Summer 2020 Announcements and

Head of School Messages

July 1, 2020

Dear EMS Parents and Students,


Plans for reopening school this fall are coming along nicely. We expect Virginia’s Phase III guidelines to be our operational starting point. We have assessed our facility spaces and are pleased to announce K-12 plans allowing “every student, every day” to meet in person. This notice links you to the “canvas we are painting” for each school division.  Click below, and keep checking back, to see this picture become more clear and precise as we continue layering our plans for next year.

Technology Needs - Please complete this Technology Survey by Friday, July 3!

EMS will be prepared for potential pandemic disruptions ranging from individual students needing to stay at home for health reasons to state executive orders and weather temporarily closing school. We plan to ensure every student has the technological support needed to carry on, and limited government funds can assist EMS in our preparedness.  Please click on the link above to submit your family’s technology needs.

Title IX - Anti-Discrimination Laws

EMS operates with non-discriminatory intentions with clarity in places where we, as a religious church affiliated school, can name specific values important to our school mission and vision. Besides the spirit of Title IX compliance being best practice, it is also important whenever organizations accept federal financial support, which we do for our lunch program and most recently the Paycheck Protection Program. Click here to learn more about EMS’s commitment to Title IX regulations.

A new Racial Equity Working Group has been established in our school as our country begins to engage in the work to understand and address systemic racism. Led by Andrea Wenger, Maria Archer and Debbie Katz, the group includes 10 faculty, staff and administrators. We recognize that we have much to learn and stories from the past to hear and make right. Read a news article about the new group and see the web page with additional information.

Student Schedules - High School Students . . . Check your EMS email!

  • Week of 6/29: Ms. Seitz will communicate with rising SENIORS to review course schedules. 
  • July 1 - July 17: Juniors, sophomores, and freshmen will then be invited to review their course schedules. Ms. Seitz will email instructions.

The “new normal” for K-5 students will be fairly similar to past years with enhanced health safety precautions as recommended by the VDH and CDC.  Thanks to large classroom spaces, we expect grade-level classes to meet daily with their teacher. Secondary students in grades 6-12 will adjust to 4 block classes per day to reduce the frequency of class changes, give time for enhanced daytime cleaning, and reduce the number of classes in the event we must use distance learning. We plan to use a variety of larger gathering spaces for instructional space so we can spread out and have everyone here every day.  We are planning creatively toward a promising school year and anticipation being together once again!  

Blessings for safety and wellness to you and your family.

Paul Leaman, Head of School


June 18, 2020

Dear EMS Parents,

EMS has submitted our Phase II Health Mitigation Plan to the VDOE and we look forward to updating this to our Phase III Plan once these are being accepted. We expect this can happen within the next month or so.  We continue with hopeful plans for Phase III that permits schools to meet with students in person based on physical distancing guidelines. 

We remain hopeful that our classrooms and large common spaces will allow us to be present in person, every day. Administration is meeting with all middle and high school faculty this week and next to review space utilization.  Be on the lookout for an update in early July regarding greater detail about our daily in person schedule. We are basing our daily schedule on a 4 period block schedule that has creative solutions for .25 credit electives, .5 credit courses, and full credit courses with year-end standardized exams such as AP courses.  We are encouraged about the possibilities coming to light and the "can do" spirit found within our faculty & staff!

Stay tuned and be on the lookout in early July.

Paul Leaman, Head of School

June 12, 2020

Dear EMS Parents & Students

Now is a great time to be part of a small school community. Our populations are less crowded and we can make adjustments fairly quickly.  We feel fortunate regarding the educational opportunities our students will be able to receive this coming year!

On Tuesday, June 9, Governor Northam issued guidelines for reopening K-12 schools. School divisions need to submit plans for working within Virginia’s Recover-Redesign-Restart guidelines which also fall within the Governor’s Phase I, II, and III plan for business reopening.  While Virginia is presently in Phase II, we are spending most of our energies preparing for Phase III, which is the expected status for businesses and schools by August. Concepts guiding EMS’s scenario planning will continue focusing on student and employee health, safety, and opportunity.  Below are key principles we are following.

