Important Reopening Update
August 17, 2020

Dear MHS Community,

I am writing to inform you that the Miss Hall’s Leadership Team, together with the School’s Incident Response Team and the Board of Trustees, has decided to delay the reopening of campus and the return of students by one month. Classes will still begin as planned on September 8, but we will begin the school year fully online, with the goal of resuming on-campus instruction on October 19.
 
Although we knew when we announced our plans earlier this summer that they might have to shift due to changing conditions, it is with great regret that we have to amend our timeline so close to the start of the year. Please know that this decision was not easy, but it is necessary to ensure community health and safety. 
 
I can imagine that this news comes as a disappointment, and perhaps brings with it feelings of fear, confusion, or frustration. I have felt those feelings, too, in the face of this devastating and unpredictable pandemic. Most of all, though, I feel sadness that we cannot be together as soon as we had hoped. For all of the reasons we know and hold dear — immersive learning, inclusive program, authentic relationships, and, above all, the joyful and connected community we share — our goal has been and continues to be to bring students back to campus as soon as we are confident that we can do so responsibly.
 
All summer, MHS adults have been working tirelessly to prepare for a new and very different school year. We have updated health protocols and reconfigured campus spaces to adhere to and exceed the state and federal requirements for schools. Faculty have trained and collaborated to redesign curriculum, develop new practices, and adapt academic, residential, and student life programs to a hybrid model in order to ensure continuous learning and an inclusive community, whether online or in person. We have reconfigured our daily schedule and calendar to accommodate synchronous learners in many locations around the world. A testament to the dedication and creativity of every MHS employee, this excellent preparation has created flexibility to make decisions based on community well-being and current conditions.


Reassessing Plans
 
Unfortunately, during the past three weeks, circumstances and key factors outside of the School’s control necessitated a careful reassessment of our reopening plans:

  • While we are fortunate that local conditions in the Berkshires and in Massachusetts have been deemed safe for schools to reopen, many other regions of the United States are seeing substantial surges in rates of infection. 
  • The ongoing travel restrictions and new state quarantine requirements pose challenges and safety concerns for our students traveling from all over the world to get to campus.
  • Testing availability is still limited in many places in the U.S., and the wait for results can be as long as 14 days. This is making it difficult or impossible for families to secure negative test results prior to arrival on campus within our original timeline. 
  • We have experienced delays in securing needed supplies to administer COVID-19 tests on campus. Rapid and ongoing testing of students and adults, with predictable timing of results, is essential to our ability to identify and respond immediately to active coronavirus cases and ensure community health. Until testing is secured, we believe that it would be irresponsible to bring our full community back to campus. Please know that we are working as quickly as possible to implement on-campus testing by early September, and we promise to keep you informed.
  • Many local public schools in Berkshire County have decided to start the year with remote learning, which creates a challenge for faculty and staff with school-age children.
  • As institutions have opened to varying levels of success, many schools and colleges have decided to delay reopening plans. We share their concerns and see the advantage of taking more time and additional caution before bringing students back to MHS.

Updated Timeline

Based on these factors, we feel it necessary to adjust our return-to-campus timeline as follows. Changes are noted in bold.

  • August 31 to September 4: Orientation week for all students, online (a separate schedule with Zoom links will be sent).
  • September 8: First day of classes as scheduled, online. 
  • September 8 to October 16: Term 1, online for all students.
  • September 26 to October 3: Staggered return to campus for boarding students. Specific arrival dates to be determined by September 14. 
  • October 19 to November 20: Term 2 hybrid — classes will be offered in-person and online.
  • November 20 to 29: Fall Break, no classes.
  • November 30 to December 18: Term 3 online for all students.

By early September, we plan to have enhanced capacity for reliable on-campus testing. We will again assess the various external factors, and if we determine that current conditions support a responsible reopening plan, we will invite students to return to campus on the staggered schedule outlined above. Any shifts to this return-to-school calendar will be communicated to students and families no later than September 14. Please see the 2020-2021 MHS Refund Policy here.

We recognize the many health and safety concerns and logistical challenges posed by traveling to and from campus during the current global pandemic. To minimize the risk of potential travel-related exposure and to reduce the number of potential quarantine periods, all boarding students will have the option to stay in the dorms during all scheduled breaks and vacations, including Fall Break, Winter Break, and Spring Break. Families will not be charged any additional fees if they choose to have their student remain in the dorms during these breaks. Meals, programming, and supervision will be provided during these times. This includes the period between the Fall and Winter breaks (November 20, 2020, through December 18, 2020).

In addition, it makes sense to reiterate that all students have the option to study remotely during any term. Families who are considering remote-only for some or all of the year should indicate their decision to the Deans.


Keeping Mission and Values in Mind

During the past six months, we have all experienced the challenges of a global pandemic, and we are all learning to cope and adjust as individuals and as a community. We recognize the stress on families trying to make decisions and travel plans for their children amidst great uncertainty. We recognize the disequilibrium and isolation felt by our students, as a result of extended separation from friends, classmates, and trusted adults at MHS. We recognize the added pressures on our faculty and staff as they redesign our entire program to suit the reality of these times, without ever losing sight of our mission or values and while caring for their own families and friends. I remain grateful for and inspired by the intentional and dedicated efforts of this community to stay connected despite these challenges.
 
Appreciating that you may have additional questions or concerns, I encourage you to reach out directly to anyone on the contacts list below. In addition, we will be hosting webinars next week for boarding students and their families and for day students and their families. More details to follow soon.
 
All my very best,
Julia Heaton
Head of School

Contacts and Resources


For health questions and concerns:  Christie Puz, R.N., Director of Health Services, 413-395-7074, cpuz@misshalls.org  
 
For travel arrangements: Mary Bazanchuk, Asst. Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life, 413-395-7045, mbazanchuk@misshalls.org

For questions about counseling resources: Teresa Gentile, School Counselor, 413-395-7073, tgentile@misshalls.org
 
For academics questions: Lisa Alberti, Dean of Academics and Faculty, 413-395-7108, lalberti@misshalls.org