On March 6, 2020, Abrome broke for spring break. We knew at that time that the Covid-19 pandemic was serious, and that there was a chance that we may have to go fully remote at some point in order to protect the Abrome community and the broader Central Texas community from the disease that was wreaking havoc in parts of Asia and Europe. On March 13th we announced that we were extending spring break by an additional week, to March 30th, to better evaluate what we needed to do to safely come back together again. On March 18th we announced that we would begin remote support for Learners on March 30th, and that our facility would remain closed through April 24th. And on April 1st we announced that we would be operating remotely for the rest of the academic year.
Going remote last year was not easy, but it was much easier than trying to justify bringing Learners and Facilitators together during a pandemic. Fortunately for public health, Texas soon followed and shut down schools for the remainder of the year, as well.
But going remote was a politically charged affair. Soon enough, the President, anti-maskers, and business interests were demanding that schools reopen immediately. Some wanted to believe that the pandemic was some sort of hoax, and others wanted workers to be at work serving the economy instead of worrying about their children in the middle of the day. A bunch of education schools, non-profits, and think tanks that spend most of their time trying to justify the existence of the school-industrial complex, and the testing and sorting that comes along with it, soon began to bemoan the threat to the welfare of a generation of children if they were not forced to sit in some combination of academic classes for seven hours a day. Then, more affluent white parents all of a sudden became concerned about the plight of children who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, or those living in poverty, as an argument for their own kids’ affluent public and private schools to reopen.
At Abrome we knew that remote learning was no substitute for being together in-person. Self-Directed Education (“SDE”) benefits from the coming together of diverse people with their own unique interests, capabilities, and life experiences. That’s hard to replicate over Zoom or Discord. In fact, remote learning takes away more from SDE than it does from conventional schools, because conventional school curriculum can easily be transferred onto a software platform. Even though remote learning takes away more from SDE than it does conventional schooling, we found that Abrome Learners suffered less than most conventional school students did when we went remote (at least most conventional school students who were not being abused at school by their conventional school teachers or peers — they benefited greatly from going remote). Abrome Learners did not suffer as much from remote because we did not focus on judging, assessing, or testing them, and because we did not force them to prove to us that they were ‘working’ the entire time. Sometimes we would only see Learners twice a day, at the morning and afternoon meetings. But because remote was a sorry stand-in for being in-person, we wanted to do whatever we could to safely bring Learners and Facilitators back together in the fall.
On June 9, 2020, Abrome released a comprehensive planning document that detailed how we were going to come back together in-person without putting the members of our community at risk of catching or spreading Covid-19, and in doing so how we were going to contribute to the societal effort (that, sadly, not much of American society was committed to) to prevent the spread of the disease in order to save the lives of countless people we do not know.
Our plan centered around taking our community outdoors in small groups (“cells”) of physically distant Learners and Facilitators. We would come together for three week cycles with a nine-day break between cycles so that we could observe for symptoms before coming back together again in new cells. It required that we conduct daily screenings, mask up when near each other, and quarantine if we found ourselves in situations that put us at risk of exposure. Our plan was also responsive to local pandemic conditions, with each risk stage level as determined by the local public health department serving as a trigger for how we could come together. At every risk stage level, our plan for coming together exceeded the recommendations of Austin Public Health (“APH”). This allowed us to be together in ways that conventional schools could not, while also being safer.
New admissions, rounded up, would move us into risk stage level five
On November 19th, APH increased the risk stage level to four for the first time this pandacademic year, which necessitated us moving one cell entirely remote. Fortunately, with only one in-person day left in that cycle, the cell only lost one day of being together. We entered into this fourth cycle with one fully remote cell, but we cautioned our families that we were quickly moving toward stage level five, which would require us to go fully remote as per our planning document. On Friday, the county flirted with risk stage level five based on the 7-day moving average of new hospital admissions.
With only two days left in this cycle we hope that cases come down so that we can allow our in-person Learners to finish out the cycle together. Particularly for the two prospective Learners who are shadowing. The 7-day average has improved slightly over the weekend, but we are fully expecting to start our next cycle fully remote, starting on January 4th. When we do we will do our best to hold space for our Learners. We will host morning and afternoon meetings so that we can practice setting intentions and reflecting on our day, as well as providing each other support while stuck at home. Facilitators will invite Learners into offerings, and be available for Learners who want to host offerings.
We are prepared to go fully remote because the only responsible thing for people to do during uncontrolled community spread of Covid-19 is to stay home unless it is absolutely necessary to venture out. Those who must venture out are called front line essential workers (some, not even all), and those who must work to survive. Students and educators are not front line essential workers. We hope that all the schools in the Austin area will join us in going entirely remote when the county enters into stage level five. Going remote is not easy, but it is much easier than trying to justify bringing together groups of people in the middle of the worst stage of the pandemic.