A Reopening 180 – Students taken by surprise as Potomac opts for Distance Learning less than two weeks before Orientation


Tess Weinreich

Spangler Center to remain empty as students start the school year completely online.

In a complete reversal of Potomac’ students’ expectations, and previous announcements that stated that the school would reopen using a hybrid model, Potomac announced on August 20 that the school will begin the 2020-21 school year entirely through distance learning, with no on-campus activities. 

In an email addressed to parents, Head of School John Kowalik explained that the initial distance learning could be a temporary measure, and a plan to bring students back on campus in some capacity could be announced on September 28, when the closing of campus would be reassessed. What would change between now and that date that would make school safe to reopen was not specified. Faculty were informed of the decision in a Zoom conference on the same day.

As of the last Parent Spotlight, hosted on Thursday, August 13, Potomac’s hybrid plan for reopening was a go. In this model, students were to alternate spending two or three days a week on campus. This hybrid model was flexible, but allowed students to be on campus, one of Potomac’s primary goals.

This decision comes after months of deliberation in which Potomac had announced clear expectations for at least a partial return to campus at the start of the year. In a parent forum on August 13, the school explained its “scalable” plan released on July 31 that detailed four different levels of possible reopening based on the COVID-19 test positivity rates and case incidence in the DMV area.

“The numbers that we received earlier this week reflect a significant uptick in regional test positivity rates and a disruption to the stable trend. Based on this troubling shift in a key health metric and the guidance of our medical experts, we have decided to move more cautiously to repopulate Potomac’s campus”, said Mr. Kowalik in the email to parents. 

To what degree the metrics mentioned in the interview will need to shift for Potomac to reopen remains unclear, but Potomac will host a second Parent Spotlight on August 27 that could further explain the details of this plan. 

It would seem that the decision to go fully online was made in the past few days. As recently as the faculty meeting held this past Tuesday, August 18, Potomac teachers were proceeding with preparations for the hybrid model. 

Coverage of this breaking news will continue as the reopening plans unfold and evolve.