Allowable Program Parameters

  • Phase III allows all students to meet in person so long as classroom capacity allows for 6 foot distancing. Ten foot distancing is recommended when physical activity and/or high volumes of air exchange are present (choir & band). No more than 50 people are permitted in a large capacity area.

  • Under Phase III, our class sizes allow K-5 to be in person for every student, every day. We are exploring creative solutions to prioritize in-person learning every day for grades 6-12 as well.

  • Remote learning and teleworking exceptions will be options for students and staff who are at a higher risk of severe illness. Please inform the school if/when you find yourself in this situation.

  • Communal places and activities will be modified significantly through staggered scheduling (lunch & library).

  • We are looking into alternative and creative ways for communal experiences such as Gathering, Chapel, and performance-based activities. We expect a futuristic Executive Order on large gatherings.

  • Athletics and extracurricular activities will be permitted to continue with approved mitigation measures. Including summer camps as per Phase II guidelines. More guidance will be forthcoming.

Health & Safety

  • Daily health screening procedures are being defined for employees and students. These will be done safely and respectfully, in accordance with privacy laws. 

  • Staff expectations are to wear a cloth face covering when physical distancing cannot be maintained and when it is medically and developmentally appropriate. Student requested use of face coverings will be circumstantial such as age appropriateness and times when social distancing may be difficult to maintain.  Face coverings are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult.

We at EMS are closely reviewing and designing protocols to meet Virginia’s reopening guidelines for schools. We are optimistic and will regularly update you (around every two weeks). We pray God’s blessings for you and your family this summer as the “stay at home” restrictions begin to shift slowly toward more normative patterns.  We anticipate being together in real life this August!  

Stay well; stay safe!

Paul Leaman, Head of School


June 9, 2020

Dear Parents:

There is no better time to be a small nimble school community!  Following today’s announcement by Governor Ralph Northam regarding expectations for public and private school opening for the 2020-21 academic year, we at Eastern Mennonite School will:

  • Continue planning for in-person educational experiences for all K-12 students as our priority.
  • Base our planning on best practices for optimal health and safety of our students, faculty and staff.
  • Continue to refine plans to open our full K-12 program on August 25, with careful consideration to all of Governor Northam’s mandates, as well as recommendations from the Virginia Department of Health and Center for Disease Control.
  • Design our academic program for flexibility that can accommodate family needs and provide for student opportunities.
  • Communicate regularly with families over the summer as school opening plans are finalized toward August.

We appreciate the collective knowledge and insight gained from our K-12 faculty during our year-end meeting on Monday, June 8.  We have a team ready to serve you well this fall. We plan to give parents our next update this Friday afternoon, June 12.

Congratulations on finishing #FlamesStrong this most unusual of school years. Our prayers are with you and your families for a special and safe summer!

P.S.:  EMS administration is reviewing guidelines and developing procedures so we can open our grounds and facilities for potential co-curricular opportunities as soon as possible.

May 18, 2020 Update to EMS Families

This message updates you on exciting developments happening yet this year. Additionally, I want to share with you  VERY SOFT ideas we are exploring as possible scenarios for school next fall.

Upcoming Celebrations

  • Our Middle & High School Awards Assembly celebration will be distributed electronically this week
  • June 1, our 5th graders, their families and teachers and administrators will be invited to a Zoom graduation celebration.
  • June 2, our 8th graders, their families, their teachers and administrators will be invited to a Zoom celebration and recognition as 8th graders prepare to move to high school!
  • We will have a senior parade on Friday, June 5 at 2pm. Seniors will drive through the auditorium lot to receive a logo blanket, a specially designed class t-shirt, and a unique mug created by ceramist Herb Weaver ’75 as they are welcomed into the Alumni Association. All participants will need to stay in their cars. Everyone is  welcome to come, stay in their cars, and cheer!
  • Commencement - More details about to come out.


Paul Leaman, Head of School
Paul Leaman, Head of School

Stay tuned for more information about:

  • Upcoming Mini-Chapels: Senior Class, senior parent reflections, Ms. Kierra Sauder, Glen Guyton, executive director of Mennonite Church USA who was scheduled as commencement speaker
  • Lockers & School Supply Exchange Days - Scheduled times to:
    • Return library books, textbooks, chromebooks, etc.
    • Collect student items left at school
  • Process for Final Fourth Quarter Grades: Ms. Seitz will send information about how to communicate plans for 4th quarter grades (as detailed in our Academic Plan previously distributed).

2020-2021 School Year

The end of last week I was feeling “Zoomed Out!”  Perhaps you and your children are feeling the same way. Too much technology and screen time exhausts me and saps my creativity. While being proud of our faculty and students sticking together through distance learning, at EMS, we long for a relational, better, and stronger way than Zoom! These notes highlight concepts and ideas we are talking about for next year.


  • In-person education on campus.  This is our number one priority and the best cure to getting “Zoomed Out!” Our intention is to open in person this fall. Naturally, we will follow government criteria and best practices.
  • Health and safety precautions and monitoring. This CDC-Schools-Decision-Tree.pdf succinctly highlights best practice expectations for reopening schools. EMS intends to meet these standards and commits to implementing best practices known at any given time. Specific details of our practices will be communicated to you in advance.
  • Flexibility.  Every family unit has unique health situations and comfort levels when it comes to social distancing and school attendance.  As a small school community, we believe we will be able to accommodate each family’s needs and understand this will vary among us.
  • Weekly and ongoing scenario refinement throughout the summer. EMS is a small nimble community allowing us to customize learning plans that avoid the “one size fits all” approach of larger school systems.
  • Distance learning options are NOT our ideal situation; however, if for seasons we must use it, EMS faculty will be prepared, effective, and connect synchronously with students on a regular basis.
  • Communicate Frequently. Our task force is developing scenarios now and be refining these over the summer to provide the best possible educational experience for your family. I will regularly (about every 2 weeks during the summer) provide updates so you are well informed on details as they get defined.
  • Strong return for your educational investment. We will emphasize quality in all we do, and our tuition rates will reflect the quality of services provided. We also plan to honor the diligent and difficult work of our employees so we can ensure the highest quality of education.

What we imagine to be true . . . at least somewhat likely

  • Change. Given the intense changes over the last 8 weeks, we are preparing for scenarios that might change from one week to the next. We expect times during the year when our daily patterns may need to change.
  • Pivot Potential. In order to pivot from one scenario to another seamlessly, our ideas regarding the daily schedule will aim to simplify life for students and teachers. We imagine possible scenarios along the lines of:
    • Flame Blue - All students are permitted to meet on campus and in person. EMS will adhere to tracking and monitoring with all health & safety precautions within our buildings throughout the day.
    • Green - Scenario shift that may limit the numbers of students in specific areas at given times; however, our ideas still permit strong curricular progress for all students.
    • Yellow - Scenario whereby curricular pacing and opportunities become limited with distance learning becoming more common.
    • Orange - Social restrictions imposed whereby only distance learning becomes possible.

Note: We imagine, even within an Orange season, that ideas being developed significantly improve teacher connections and student accountability.

  • Some courses will look different.  Music is central to our school culture; however, research evidence tells us vocal and wind courses must be significantly altered. Small ensembles within large areas may be the best we can do until medical advances allow for traditional choral and band settings. There will likely be several exciting new course opportunities as well.
  • Mass gatherings, assemblies, lunch, field trips, athletics, drama, etc. There are many unknowns, and I will not speculate at this time; however, we intend to follow best practices regarding these functions of school life.
  • Change Again. Uncertainty feels like the new normal and can be unsettling. Like we hear daily, “We are in this together!” I believe EMS is positioned well for a promising year.

