Plans to Open School: SouthLake Christian Academy, Fall 2020

Below is an outline of our plans to start school in the fall. I am keenly aware that no matter what we decide, some will be pleased and others will not. That said, I believe the plan detailed below gives us the best chance of balancing the educational needs of our students with the safety of our employees and families. Our Executive Administrative Team has spent many hours looking at CDC and North Carolina recommendations for starting school, and while we know there is no risk-free scenario, we have identified protocols that will help us minimize risk. While we still have some details to iron out, here is a brief overview of our plans for the fall semester.

  • Our intent is to open school on August 12, live and in person, 5 days per week for all students.
  • We will observe Fall Break (October 5-9) and Thanksgiving Break (November 23-27) as normal.
  • We will limit the number of enrolled students in each grade and class as necessary to facilitate appropriate physical distancing in classrooms. With slightly smaller capacity limits, several grades are nearly full.
  • Bus routes will run as normal with staggered seating, one student per seat.
  • Our After School program will operate with students appropriately spaced, utilizing outdoor spaces to the greatest extent possible, as usual.
  • Students will be required to undergo health screening upon arrival, including temperature and symptom checks.
  • Morning drop off locations will be added to eliminate large assemblies of students in a single room.
  • Sinks are being added on the first floor of Hampton Hall (JK-2nd grade), hot water circulation has been improved, no-touch paper towel and soap dispensers will be added across campus, and all students will have designated places to wash their hands on a regular basis.
  • We will purchase additional school resources, art supplies, and curriculum to minimize the need for students to share materials.
  • We will stagger arrival and dismissal from classes and create one-way stairwells to minimize traffic congestion in our hallways.
  • Students will be divided into smaller groups for chapel and will alternate between attending live and watching a livestream from classrooms.
  • Students will be divided into smaller groups for lunches and breaks with some eating in classrooms or outdoor spaces as weather allows.
  • We plan to expand our use of outdoor spaces for PE, recess, lunch, breaks, and some classes as the weather allows.
  • We are increasing our internet bandwidth to improve our ability to livestream classes to the greatest extent possible for those who may need to quarantine.
  • We will adjust attendance policies for students and faculty who document a positive Covid test.
  • Classrooms will be reconfigured to allow students to spread out appropriately.
  • We will adjust our HVAC systems to maximize ventilation and teachers will be permitted to leave classroom doors and windows open where it is safe to do so.
  • Large spaces such as the library, the lower level of Hampton Hall, and the First Building commons will be used as teaching spaces for larger classes.
  • Cleaning protocols will be enhanced in cooperation with our new custodial provider.
  • Field trips to indoor public places and all overnight travel has been cancelled for the fall semester. In some cases, we are working to reschedule trips and retreats for later in the school year.
  • We will address sports on a case by case basis as we get additional guidance from our athletic association.

Now to the subject of masks. Scientific research has demonstrated consistently that the proper use of masks can reduce the risk of disease transmission. We know, therefore, that using masks to some degree gives us the best opportunity to return safely to live instruction. We also know that masks can be a nuisance, especially for younger children. Our strategy will be to use masks as little as possible but as much as necessary. Whenever we cannot be physically distant from each other indoors, we will wear masks. Where we can configure classrooms, activities, and traffic flow to practice safe physical distance in well ventilated areas, we do not plan to require masks. We plan to establish a capacity for each classroom below which masks would not be required, and we will work to keep capacity below that threshold. Masks will be encouraged for anyone who wants or needs to wear them at any time. Students with documented health issues that make wearing a mask unsafe will not be required to wear one. Beginning August 12, all visitors to campus, including parents, will be required to wear a mask while inside school buildings. We plan to purchase CDC approved reusable cloth masks for every SLCA student as part of their school uniform and to distribute them before school starts. These protocols are in keeping with CDC guidelines, current state and local mandates, and the advice we are receiving from medical professionals. Of course, some of these protocols are subject to modification as new scientific data informs our decisions.

Undoubtedly, you will have questions we haven’t answered or concerns we haven’t addressed. We have a few details to iron out, but feel free to ask questions and we will answer them as soon as possible. We know that the fall could be more complex than this past spring, particularly if people in our community begin to test positive for Covid. We all need to be prepared to move into an online environment should government officials enact stay-at-home orders. Whatever the fall brings, I know that God is faithful and you have done amazing work in the year 2020. For these reasons, I am more thankful than ever to be at SouthLake Christian Academy and confident that together we can navigate the coming school year in ways that honor Christ and best serve our students.

