Christian Sullivan, the head of Bullis School in Potomac, Md., sent an email (full text below) Oct. 14 to the school community saying one reason he had decided to close school on its 102-acre campus was to give teachers a rest after a chaotic fall that led to unprecedented changes in instruction because of the coronavirus pandemic.
As in many other public and private schools across the country, Bullis teachers are delivering instruction two ways — directly to students who are sitting in class and remotely to students who chose to remain at home. And they are doing it at the same time, trying to engage students in different environments, just one new stress educators are facing.
“Teaching and working in a school that is open during the time of covid-19 is daunting,” he wrote in the email. “At Bullis, teachers are delivering the program in two modalities, and all that entails, and non-teaching faculty are working as hard as they can to support the students, teachers and the institution. Teachers’ stress levels have been rising for some time now, not just because of the additional workload, but because of the glut of different anxieties — health and safety, sudden changes to the program/schedule and wondering what is coming next, wearing a mask all day while teaching and the different nature of school life in general — this is not easy.”
It’s necessary, he wrote, “to give everyone a day to take a breath.”
But why Nov. 4?
As it happens, some private schools in the region, including Georgetown Day School and Sidwell School, have rearranged schedules so students will not have classes Nov. 3, in part to allow students who want to serve as poll workers without penalty.
Will Olsen and Anoushka Chander, two seniors at Georgetown Day School, started a regional poll workers project, they said, and have signed up a few hundred high school students in the region. They may not be old enough to vote, but anyone over 16 years old can work at the polls.
Olsen and Chander said most of the students come from Georgetown Day and Sidwell, both in the District, as well as Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, a public school in Maryland, but others who signed on come from more than 20 public and private schools in the region.
But Bullis, which is located in one of America’s wealthiest towns and has long had a politically mixed community, is closing Nov. 4.
After saying in his letter that teachers needed a break, Sullivan offered another reason for the decision, writing: “Secondarily, I suspect that not being in school the day after the election may be wise. Whatever the outcome (if it is known by then), there will be raw feelings and tiredness, and these feelings may be best processed initially at home.”
In an interview, Sullivan said the primary reason for canceling class Nov. 4 was to give “teachers a bit of a breath,” noting that “the pressure cooker of teaching in person has been more onerous” than he had anticipated.
But it dovetailed into his concerns about post-election tensions, saying, “I thought it was wise to maybe not have to deal with the trauma or whatever that may [arise] on the day after [the election], including the fact that there isn’t likely to be a certain outcome.”
Sullivan is in his first year as head of Bullis, succeeding a longtime head who was credited with expanding enrollment to more than 800 students but who left amid a scandal about finances at the school, as my Washington Post colleague Donna St. George revealed.
Here is the text of the Oct. 14 letter from Sullivan to the Bullis community: