School Amidst a Pandemic

Note: On November 16th, 2020, the state of California updated their mask requirements, which impacted our plan. The COVID task force implemented these new changes into the plan. 

The Open School looks forward to a time when we can resume school on campus in all its communal richness. But until the COVID-19 pandemic has been resolved, life at The Open School will need to adjust accordingly.

Our full plan is published here. You can also watch the video below, or continue reading this article, for a simplified explanation of the plan.


The school can be in one of four phases depending on environmental factors:

  • Red
    • Orange County is in the Widespread tier (tier 1)
    • In this phase, The Open School will be online only.
  • Orange
    • OC is in the Substantial tier (tier 2)
    • In this phase, students may meet in person in their pods up to 2 days/week.
    • Only one pod is permitted on campus at a time.
  • Yellow
    • OC is in the Moderate tier (tier 3)
    • In this phase, students may meet in person up to 4 days/week.
    • Pods can intermix with other pods at exclusively outdoor locations.
    • Only two pods are permitted on campus at a time.
  • Green
    • OC is in the Minimal tier (tier 4)
    • In this phase, students may meet in person up to 5 days/week.
    • In this phase, pods can intermix freely.
    • All pods may be on campus at a time

At each phase, the School Meeting will discuss and vote on motions regarding the actual number of days per week they will attend, given restrictions on operations, logistics, and specific community needs at the time. In addition, the COVID task force will re-evaluate these parameters every 4-6 weeks, taking into account new information, data, and experience of the school community.

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Flexible, Autonomous Pods

At the start of each semester, regardless of what phase we are currently in, each student and staff member is assigned a pod.

These pods are flexible, meaning they can remain separate, or intermix with other pods to form larger groups, depending on the current phase.

The pods are autonomous, meaning they can create their own rules and restrictions depending on their preferred level of caution.

How are pods assigned?

  • Pod assignments are based on families’ degree of carefulness or medical risk.
  • Staff decide who is in which pod.
  • They make these decisions after obtaining as much information as possible about:
    • Parents’ policy preferences
    • Students’ pairing preferences
    • Geographical considerations
  • The size of each pod will be determined by survey data, but will likely be in the range of 6-10 students.
  • Pods can be shuffled later if necessary, but every effort should be made to get it right the first time.

Consent for intermixing

Because pods are autonomous, each pod may set its own maximum degree of intermixing, as long as that maximum is lower than the maximum set by the phase.

All students and parents in a pod must consent to any intermixing between pods, or it can’t happen. This way everyone has control over their level of viral exposure. These decisions are made by consensus within the pod. If no consensus can be reached, staff will consider rearranging the pods.

Pod Rules

Most of the rules and restrictions regarding COVID-19 safety are set by the School Meeting and apply to all pods. However, each pod can add additional rules to their own sub-lawbooks for increased safety if they would like to be extra-cautious.

The sub-lawbook is created by students and staff in the pod. Parent input is welcome, but the students and staff in the pod are not required to incorporate it (just like how our regular School Meeting works).

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Health & Safety Requirements

Following is a brief summary of the rules that all pods must follow.

Personal Hygiene

  • Hand washing stations will be placed in each area of the campus.
  • All students and staff must complete a hygiene training session.

School Property

  • Shared school items will be disinfected between uses.

Personal Property

  • Personal belongings must be kept in their owner’s cubby unless in active use.
  • Sharing personal items is discouraged.

Social Distancing

  • Large meetings will take place outside.
  • Only one person is allowed in a bathroom at a time.
  • No prolonged contact, such as wrestling. Brief contact is okay, such as pushing someone on the swing, playing tag, etc.
  • No selling or sharing food.


  • All windows and doors will remain open at all times.

Face Coverings

  • All students are required to wear face coverings at the following times. 
    • Inside when any other person is in the room
    • Within 6 feet of another person while outside
  • These regulations are mandated by the State of California.

Facility Cleaning

  • Frequently used surfaces will be cleaned at the beginning, middle and end of each day.
  • Disinfectants will be approved for use against COVID-19 by the EPA.
  • Disinfecting will take place when children under 13 are not present.

Symptom Screening

  • Students and staff must complete a symptom screening before attending school each day.
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Illness Policy

  1. If a student or staff has COVID-19 symptoms: The student or staff will be sent home, but the school/pod will remain open. If they test negative, they may return to school 3 days after symptoms resolve.
  2. If a student or staff has close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case: The student or staff will be sent home and cannot return until 14 days since last exposure to the confirmed case. The school/pod will remain open and the community will be notified.
  3. If a student or staff is confirmed to have COVID-19: The student or staff, along with all school members they had contact with (e.g. their pod), will be sent home and cannot return until 14 days since last exposure. Other school members who did not have contact (e.g. other pods) can continue school as normal.
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Virtual Program

The Open School views this unexpected shutdown as an opportunity to create something new. In the 2020-2021 school year, we are implementing a pilot program for virtual democratic education. This virtual program will grant access to many of the benefits of The Open School to all our students during Red and Orange phases, as well as students who decide to continue quarantining, part time or full time, in other phases.

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Financial Assistance

We’ve created a Tuition Hardship Grant for families who have been economically impacted and cannot pay their tuition. Please consider giving to this fund to help our community stay together as we weather this storm.

Our school operates on a shoestring budget, and though our expenses are not lower during this time, we understand that many parents cannot continue to pay full tuition with their kids at home and their income decreased. Our community has committed to make sure the school remains strong throughout this time so when it is over, we have a school to return to.

Current families who need to apply for the grant can do so here. Grants are given out each month, so please re-apply each month. We love you!

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Communication and Training

Staff will continually monitor the changing conditions in our area, and will communicate these conditions to the school community on a weekly basis via email and GroupMe. We will also notify our community if any student or staff has come into contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19, although we will keep the identity of exposed individuals confidential.

All staff will attend a training session before school starts in August on the application and enforcement of this plan, followed by additional staff meetings each quarter. Also, enrolled families must attend an orientation before school starts which will cover this plan.

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