Education

Myths Christians Believe (finale)

Completing my multi-part (and too long) series on the subject of Myths Christians Believe, here’s the latest installment.

  • For Part 1 (myths 1 and 2), go here.
  • For Part 2 (myths 3 and 4), go here.
  • For Part 3 (myths 5 and 6), go here.
  • For Part 4 (myths 7 and 8), go here.

Myth 9: A Christian place is an easy place to be a Christian.

The first Christian school I attended was seminary, and in my first week of classes I observed a fellow student cheating on a Hebrew quiz. Cheating in seminary. Let that sink in. The experience struck me as totally ridiculous, but also taught me that seminarians are people, and just like people everywhere, some are dishonest. Many seminarians played the religious game. They discussed theological topics, engaged in religious activities, but they were in it for the money. The seminary degree was their ticket to a job that would pay the bills, or in some extreme cases, help make them rich and famous mega-church pastors. Seminary shattered my idealistic notions of Christian education. I needed my idealism shattered, but I sometimes found it difficult to maintain a genuine faith and not become cynical.

Now that I work and teach on a campus with a Christian identity and mission, I see some students playing that same religious game, and other students becoming cynical. Some students are shocked that their roommates use profanity or alcohol. Some are appalled by the obscenity they see from their classmates on social media. Others are generally irritated by all the Christian bragging they hear, the Bible studies, mission trips, small groups, etc. that people use to build their résumé. I sometimes talk to students (usually upperclassmen) who are so tired of the Christian culture that they find it all difficult to stomach.  Some ask, “Shouldn’t a Christian place be different, better, or more genuinely Christian?”

Some of the diversity stems from the fact that the school where I work doesn’t hand pick its student population so that every student fits a particular mold, religious persuasion, or ideological perspective. Some of the frustration comes from the unrealistic expectations of people who expect a Christian school (or church or organization or family or whatever) to be a utopia. It turns out that Christian schools are full of people, and people are sinful, and sinful people do sinful things. Perhaps we need a more realistic understanding of what a Christian school is.

Strictly speaking, an organization or institution cannot be “Christian,” only a person can.  A building is not Christian because it is adorned with a cross or stained glass any more than putting a Jesus fish on the bumper of my Toyota makes it a Christian truck.  A school isn’t Christian because it has a chapel on campus, a Bible verse on the front gate, or because it requires students to take a religion class or two.  In fact, it might be more accurate to talk about “schools with a Christian mission” rather than “Christian schools.” Maybe this is linguistic hair-splitting, but when you think of a school or a church or an organization in this way, maybe it eliminates the pressure to be perfect. People can be genuine about their hurts, struggles, and shortcomings. Somehow this type of vulnerability seems to lessen the cynicism. At the end of the day, even the most faithful believers are, all at once, both saints and sinners.

Myth 10: If I live well my life should go well.

The corollary to this myth is that if my life goes badly, I must have done something wrong. While few people will actually admit to this belief, they nonetheless become angry with God when life doesn’t go well. The view that a life of ease is a reward and that trauma is punishment gives rise to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The very question expresses the false belief that good people shouldn’t suffer.

In truth, there are many explanations for the existence of evil and suffering (I’ve written about that subject here) and retribution is one of them. But it is one thing to say that bad behavior is usually punished, and quite another to say that my current suffering must be punishment. If I eat bad oysters I’ll probably get an intestinal illness. But an intestinal illness may have nothing to do with oysters. We all get sick. The reality is that life is difficult and painful for everyone. Your own sense of personal virtue does not mean that God owes you a good life.

When you think about it, blaming God for pain is illogical. If God is powerful enough to be blameworthy, then he is powerful enough to have reasons for my pain that are beyond my ability to understand. Ironically, to blame God is simultaneously to credit God with the ability to be blameless. Here I am not trying to trivialize evil by suggesting that God causes all suffering as a means to a greater good. I am saying that whether God causes or allows my pain is simply beyond me. I cannot always know. I know that ultimately God redeems all pain and injustice in Christ and by Christ’s own suffering and death, but I do not claim to understand fully how that happens or when it will happen fully. I simply know that my responsibility is humble service, not to earn God’s grace but because God has given me grace beyond what I deserve. Grace persists, even in the absence of intellectual understanding.

If you are hurting, it may not be your fault. If you are doing well, it may not be to your credit. “The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

Theology