learn more about this approach.

Have you considered assigning students to “pods,” or small groups of peers who would limit their in-person interactions to one another for academic learning or social activities?

We aren’t planning to sponsor or staff pods for Creative Minds students. These are our two biggest concerns about pods:

Safety: Students and teachers could be exposed to COVID-19 outside their pod meetings and bring the illness back to pod members. We’re unwilling to sponsor activities that put our community members at risk of contracting COVID-19 or that might contribute to the spread of this illness in our city.

Equity: Our students come from all eight wards of the city, and inclusiveness would be a challenge if we were to form groups among this dispersed population.

We ask families that are considering pods for their children to know the risks and keep in mind how these activities might affect other people.

If you offer in-person schedules, will you still offer the V Schedule—the remote-only option?

Yes, for as long as the public-health situation warrants it, we will continue to offer the remote-only schedule.

If you offer more than one in-person schedule, will siblings be able to attend school on the same days?

We would allow families to request that siblings attend school on the same days and aim to accommodate this, whenever possible.

Learning & Instruction

What are synchronous and asynchronous learning and instruction?

With synchronous instruction and learning, students are learning with a teacher in real time. Learning and feedback take place concurrently through online experiences or phone calls. An example of this is when students join their teacher at a specific time for a live Zoom lesson.

Asynchronous learning and instruction happen when students are learning away from the group, on their own schedules—for example, when they’re completing a lesson that a teacher has assigned or they’re watching a recorded video of their teacher. Students learn and get feedback on the same material at different times and locations.

Our virtual-learning program will offer a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning and instruction. The goal is to offer consistency through a set schedule, opportunities for engagement through live online classes, and flexibility through assigned lessons and recorded videos.

What did you learn from delivering remote instruction and services this spring? What are you changing about remote delivery?

Our switch to virtual instruction and learning happened very quickly in March, and remote delivery was a learning process. Though we had planned ahead, the circumstances were unprecedented, and we weren’t able to anticipate every requirement.

In June, our instructional staff participated in three weeks of professional development, in which they discussed their remote-learning takeaways and began planning for the next school year.

The result of our reflection, discussion, and analysis is that this year’s virtual-learning program will improve on what we offered in the spring, and it will include the following:

A focus on academics: A strong academic model that mirrors the regular school day as much as possible and promotes all students’ growth and learning.

Clear expectations and schedules: A school day that begins at 9:00 a.m. for all students. Students and families will know which lessons will be synchronous and at what times these lessons will be offered. They will also know where to find asynchronous lessons—for example recorded videos. And there will be clear distance-learning expectations for students and families.

Flexibility: A variety of opportunities for instruction and learning: small group, whole group, synchronous, and asynchronous.

Methods for engaging all students, at every grade, in learning: We’ll offer small-group, large-group, and one-one-one experiences. There will be regular touch points between teachers and students, as well as teacher-facilitated social activities and daily morning meetings.

A single learning platform: After success with Seesaw in third grade, we’ll be using this platform in all grades. We will share videos about using Seesaw with families.

Community building and support for student’s social-emotional needs: Activities will include regular touch points between teachers and students, check-ins from the Student Wellness Team, small groups of grade-level cohorts for students that promote social interactions, and teacher-facilitated social activities.

How will students’ grades be determined?

In lower school, formative assessments will use the same grading scale as usual:

B: Beginning
D: Developing
A: Approaching Mastery
M: Mastering

In middle school, formative assessments will use the same grading scale as usual:

A: 90–100
B: 80–89
C: 70–79
D: 60–69
F: 59 and below

Will students be taking state assessments, such as PARCC, this year?

The state superintendent of education has said that the PARCC assessment is planned for the 2020–21 school year, but no details have been released.

Please email Abby Sheffer at abby.sheffer@creativemindspcs.org with any questions about lower school learning and instruction.

Please email Lorna Dill at lorna.dill@creativemindspcs.org with any questions about middle school learning and instruction.

Please email Amita Lathigra at amita.lathigra@creativemindspcs.org with any questions about special education.

Social-Emotional Support, Development & Activities

How will you build community, promote social interactions, and support social-emotional development in students?

Whether students are attending school in person or attending classes remotely, social and emotional experiences are vital to their growth and learning. Our virtual-learning program places a strong emphasis on supporting social-emotional development through an approach based in Conscious Discipline, which we began adopting last year.

In all grades, students will begin the school day with their teachers and peers, at 9:00 a.m., in a live Zoom meeting. This chance to connect will help everyone get ready for a day of learning.

During regular touch points, teachers will check in with students about academic, social-emotional, and other needs.

Students in preschool and prekindergarten, will have options throughout the day for live, online interactions with teachers and peers through teacher-facilitated social groups and learning centers.

