Dear Duke School Community,
We are living in unprecedented times that require sensitivity and resolve. How we choose to respond to the many challenges of this moment will determine the course of our future. We are committed to doing so with Duke School’s values of equity and justice in the forefront. In this letter we wish to acknowledge and address concerns raised by some in our community about inequities surrounding the Bridged Distance Learning program.
During spring 2020, the Leadership Team and Board of Trustees started planning to bring students back on campus this fall. With much creative thinking about how we could use our buildings and outdoor spaces, we developed a way that students could come onto campus and learn in-person in the safest way possible. Even given these measures, as the fall approaches, many individuals do not feel comfortable sending their children to school at this time. Bridged Distance Learning (BDL) was created in order to meet the needs of these families. We recognize that it is our responsibility as a school to provide everyone the opportunity to have a rich and robust learning experience, including during these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the last few weeks, Duke School’s Leadership Team and Board have received several correspondences from parents and teachers expressing concern about the potential racial inequities in our reopening plan. We want to say thank you to those who have raised these concerns and taken time to engage with members of the school’s leadership and Board to express your concerns. What became apparent in mid-July was that within BDL, the majority of students who were enrolled in the program were students of color. Currently, 47 percent of all African American students, 27 percent of all students of color and 14 percent of all white students at Duke School are enrolled in BDL. This is of particular concern given the fact that we know COVID is disproportionately affecting Black and Latinx communities. Concerns were exacerbated by the fact that we were not able to provide full details about our BDL program at the time we presented it as an option, and many worried that BDL would create an inferior learning environment when compared to the On-Campus Learning program. We do not know everyone’s reasons for choosing BDL; however, what we do know is that as a school, we must be responsive to the needs of our students. To do so, we must create a thoughtfully designed, resource-rich program that has all the necessary ingredients to make it as academically strong as our On-Campus program.
To allow families to have a choice between the two models, without fear of sacrificing their child’s education, and recognizing that some people do not actually have a choice given health concerns, we are prioritizing the BDL program from both a resource and curriculum standpoint. Bridged Distance Learning students will have the following:
· Designated teacher(s) or coach
· The same curriculum standards and principles of instruction
· Meaningful assessment used to guide instruction
· Access to the same or similar materials (iPads/laptops, hands-on materials, and tools)
· Synchronous morning meetings and daily check-ins to build community and give students the consistency they need
· Multiple opportunities for synchronous learning throughout the day
· Opportunities to collaborate with peers academically and socially
· Screen breaks
Furthermore, we expect that many of our BDL students will be “digital leaders” if we get to the point of going fully into Distance Learning!
As in the spring, our school community has physically expanded. We are no longer a community that learns in a single place. We are a community that is spread over many places, and our faculty, staff, Leadership Team, and Board will be cognizant of this truth in the ways that we serve our community members in the coming months.
Emily Chávez, Director of Equity and Justice
Garry Cutright, Board Diversity Committee Chair