Letter from the Head of School: Mid-Pen's Plans for Fall 2020

Dear Mid-Pen Families,

I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones healthy and well. I appreciate your patience and understanding as the school has worked on its plans to start the school year. 

Governor Newsom released updated state guidelines for public and private schools last week. For a school to open its campus, the school’s county has to stay off the state’s COVID-19 watch list for 14 consecutive days. The watch list includes counties that are not meeting a series of data-driven criteria that determine a decrease in the transmission rate of COVID-19. The criteria include meeting daily testing requirements, the number of positive test results, hospitalizations, and deaths in the county over a period of time. Once a county has reached the 14-day milestone, schools must also show that they have implemented state-recommended protocols to open campus safely. 

While San Mateo County currently is not on the watch list, cases of COVID-19 within the county and surrounding counties are steadily increasing. Data and news reports indicate a strong probability that the county will be placed on the watch list any day, at which point all schools in the county must reopen via distance learning. As you may know, several neighboring schools have already announced they will operate in distance learning this fall. Additionally, even though our campus is in San Mateo County, our students, families, and staff live in counties that are on the watch list. 

After many discussions with the Board of Trustees, the administrative team, and the faculty and staff, and after numerous webinars and conversations with medical professionals and school leaders, I have made the decision to conduct the fall semester through distance learning. I know this announcement will evoke a range of responses, from relief to disappointment and even anger. I completely understand and respect all of these emotions, as I’ve felt them all too. I come to this decision out of the deepest concern for the health and safety of our students, teachers, and their families. 

The school has spent an abundance of time and resources on preparing for a re-opened campus. From purchasing protective equipment, upgrading our air filtration system, planning for outdoor learning spaces, contact tracing training, and much more, we have been operating under the assumption that a safe return to campus would be possible. We’ve done our best to control what we can control. Beyond our control, however, are the alarming, record-breaking rates of infection, hospitalization, and death throughout the Bay Area and the state. Putting the lives of students and teachers at risk was ultimately too daunting a challenge, one that I could not ask our community to undertake in good conscience. 

The transition to Mid-Pen Online in the spring taught us a great deal about how to engage with our students and our community remotely. Feedback from students and parents has played an integral role in the faculty’s evolution as distance educators. Our faculty has engaged in professional development throughout the summer to hone distance learning practices. The faculty will meet regularly between now and the first day of school on August 20 to share, plan, and implement distance learning strategies and lessons. We are confident that our teachers will continue to deliver the creative, outstanding educational experiences unique to Mid-Pen. 

I hope to see many of you at our next virtual Town Hall on Monday, July 27, at 7:00 pm, to discuss the school year. We’ve created this FAQ sheet for your information before this meeting. Please send any additional questions you may have to our Director of Communications at charlene@mid-pen.org

Finally, as I said in our last Town Hall, one of our four community values, responsibility, has been a recurrent theme in my thinking. We all play a role in combating the spread of COVID-19, and I urge us all to remain committed to stopping it. By wearing a mask, keeping social distance, and limiting social gatherings, we are showing responsibility for one another and pointing us collectively to a return to campus. Together, we can make it through this pandemic.


Phil Gutierrez
Head of School