In kindergarten through 4th grade, students will participate in these activities:

  • Social Groups: Live teacher-facilitated games and activities focused on student interaction.
  • Small Groups: Collaboration with teachers and peers on content learning in math, literacy, and the International Primary Curriculum.
  • Live Share: Two to three times a week, per subject, students will share their work with teachers and one another.
  • Office Hours: The chance for students to meet with teachers for help with assignments and for teachers to check in about students’ academic, social-emotional, and other needs.

In 5th–8th grades, students will have these opportunities to socialize with peers and connect with teachers:

  • Advisory Period: Teachers will focus on building community and promoting students’ well-being and social-emotional development through practices like mindfulness exercises and breathing techniques.
  • Live Lunch: Students will have the option to meet their peers on Zoom for a live, teacher-facilitated lunch.
  • Office Hours: Regular times when teachers are available for one-one-one or small-group support.
  • Last Period: An opportunity for students to end the day by collaborating with peers and getting help from teachers.

The Student Wellness Team will also support middle school students and teachers in building age-appropriate skills.

While the school building remains closed, will families have access to the play space?

We know that families and students are eager to use the play space, especially while many activities have been canceled and many resources are unavailable because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For now, the play space is closed.

At this time, we aren’t maintaining or disinfecting the play space, and we haven’t yet received guidance on doing so. Our first priority is the start of the school year and our education program. We’re also preparing the school building for an eventual, safe return to in-person instruction.

Opening the play space requires coordination with the AFRH, guidance from the DC Health, the implementation of best practices for health and safety, the ability to regularly disinfect surfaces, and the monitoring of safety protocols.

In our recent start-of-the-school-year meetings, families asked whether they could use the play space on their own. We are discouraging this. Note that the AFRH is limiting access to campus: an appointment is required, and all visitors must pass a health check.

If we’re able to open the play space, we’ll contact the members of our community. Please know that we have heard your request and are taking it seriously.

Will there be classroom celebrations during remote learning?

Classroom celebrations are a vital part of building community, one that students especially enjoy. In lower school, we will try to create opportunities for parents to join celebrations through Zoom.

Our Instructional Leadership Team is working on a comprehensive plan for hosting celebrations as we return to school on a virtual-only schedule.

School Meals & Food Delivery

With school starting on the all-virtual model, will the free-meals delivery program continue?

Yes, the program is continuing, with free breakfast and lunch available to all students. Please find more information here.

If you offered at-school learning, where would students eat breakfast and lunch?

All students would eat in their classrooms, with breakfast and lunch delivered to those students who participate in school meals. Students who arrived late would pick up breakfast and bring it back to their classrooms, with social-distancing protocols in place.

With a return to the school building, would the drinking fountains be in operation?

We would shut off the drinking fountains and require students and staff to use their own water bottles. Bottles could be filled only at water stations.

Please email Heather Hesslink, director of operations and compliance, at frontdesk@creativemindspcs.org with any questions about school meals.

Health & Safety: The School Building

What steps are you taking to make the school building safer for students, families, staff, and teachers if we return to in-person learning?

Building Assessment: In June we commissioned a comprehensive clean-air building assessment from Setty & Associates, a building engineering firm. Setty recommended immediate, intermediate, and long-term actions.

Some of the immediate actions are highlighted below, such as improved cleaning protocols and air filtration. Possible longer-term actions include bringing more fresh air into the building; this is under investigation.

Cleaning: We are working with a new cleaning vendor that was chosen for its COVID-19 protocols, its rapid-response capabilities, and the training of its cleaning teams.
Our standard cleaning solutions have been upgraded to disinfectants. High-contact surfaces would be frequently disinfected throughout the day. Once a week, on Wednesday, we would do a hospital-grade cleaning of the building. All classrooms would be disinfected each evening, including cots in early childhood classrooms.

Air Filtration: We have purchased HEPA/UVC filtration devices for every classroom and office. These devices are safe and do not expose humans to UVC light. They kill 99.9 percent of airborne coronaviruses and influenza viruses and clean the air every ten minutes. Because these devices are quiet, we expect that they wouldn’t distract students from learning.
We’ve modified construction plans for Sherman South to add UVC filtration, with a MERV 13 rating, to heating and cooling units. The units capture coronavirus-size particles. Learn more about MERV ratings.

Other Measures: We would work with staff to increase classroom humidity during the winter; increased humidity is linked to decreased coronavirus risk.
Shoe-sanitizing mats would be placed at all entrances, and hand-sanitizing stations would be placed throughout the building.

Reminders: We would also display signs and markers throughout the school building: handwashing reminders in the bathroom, floor markings at six-foot intervals in areas where we usually line up, reminders to stay at least six feet from one another when possible.

