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COVID-19 education: Two private schools, two different approaches

Sitters on Call is offering small instructional pods for families who are looking for an education alternative for their children. (WYDaily/Pexels)
Private schools that also double as childcare centers were deemed essential at the beginning of the pandemic, but many reduced their enrollment to children of essential workers only. (WYDaily/Pexels)

Between the debate over in-person learning versus virtual, and the creation of ‘“hybrid” learning, public schools have seen a lot of change in less than a year. Just last week, Gov. Ralph Northam announced he expects all public schools to offer in-person learning options by Mar. 15.

RELATED STORY: ‘Children learn better in the classroom’ Gov. Northam announces support to reopen schools

With all of this operational turmoil in the public sector, what have private schools been doing? What does a ‘typical school day’ look like now and how are these schools coordinating with the Virginia Department of Health?

Some private schools in the Historic Triangle have adapted to the coronavirus pandemic.

Janie Lisagor, co-owner of the Goddard School of Williamsburg, said about 75% of the school’s staff has already been vaccinated as of last week, but getting the vaccine is completely voluntary.

“Some staff chose not to get it. Some are doing it on their own time,” Lisagor said, adding the school may make getting a vaccine mandatory at a later date.

The school is currently operating on a regular basis, offering pre-school, kindergarten and childcare for kids 2-5 years old.

“We are currently doing in-person learning. At the beginning [of the pandemic], we reduced enrollment to essential personnel only,” Lisagor said.

Because the school is also a childcare provider, it was deemed essential and remained open throughout the pandemic.

The school is now back to accepting enrollment for all personnel, with most children coming in nearly everyday.

There are sanitation and safety guidelines in place at the Goddard School of Williamsburg. For example, parents are not allowed inside. Pickup and drop-off are done outside. Temperature screenings occur everyday for both children and staff. All staff is required to wear masks, but children are not.

Most children are wearing masks, according to Lisagor.

The school also encourages a lot of hand washing and social distancing among its students. Kids also social distance during lunchtime.

At the end of every school day, the school uses UV lights as part of its sanitation process.

“We are working with the health department, but most of the information and guidelines we receive are done through licensing,” Lisagor added.

On the other hand, Grace Episcopal Day School does not have to worry about in-person learning — yet.

After months of delaying the start of the school year, the school’s board —part of the Grace Episcopal Church — voted not to reopen school this year.

“The decision to not open at this point for the school year was just made Jan. 19,” said Paula Kempton, co-director for the school, adding the school posted an announcement on the website shortly afterwards.

Kempton, who also teaches, said the school typically “mimics” the York County School Division’s schedule so at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, the board delayed opening the school for the first nine weeks with the intention of reconvening in December.

But then the board bumped the December meeting to January to wait for the post-Christmas numbers before making the decision to reopen the school in Fall 2021.

Other reasons for not reopening the school include social distancing measures such as keeping 2-year olds away from each other and the number of teachers available.

The day school, which serves kids ages 2 years old to kindergarteners, has 60 students and a total of five teachers. The typical school day is a half-day and lasts three hours.

“We’re a small private kindergarten,” Kempton added. “All of our teachers also have kids at home who are learning virtually.”

When asked why the school did not opt for virtual or hybrid learning instead, Kempton said it wanted to provide a quality education for its students and felt it could not do so during the coronavirus pandemic.

In March 2020, the school had shut down in-person learning like other K-12 schools in the state and tried virtual kindergarten with take-home packets but Kempton said it was not well received.

“We just can’t fully support it in a way that would work both for parents and for us,” Kempton said. “It’s just not something we can do.”

As for vaccinating its staff, Kempton said it’s a personal choice for staff to get vaccinated, noting the school would not make it mandatory, and as of Feb. 4, the board has not discussed an overall timeline or threshold needed to reopen the school.

Fall enrollment is expected to open at the end of the month and while the school normally has in-person tours for prospective students and families, Kempton said the church building is closed.

For now, a slideshow on its website showing a year at Grace Episcopal Day School has to suffice.

“It’s so painful,” Kempton said. “We miss our kids so much, they are like an extension of our families.”

“I can’t wait to have their smiling faces back in the halls learning in the classrooms, I can’t wait,” she added.


Editor’s Note: WYDaily interviewed The Goddard School of Williamsburg and Grace Episcopal Day School prior to Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement on Feb. 5.

Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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