Plans for the Upcoming Academic Year

Dear Hotchkiss Families, 

I hope you and your families are safe and well. I write today to announce that we plan to invite all students back to campus in the fall.  

We are living in unprecedented times, and the work of developing plans to reopen the School for residential learning has been extensive. We know that the experience we will share in Lakeville this coming year will be different than any of us could have imagined three months ago. We also know that we will experience it together, and that is the very nature of community. As I describe our planning below, I thank the hundreds of families who replied to our recent survey and who have communicated with us in other ways over the course of the spring. We are grateful for your engagement and continue to incorporate your input into our thinking and planning.

Our model for the fall will offer an in-person residential experience together with robust online learning to ensure continuity and continued engagement for all Hotchkiss students. While we have planned carefully and in close consultation with outside experts, we must all be reminded that the pandemic is highly fluid, and we must remain flexible. Changes in the spread of the virus, the availability of testing, State requirements, and the development of effective medical treatments could all affect the framework we have designed.

Since the onset of the pandemic and the decision to close the School for in-person residential learning this spring, our foremost guiding principle has been to prioritize the safety of students and all members of the Hotchkiss community. When we reopen the campus, every one of us will have a role to play. We will rely on each member of the community -- students, families, faculty, and staff -- to comply with the safety protocols we are putting in place. These safety protocols exist to keep each of us safe, and they will be effective as long as each of us does our part to adhere to them in a selfless, disciplined way.

Advice and Expertise 

The School's response plan has required a rigorous understanding of the behavior of the SARS- CoV-2 virus together with a nuanced assessment of all aspects of School life, all in alignment with guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and the State of Connecticut, including the Reopen Connecticut Higher Education Task Force whose guidance is also intended for boarding schools. In developing our plans we have relied on the advice of medical and public-health experts. In particular, Dean of the Yale School of Public Health, Dr. Sten Vermund, has provided invaluable advice and guidance to Hotchkiss. In addition, we are receiving valuable guidance from Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc. (EH&E), Inc., a firm offering expertise in safe and healthy buildings and physical spaces.  We continue to collaborate with colleagues in the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS), peer schools in the Eight Schools Association and the Founders League, and colleges and universities.

We also have the great good fortune of our geographical location. The level of infection in the northwest corner of Connecticut is extremely low. Our advantageous location and the fact that 96% of Hotchkiss students live on campus provide the conditions for us to "cocoon" ourselves to a large degree by limiting the opportunities for the virus to come to campus. To that end, we are very carefully planning the process by which we welcome students back and strictly limiting visitors to campus. 

While we can all look forward to the fun and vibrancy of being together again on campus, students should anticipate a new normal: 

  • Everyone will be expected to wear face masks outside of their dorm rooms, to maintain physical distance (6 feet) whenever possible, to follow strict handwashing and hygiene protocols, and to abide by all other health and safety rules during this period.

  • We will modify the way we use space on campus including dorm and common rooms, classrooms, arts and athletic facilities, and outdoor spaces to allow for appropriate physical distancing.

  • Classes will be delivered via a model that balances in-person and online learning. This hybrid approach will offer physical classes for healthy students and adults on campus with virtual teaching and learning for those whose health, physical distance, or other factors prevent their presence. 

  • The daily class schedule will be modified to allow for smaller in-person class sizes and to meet the needs of students who may be learning online in different time zones. 

  • The Arts Department is developing plans to modify music, theater, and dance to offer safe and productive options for ongoing engagement.

  • Dining will offer choices, but with differences including assigned meal times in various locations on campus. 

  • Co-curricular activities will be reimagined. See additional information below.  

  • Work is actively underway to plan for an engaging virtual orientation and ongoing programming to welcome new students to Hotchkiss. 

  • Large gatherings like All-School Meetings and Chapel will be conducted virtually.

  • In order to limit the risk of bringing the virus to the School community, once students are tested and safely on campus, they will be asked to stay here until Thanksgiving break.