Our daily prayers are with your family and over our planning processes. I rest in the counsel often used to encourage youth from Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for [EMS]” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Knowing God’s plans are bigger and greater than mine, coupled with the confidence I have in our EMS team and community who have our students’ futures at heart, I have high hopes for what lies ahead.

We welcome you to share insights and ideas with our administrative team, and please stay tuned. I hope each update can shed more light on the details of next year.


Paul Leaman



March 23, 2020

Dear EMS Family,

It is with a heavy heart that we heard Governor Northam’s mandate this afternoon to close all K-12 schools, public and private, for the rest of the academic year. As difficult as it is, we understand that this is the right thing to do and are ready to do our part.

I am writing today, on behalf of our Strategic Leadership Team, to let you know that we are committed to providing the best possible distance-learning experience for our students. This includes academics, social-emotional support, outdoor and physical education, and faith formation.

Tuesday evening, we plan to send a 2-question survey for parents with student input so we can evaluate the distance-learning experience thus far. We want to continue to build on our strengths and improve where we can do better. We will continue distance learning strategies through April 3 as scheduled earlier, and take a spring break with no distance learning expectations through April 14. At this time we plan to resume online learning on April 15.

We have many decisions to make in the coming days and will keep you informed along the way. We grieve with you the ongoing losses of this time. We are missing seeing one another every day, competitions, performances and celebrations. We also recognize that school closures result in the loss of many meaningful activities and events, including the May 1st junior/senior banquet as well as promotions and graduation ceremonies. When safe, we plan to create meaningful end-of-year celebrations to replace lost scheduled experiences. We are not yet able to speak to what shape these celebrations will take, but we want you to know our commitment remains with you for a successful completion of this year along with meaningful celebrations of your students’ accomplishments!

Everyone is experiencing dramatic changes during this unprecedented time, and we want you to rest in confidence that EMS intends to walk sensitively with you through difficult challenges should they come your way. I was reminded today that EMS was founded in 1917 in the midst of a global crisis, WWI.  God was present then, and I believe God remains with us today! Know that our prayers are daily with each student and family as we find our way forward, step-by-step.



Paul Leaman, Head of School

March 20: Technology update

There are a limited number of EMS-owned Chromebooks available for checkout.  If your student is having trouble accessing a device to do his/her remote school work, email to request a Chromebook for the duration of the closure.  A parent will need to read and sign a form prior to checking out a Chromebook.  If you are having technical issues with a school-owned Chromebook, email the address above for help.

March 20, 2020 update

Eastern Mennonite School is holding classes by distance learning beginning March 18 through April 3 due to the local, state, and federal recommendations to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. Our office hours will be Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, only a limited number of administrators and essential staff will be working in the building, so email will be the most reliable way to communicate.
EMS teachers, administrators, and support staff are working hard to continue offering valuable learning experiences. Please do not hestitate to ask for support during this time!
During Easter Break, April 6-14, EMS offices will be open by appointment only.
May God protect you and your family. Prayers for your health and safety during this time of stress and uncertainty.

March 16, 2020 update

Details and guidelines for our life together (and apart) seem to change by the minute. As of 5 p.m. on March 16, this is our plan to get materials into family hands for their student’s home-based learning in the coming weeks. Another email will come out later this evening from the principals about academic expectations during this time.

Tuesday, March 17 is the day for students (or their parents) to pick up materials from the school.

Elementary parents may pick up items in the lower building (elementary school) from 8 a.m. to 12 noon on Tuesday, March 17. Please park in the gym lot.

The following time frames for pick up are recommended for pick up at the upper building:

Middle school: 8 a.m. to 12 noon on Tuesday, March 17
High school: 12 noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17

Middle and high school students will be allowed into the upper building in limited numbers to go to lockers and the Commons where teachers have materials ready for pick up. Administrators will monitor numbers of students allowed in the building, traffic flow and social distancing.

