Letter from Headmaster Scott Nelson on 2020-21 Planning

Dear RCDS Families,

Last Friday, I again had the pleasure of participating in our weekly Coffee & Conversations virtual Q&A hosted by the Parents Association. The topic of discussion was preparing for the 2020-21 school year. For those who could not join us, I write today with a summary of what was shared. I hope you will pardon the length of this letter, but to be overly brief would be to minimize what is of great and nuanced consequence. So, I hope you will join for me a valuable, albeit lengthy, read.

Let me start with addressing the question on everybody's mind: Rye Country Day School intends to open in-person in the fall to the full extent permitted by authorities. To that end, the Board of Trustees and I have assembled a Re-Opening Task Force, comprising medical, facilities, technology, legal, curriculum, communications, finance, and professional development committees. The steering committee's guiding query is: How can we continue to deliver our mission and the signature Rye Country Day learning experience in the fall, knowing that there are numerous uncertainties? First and foremost, we will, as we have done since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, follow the guidelines of government and health officials at the local, state, and national levels. Given that many experts have predicted a possibility of a second wave of the novel coronavirus, we want to make sure that we are able to deliver our mission in-person, remotely, or as a "hy-flex" blend of the two, with the ability to pivot nimbly between modes of instruction, if necessary.

Re-Opening Communications
For your planning purposes, you can expect to receive updates from me on the dates listed below:

  • On Monday, June 8, you will receive a letter with an update on our planning for 2020-21
  • On Friday, June 19, these updates will be discussed at a Coffee & Conversations Zoom gathering hosted by the Parents Association
  • On Tuesday, June 30, you will receive a follow up letter with additional updates, and our concrete opening plan.

I understand the level of email communication has been overwhelming during this time of social distancing and remote learning, but I ask that you please look out for these messages and set aside time to read them in full as they will address pressing matters.

Where We Are Headed
Keeping the safety of our community as our top priority, opening school in the fall for in-person learning means being prepared to operate with robust mitigation and safety protocols. With the clarification that our planning is very much still in progress, I want to share some of the general mitigation steps recommended by the CDC that we have to consider at this moment.

  • When School opens, operations may have to be adjusted to reduce density on campus because of the increased risk of transmission it poses. We will devise ways to increase the space between desks and people to at least six feet for all of our classrooms and learning spaces. Large school gatherings, field trips, and assemblies may need to be re-thought to ensure safe social distancing (when reconfiguration is not possible, certain events or experiences may be cancelled). We may also have to limit non-essential visitors and students from other schools.
  • In the interest of density reduction, we may be allowed to have only a portion of our student population on campus at any given time, while the other portion would learn from home simultaneously. This will involve installing technology that provides remote access to classrooms from off-campus. Another possibility is staggered arrival and dismissal times. We are fortunate to have an expansive campus that presents numerous opportunities for repurposing of spaces and the redistribution of students.
  • We also know we must manage traffic in the health office. We are considering having two health offices, with one dedicated for students who present with fevers and other potential symptoms of COVID-19 and another for all other health needs.
  • Last but certainly not least, handwashing, personal hygiene, campus sanitization—as reinforced by CDC—will be vigilantly upheld.

How We Get There
The Board of Trustees has prepared budgets, both this year's and next, that will enable us to meet the increased needs of our community and be ready for the unforeseen investments required to prepare our spaces for flexible and perhaps blended instruction in the fall. For example, we may need to install technology and distancing equipment in each classroom to deliver a blended model; we may have to hire more nurses and more cleaning staff; and we will need to acquire additional medical materials and personal protective equipment. In addition, we have a number of families in our community who are experiencing significant financial hardship at this time due to circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is our collective responsibility to make sure those children remain safe, have access to food and medical treatment, and are enrolled in the school where they are known and where they belong.

Recognizing Our Families
As we re-envision the school day, we have been very cognizant of the challenges that remote learning has presented for our families. Please know that we all recognize the incredible work you have done to sustain and support your children's learning, and we thank you for your essential partnership. I have always stressed the importance of family-school partnership and collaboration, and the past few months have been a resonant affirmation of that belief. The School is committed to providing support for all families as we jointly navigate this new and changing landscape of learning. Our partnership is our strength.

Thank You
I want to thank the members of our community who have donated to #RCDStogether, an emergency appeal for the Annual Fund. These donated funds—many of which were second gifts for this fiscal year—will enable us to meet the demands of technology, financial assistance, and professional development as they continue to increase in the coming months. These gifts will also enable us to support RCDS families and students who are in need right now. The generosity of this community is testament to its dedication and commitment to the School's mission, and my gratitude is vast and deep. Thank you.

RCDS Excellence Will Endure
Rye Country Day will do everything in its power to provide the highest quality education for our students. If we have to wear masks and routinely record temperatures, we will. If we need to expand our medical staff, we will. If we cannot play team sports, we will target individual athletic opportunities. If we cannot have ensemble drama or music productions, students will express themselves through monologues and solo performances. Technology is of course key. It has set us apart during RCDS@home, and it will continue to do so next year. In addition, we will ensure that our faculty continue to receive the professional development and skill building necessary to maintain their expert instruction whether in person or online. The School will adjust, and our educational experience will retain its unparalleled excellence.

Closing Thoughts
Our mission states that in a nurturing and supportive environment, we offer a challenging program that stimulates individuals to achieve their maximum potential. Over the past three months, this community has worked collectively and tirelessly to deliver on that mission. During RCDS@home, students, families, faculty, and staff showed in the face of great adversity and on short notice that our values can and will prevail. I am so proud that Rye Country Day met the challenge of online learning head on, and we are stronger because of it.

As we approach the conclusion of the school year during what has been and what will continue to be an unprecedented time in RCDS and world history, I am humbled by the dedication of this community. Together, we are charting a path forward, and we are ensuring that our signature commitments to learning, excellence, and community carry us through. With caution and a keen eye on current developments, I close this letter expressing how eager I am to see our school resume in-person learning in the fall.

Best wishes,

Scott A. Nelson