Co-Curriculars and Sports

During this unprecedented time, we must make changes to many co-curricular activities to support health and safety. However, this also offers us new opportunities to engage students in building athletic skills, staying active, and making the best use of our beautiful campus, all while reducing close contact among participants. Our planning for these offerings is ongoing. 

The Founders League, which is our athletic conference, is expected to come to a collective decision in late July regarding interscholastic competition for the fall. Hotchkiss's own decision will be influenced, but not dictated, by the Founders League decision. Regardless of these decisions, student-athletes at every level will have opportunities to develop their skills and enjoy rigorous play on campus this fall.

The Importance of Partnering with Families 

The safety of our School community will lie in the hands of every member, and we thank families for the important role you will play. 

Among your responsibilities, we will ask all students to self-quarantine at home for two weeks before coming to campus. The opening of School will be scheduled over three days, from September 1 to 3, beginning with new students. Proctors will be asked back on August 31.   

For students coming from certain states, the State of Connecticut is currently requiring people to quarantine for two weeks within Connecticut before entering the general population. While this list changes based on levels of infection, as of today, it includes Florida, California, and Texas, among others. This will mean that students coming from states on this list will need to arrive in Connecticut on or about August 17 in order to quarantine before the start of School. We recognize that this is a moving target and will present a significant complication for many families. The School is investigating opportunities to assist families in securing space on or near campus for pre-school quarantine.    

Second, all families will need to ensure that your student is tested for COVID-19 before coming to School. Students will be asked to present proof of a negative test result that is no more than seven days old before they will be allowed on campus. 

In addition, we must prepare for the likely possibility of some occurance of the virus at Hotchkiss. In the event a student tests positive for COVID-19 at any time during the year, that student will be sent home and not allowed back on campus until permission is provided by the Hotchkiss Health Center. We will also conduct contact tracing. Any other people who have had direct contact with the student who tested positive will also be sent home to quarantine for two weeks. 

Accordingly, all families must commit either to being able to pick your student up from campus on short notice or to providing the name of a proxy adult who will be able to do so. We will work with families, particularly those who live a long distance away or outside the U.S., who are challenged by this requirement. 

We also strongly recommend that all families check with your student's primary care physician before returning to campus. Your student's physician is in the best position to evaluate your student's health risks in a boarding school environment. 

We view our relationship with families as a partnership focused on the education and wellbeing of your child. In the spirit of partnership and in acknowledgement of the risks we share during the COVID-19 pandemic, you will receive a separate email today requesting a parent's electronic signature to confirm that you understand the risks of being on campus during the pandemic as well as the constraints on school life that we will impose  in an effort to mitigate those risks.  

Additional Information: FAQs and Webinars 

Please review this FAQ for answers to many questions. We will continue to update and supplement these over the weeks ahead. In addition, to ensure you have a full understanding of our plans, we invite you to>join us for one or both of the following live webinars:

  • July 6 at 7.30 p.m. EDT

  • July 13 at 7:30 p.m. EDT

Please register for the events, and submit your questions in advance. These sessions will also be recorded and made available for future reference. 

Individual Concerns

If you have concerns that might impact your student's decision to return to School for the 2020-21 academic year, please contact Erby Mitchell P'21, dean of admission and financial aid, as soon as possible. As a reminder, the tuition commitment deadline for enrolled students is July 15, 2020.

In Conclusion

It is unfortunate but true that no amount of planning or set of precautions can completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19 at Hotchkiss. Each layer of protection, from the wearing of masks to physical distance to limiting travel to and from campus, has limits. Yet when combined, these layers offer more comprehensive protection.  

As I think about the responsibility for precaution and safety that all of us now share, I find relevance in the southern African concept of ubuntu -- "I am because we are." According to this philosophy, the health of a community relies on harmony, solidarity, compassion, and mutual care. 

Guided by each other, let us seek better paths. Aided by each other, we can stay safe to learn and grow. 

I sincerely hope to see many of you, virtually, at one of the upcoming webinars, and all of you, in person, come fall.

All good wishes, 

Craig W. Bradley
Head of School

 

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