Parents and students may elect to have their student’s items brought to the curb. An administrator will be at the curb to gather information and retrieve the items. Be prepared to provide: student name, locker #, class schedule and items needed, including medications and musical instruments.

Note: Families with students in multiple divisions may make one trip to collect items.

March 13, 2020, 8 p.m.

Following Governor Ralph Northam's closure of all K-12 schools in the state this afternoon, EMS leadership announced the following schedule:

  • March 16 - 17:             School Closed for Teacher Workdays
  • March 18 - April 3:      K-12 Distance Learning
  • April 4 - 14:                 Easter/Spring Break

Between now and April 14, ALL co-curricular activities and events are canceled; inclusive of athletic practices and games, drama practices and performances, Touring Choir rehearsals and concerts.

Parents, students, faculty and staff should have received an email from Paul Leaman, head of school, with further details. If you did not receive it that letter, email

Justin King, high school principal,  and Maria Archer, K-8 principal, will share additional details about distance learning strategies and specifics early next week.

March 12, 2020, 10 p.m.

Eastern Mennonite School will be closed for students on Friday, March 13 through Monday, March 16 for teacher workdays.

Faculty and staff will be using this time to prepare effective distance learning opportunities for students in the event that a long-term closure becomes the recommendation of the Virginia Department of Health. As a precautionary measure, all school activities and events have been canceled for Friday, March 13 through Monday, March 16.

EMS will communicate upcoming plans for the remainder of next week as soon as possible on Monday

MARCH 12, 2020, 3 p.m.

Update by Paul Leaman, Head of School

Dear EMS Community:

EMS administration is meeting every morning to keep tabs on the moving COVID-19 pandemic and to make decisions we believe are best for our community and beyond.  We will be in regular communication with you via email and/or text alert.

In a webinar with the VDH it was reported that communicable disease responses tend to be either:

  1. Preemptive efforts aimed at reducing contamination risk and stress on healthcare systems beyond what they can manage.
  2. Reactive efforts because business as usual is no longer possible. 

Recent decisions by area universities to go online  targets the pre-emptive approach illustrated nicely by this CDC “Flattening the curve” illustration. Now is an important time to look beyond ourselves and personal well-being to important safety measures for our region, nation, and world. It is important to do what we can to preserve capacity within our healthcare systems and for our providers.

EMS’s Preemptive Responses

  • Daily leadership team meetings @ 8:15 w/ community communication
  • EMS K-12 classes plan to continue 
  • Cancel E-term & Explore Weeks
  • K-12 School Calendar Change: Easter Break April 6 - 14
  • EMS will align with the VHSL & VISAA which at this time continues to permit outdoor competitions between schools
  • Teach & model best hygiene practices such as washing hands w/ soap & water for 20 seconds, use of 60% alcohol based sanitizers when washing isn’t possible, keeping hands to oneself and not touching one’s face.
  • Athletics - only personal water bottles; disposable cups for water jugs during games; no pre or post handshakes or high-fives
  • Honor parent discretion on absences with sensible expectations on make-up work
  • Students - Stay home when sick and until fever-free for 24 hours without medication

At this time, we believe operating on a normal schedule is the best way to support our students and families with stability while encouraging our community to remain localized in efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.  We will alter the school calendar so our K-12 community is on the same operating schedule. EMS (K-12) will close for an Easter/spring break from April 6-14 which coincides with previously set dates for our elementary families. At this time, we plan on continuing school and all co-curricular programming as scheduled.  

EMS Reactive Responses

  • EMS leadership will be in frequent communication regarding advised changes
  • Families traveling to/from a Level 3 Risk area will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days
  • Faculty and administration are working toward preparedness in the event distance/online learning options become necessary

MARCH 10, 2020

As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation continues to evolve, we know that parents wonder how it might affect our school community.

Our leadership team and healthcare professional are closely monitoring updates and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS).