Back-to-Lab plan dictates grades 3-12 remote in the fall


Midway photo by Malcolm Taylor

Amanda Cassel, Editor-In-Chief

Most Laboratory Schools students will begin the school year in distance learning under a modified schedule, with only students in nursery school through grade 2 returning in person, according to a Back to Lab document released to the community July 29.

According to the document, should the state of COVID-19 further escalate making it unsafe for anyone to return to campus, students in kindergarten, first and second grade will turn to distance learning, while learning will be suspended for nursery schoolers.

The plan was first released during a town hall meeting for families July 29 and was emailed to families July 30. At the town hall, leaders from each of the schools spoke along with Vice Provost Daniel Abebe, Interim Director David Magill and Dr. Emily Landon from the University of Chicago’s epidemiology consulting team.

“Ideally we could all go back in person,” Mr. Magill said in an interview with the Midway, “but the most important thing to consider is the safety of everyone in our community.”

According to Mr. Magill, multiple plans have been proposed since planning began in April, but as the coronavirus has progressed and further safety regulations were released, the current plan became the safest option. He said this decision was driven by upper-level university and Lab administrators, but multiple committees of Lab administrators and teachers made recommendations, including representatives of the Faculty Association.

Mr. Magill explained that classroom size is one major limiting factor to bringing more students back to school.

“We just can’t fit people in a classroom with six-foot distance, together,” Mr. Magill said. “Now, if they relaxed that to five, we’d be sending almost everybody back.”

While remote, students in grades 3-12 will hold a block schedule in an A-B-C-A-B format, with Mondays and Thursdays as A days, Tuesdays and Fridays as B days and Wednesday C days, the Back to Lab plan explained. According to the published plan, the schedule will help maximize breaks and encourage extended periods of work away from screens, block out time for students to meet with learning and counseling and create a consistent schedule.

At the high school, A and B days will each consist of four one-hour academic classes. All classes and two advisory meetings will be synchronous. 

C days will be reserved for special programming and community building. For the high school, this will include office hours, assemblies and grade-level programming such as college workshops. The middle school schedule will include long advisory.

For younger students returning to school in person, classes with 24 students will be split into two groups of 12 with multiple adults to support social distancing. Nursery 3 and 4 will be distanced at Earl Shapiro Hall, while first and second graders will be throughout the historic campus. 

According to Mr. Magill, the students returning in person will still have P.E., music, art and any other subjects they would usually receive, but structure is still undetermined.

“We believe children learn best through play and experimentation and inquiry and all of those kinds of things, and you can’t do those things very well online,” Mr. Magill said. 

During the broadcast, High School Principal Paul Beekmeyer indicated the importance of differing grading plans from the spring semester. According to Asra Ahmed, high school assistant principal, more information regarding high school grading, scheduling and policies will be released in early August.

Charlotte Henderson, a rising sophomore, said although she understands the added independence older students have, the released plan is frustrating. 

“Knowing that we aren’t going back is hard to process because school is so much more than just education,” Charlotte said. “It’s the friends, sports, clubs, extracurriculars and a change of scenery and pace from our home lives. I just think it’s sort of a letdown since I’ve been looking forward to school all quarantine, but it’s just beginning to seem endless.”

According to Mr. Magill, as it becomes possible, third graders will return to campus, moving up in age order. 

In the coming weeks, Mr. Magill said families can expect almost weekly messages from school administrators regarding school-specific information. 

Additional reporting by Kia Dutta.