August 12, 2020

Dear Columbus Academy Families,

Our Leadership Team has decided that the best path forward to invite all Academy students on to campus -- an aspiration we have articulated since June -- is a careful and gradual one. While we have created an environment that meets and exceeds the recommendations from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics for in-person schooling, our entire community will need to play a significant role so that on-campus school for all becomes a reality.

The path that we need to travel to get to all students on campus each day requires that we attend to four powerful conditions:

  1. Our families will need to understand the inherent risk every child takes in choosing to attend school in person and comply with expectations of our COVID-19 environment (which includes daily health checks for students and communicating with the school as described in our new Community Expectations).
  2. Our faculty and staff find they are able to execute effective teaching and learning at the current capacity level amidst health and safety expectations before additional students are added.
  3. Our students will demonstrate regular habits of expected safe health practices at school.
  4. Our school health and safety environment and the COVID-19 conditions in our local geography indicate that adding students on campus is possible.

The route towards in-person school every day for all students begins with two weeks of what I referred to in my last letter as a “shakedown cruise” to make sure our systems and training are working for each student and our faculty and staff. During the short week from September 8-11 after Labor Day, we hope to have our entire Lower School on campus while still conducting a hybrid (in-person and online) model in the Middle and Upper Schools. We plan to open our CASE after-school programs during this third week so long as we are able to maintain confidence that the four conditions above are being met. You will hear on September 8 if Columbus Academy intends to increase the number of MS and US students on campus for the fourth week starting on September 14 and going forward. If all goes well in our beginning and our gradual increases, we will hope to have in-person school fully and in a sustained way.

During this literal “on-boarding” time, the Lower School will be bringing students on campus at a higher capacity than the Middle and Upper Schools because maintaining the curricular life in those older divisions requires traveling between classes, hallway passing times and many more contact points for faculty and children. The curricular composition in the Lower School lends itself well to cohorts: small individual classes (we have increased the number of classrooms from 28 to 47) that are primarily self-contained for the school day. You will find much more specific details for each division in this Campus Reopening Plan. We know that many of you are anxious to view class lists and advisory groupings, which will be shared next week. If you have questions about other matters, please reach out to the appropriate division head.

Encouraging us to continue to imagine on-campus school for all are our conversations with leading physicians and researchers in our community and initial experiences with upper school athletes since June. For two months, the school has had over 100 student-athletes practicing in training pods, and their success in attending to social-distancing guidelines, frequent hand-sanitizing and wearing masks when not training has been a hopeful example for us all. 

“I am convinced that the consequences of cancelling or even delaying in-person instruction far outweighs the risk that any of our children are likely to contract clinically significant disease by attending classes,” wrote one front-line physician with an opinion shared widely by others. This particular doctor, a practicing emergency medicine physician in one of the busiest emergency departments in the state, went on to say of the benefits of on-campus learning: “In-person instruction affords the opportunity for teachers and administrators to provide a physically-distanced environment that children are unlikely to have if not in school.”

These sentiments have also been expressed by pediatricians with whom we have consulted and mirrors guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (view here).

While complexities abound in the opening of school this year, there is one simple truth. We have strength as a community -- of students, faculty, staff and families -- and when we are deliberate and intentional about our teaching and learning, we will be serving our mission and our students in the best ways possible.

Thank you for your partnership and your trust,

Head of School