What can you tell me about the safety of the cleaning and disinfectant solutions you’ll be using? Do they pose any risk to my child?

A cleaner, such as dish soap, removes dirt and grime, while a disinfectant, such as a diluted bleach solution, kills bacteria and viruses. Our new cleaning partner will use a product that does the work of both cleaners and disinfectants. The product is Green Seal–certified and is safe for use around people when manufacturer directions are followed. Our cleaning crew is well trained in the safe and proper handling of these products, as well as in using these products to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.

All of our cleaning products are stored out of the reach of children.

Please email Heather Hesslink, director of operations and compliance, at frontdesk@creativemindspcs.org with any questions about health and safety.

Health & Safety: Community Members

If we returned to in-person learning would teachers be required to show a recent negative COVID-19 test before entering the building for the first time?

We considered requiring each teacher who returned to the school building to show a recent negative COVID-19 test but decided against it. The limit of this test is that it records only one moment in time. The DC Department of Health does not recommend requiring negative COVID-19 tests of teachers. We would require that each person entering the building meet certain conditions. See the next question for more information.

If the school building reopened, what entry conditions would have to be met for students, staff, families, and visitors? For example, will students, families, staff, and visitors be required to have their temperature checked?

We’re required to define the conditions under which a community member or visitor will be allowed into the school building and the conditions for denying entry to anyone who appears to pose a health or safety risk. These protocols are in the works and would be released before any return to the school building.

As always, we would ask our community members to play a role in keeping one another healthy: to stay alert to any symptoms of COVID-19 in their children or a member of their households and to keep children at home if any symptoms develop.

If we returned to in-person classes, what personal protective equipment would people be required to wear in the school building?

All adults would be required to wear face masks in the school building, including common areas and classrooms. An exception would be made for someone with a documented medical condition that prevents the wearing of a mask. Face masks wouldn’t be required for anyone eating, drinking, or working alone in an office.

We’re following guidance from the DC Department of Health and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education and not requiring students to wear face masks, though students will be allowed to wear face masks if they or their families choose.

Guidance from city agencies told us that wearing masks is not developmentally feasible for many students, especially for our younger learners, and that maintaining at least six feet between one another at school should take precedence over requiring students to wear masks.
The use of gloves isn’t recommended, except during food preparation and other tasks that usually require gloves.

We’ll provide this personal protective equipment on request:

  • Reusable, washable face masks to staff
  • Disposable face masks to visitors
  • Plastic shields, which must be worn with a face mask, to staff or visitors

If the school building reopened, would you limit the number of visitors—for example, allow only related-service providers or delivery people to enter the building?

All entry into the building would be tightly controlled. Only visitors with a valid reason would be allowed to go beyond the front desk—for example, maintenance personnel, related-service providers, and vendors critical to the operation of the school. These visitors would follow the same stringent entry protocols in place for staff, students, and families.

We’re also planning to move the front desk so that it’s closer to the main entrance.

If students returned to the building for in-person classes, what social-distancing protocols would be in place?

In the school building and on campus, we would all be required to maintain a distance of at least six feet from one another. Staff will receive training on how to ensure that students follow the rules of social distancing. Signs and floor markers would also guide students, staff, and visitors in staying at least six feet apart.

Capacity: The elevator capacity would be limited to two people. No more than 12 people would be allowed in a room. This would likely mean ten students and two staff members in each classroom. Thirteen people would be briefly allowed in a room—for example, when a related-service provider joins a class.

Furniture: In classrooms, desks would be spaced at least six feet apart and would all face the same direction, as recommended by the DC Department of Health. We won’t be installing dividers between desks. The Department of Health does not require dividers, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends dividers only when social distancing can’t occur.

In early childhood classrooms, cots would be placed head to toe so that there would be at least six feet between children’s faces at nap time.

Classroom Interactions: We’re developing a plan for how staff, teachers, and related-service providers can safely interact with students, and how students can most safely interact with one another. This plan will provide guidance on how to respond when a student is upset or a young learner falls and needs help. Also at play are interactions during drop-off, when staff often assist students into the school building. We will have a plan in place before any return to in-person learning.

Hallways: In hallways, we would follow the stay-to-the-right rule, sticking to single file when in groups and maintaining a distance of six feet between one another. We would mark the floor with a divider to create two lanes for travel. Only necessary movement would be permitted in hallways. We’re planning for hallway and bathroom monitors to help enforce the rules of social distancing, whenever possible.

Cohort Interactions: Students in different cohorts or classes would not interact with one another.

Restrooms: We’ve developed new protocols for restrooms. Sinks will be marked off to encourage social distancing. Signs and stickers will remind students about social distancing and proper hygiene. Staff members will monitor bathrooms for congregating students and will promote hygiene practices and social distancing.

With a return to learning at school, how would staff and teachers monitor social-distancing practices among students? How would lapses be addressed?

Staff will receive training on how to use a common language and consistent expectations to support students in following the rules of social distancing. We’re working on a developmentally appropriate plan for addressing lapses in safety practices. Our instructional team recognizes that adhering to safety protocols would be easier or harder for some students, depending on age and ability. Our goal is to be both supportive of students’ individual needs and rigorous about maintaining a safe school environment.

In middle school, teachers would use advisory time to teach scholars safety protocols, such as social-distancing and hygiene practices.

Signs and floor markers would guide students, staff, and visitors in staying at least six feet apart. We’re planning for hallway and bathroom monitors to help enforce the rules of social distancing, whenever possible.

What about students’ personal belongings and other items in the classroom—how would you try to prevent the spread of viruses among these items if students went back to the classroom?

We would request that families send their children to school with only the bare necessities. Students wouldn’t be permitted to bring toys, games, balls, and similar items into the school building. Cubbies and lockers wouldn’t be in use. Any unnecessary items brought to school would be safely stored and sent home with students at the end of the day, along with a reminder about not bringing those items to school.

We would require that all bedding in early childhood classrooms be taken home at the end of each school week—whatever a child’s last day in the building is—to be washed. Students would also be required to bring home backpacks, lunchboxes, and water bottles at the end of each week for cleaning.

All classrooms, including cots in preschool and prekindergarten rooms, would be disinfected each evening.

In the classroom, each students’ at-school items, such as crayons and pencils, would be kept separate from the items of other students. We’re still determining how best to do this for each grade but would have a protocol in place before any in-person learning resumed.

What would happen if a student, teacher, or staff member developed symptoms of COVID-19—or otherwise became ill—while at school?

We are turning the nurse’s station into an isolation suite. To help stem the spread of any illnesses that developed and limit the number of people in the nurse’s office, we would place basic first-aid supplies on each floor throughout the building so that teachers could attend to things like cuts and scrapes in students.

Students would be taken to see the school nurse for emergencies, other serious injuries or illnesses, and the administration of medication, and to have symptoms of COVID-19 addressed.

With a return to the school building, would the creative, or sensory-friendly, spaces be in use?

It would be difficult to disinfect these spaces, between uses, during the school day so they would be unavailable, except during an emergency.

If you implemented in-person schedules, how would you respond if there were a COVID-19 case diagnosed in the CMI community or on campus?

We’re updating our plan from earlier this year to take into account current guidance and best practices, and we will share our comprehensive COVID-19 response plan in the coming weeks.
DC Health requirements are the foundation of our plan, which will be enhanced with our own protocols. Any response to COVID-19 will include additional cleaning of the school building, self-quarantine for exposed individuals, and communication with the Creative Minds community that maintains the privacy of the affected person. We’ll provide more information soon.

Would Extended Creative Day—Before School, After School, and Creative Clubs—be in session with a return to the school building?

We are unlikely to offer a Before School program. Offering an after-school program would depend on having the staff to support it.

If we did host an after-school program, all safety protocols would be in place, and the program would look different from its previous incarnations. For example, we are unlikely to offer Creative Clubs. Outside time would be structured so that we can practice the same safety protocols we use during outdoor time in the school day.

How would recess be handled for students at school?

Students would still enjoy recess, with social-distancing and other safety protocols in place. An approach to inclement-weather recess is still being defined.

During recess, students would most likely use the grassy areas outside and not the play space, which would eliminate the need to disinfect play-space equipment between recess periods.

How would drop-off and pickup happen if in-person classes were offered?

We’re still working on a plan for safer drop-offs and pickups. The logistics would depend on the number of students on our in-person schedules. We would share the details of drop-off and pickup before any at-school learning begins.

Please email Heather Hesslink, director of operations and compliance, at frontdesk@creativemindspcs.org with any questions about health and safety.

Learn More: Contact Information

Whom can I contact with questions?

Instruction, Learning, and the School Day

Lower School: email Abby Sheffer at abby.sheffer@creativemindspcs.org

Middle School: email Lorna Dill at lorna.dill@creativemindspcs.org

Special Education: email Amita Lathigra at amita.lathigra@creativemindspcs.org


Email Andy Charrier, director of IT and instructional technology, at andy.charrier@creativemindspcs.org

Health & Safety

Contact Heather Hesslink, director of operations and compliance, and her team by emailing frontdesk@creativemindspcs.org or calling (202) 588-0370, ext. 112.


Contact Heather Hesslink, director of operations and compliance, and her team by emailing frontdesk@creativemindspcs.org or calling (202) 588-0370, ext. 112.