March 31: An Important Message from Dr. Austin

March 31: An Important Message from Dr. Austin from Deerfield Academy on Vimeo.

Dear Parents and Students,

I write to you with my best wishes—and a promised update.

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to consult with medical and public health experts, members of the Board of Trustees, and my leadership team. Based on those discussions, I have decided to extend online learning for all students through the end of our Spring Term—May 21. I’ve also decided to cancel all upcoming school-sponsored summer international travel through our Center for Service and Global Citizenship. We will soon be in touch with families affected by this decision with more information on the cancellation of those trips. For now, we are deferring a final decision on the timing of Commencement.

I wish I had better news to share. I made this decision with great reluctance and in full sympathy with the disappointment it will bring—most especially to our seniors. Nonetheless, I believe that now is the time to act. The clarity this decision brings will provide certainty, direction, and focus for our families and our faculty as they diligently complete the academic term. In addition, this decision creates needed time for the school’s leadership to plan intentionally and carefully for the weeks to come.

Most importantly, it will provide necessary and critical support for all of those working to stem the spread of this virus. As you know, the number of infections across the country and in the Northeastern part of the United States has increased dramatically over the last few days; that number promises to increase further, leaving many of the most vulnerable at acute risk from infection. Since I last wrote to you on March 26, Federal and State authorities have put in place increasingly restrictive measures to enhance public safety. Here in Massachusetts, Governor Baker has closed all schools, public and private, until May 4 and limited travel into the state. In addition, the Federal government has now extended voluntary social distancing measures through the end of April.

Like you, I’ve watched with admiration as EMTs, doctors, and other healthcare workers have met the challenge of this unprecedented moment with courage and selflessness—often at great risk to themselves and their loved ones. Their work is inspiring and heroic. As citizens and as a school, we are obligated to do everything possible to support their battle on the frontlines of this crisis and lessen the strain on under-resourced hospitals and healthcare facilities, including those in the Pioneer Valley.

We have not yet made decisions about our on-campus summer programs or Reunions; we will soon. I want to emphasize that we will make a final decision about the timing of Commencement independent of all other programmatic and calendar decisions.  We recognize how important and unique Commencement is to our students and families, and it remains our first priority. As long as restrictions and travel advisories remain in place, and until we better understand how they will impact our ability to hold a large public gathering in the coming months, the timing of Commencement will necessarily remain uncertain for a little longer.

But I assure you of one thing: When we can gather, we will. The now-historic Class of 2020 will process down Albany Road—either on May 24 or at a later date. With your help and creativity, we will provide meaningful time for joyful celebration and recognition on campus for you, Seniors, and preserve to the best of our ability the rituals and traditions that make the conclusion of your time as Deerfield students so important and defining.

You will no doubt have many questions, and we have tried to anticipate those in our updated FAQs. We probably won’t have posted answers to all of your questions, so we encourage you to reach out. We appreciate your questions and your feedback, and we remain committed to communicating with you well and often.

Finally, please know that the Board of Trustees is developing a rebate policy for Spring Term costs associated with room and board. We will be in communication with families soon regarding the details of this policy.

Many of us now live and work in isolation. Even so, a great spirit of cooperation and shared common purpose is growing, and nowhere more so than in this community, among Deerfield students, parents, staff, and alumni. I thank you again for your forbearance, flexibility, and patience in the face of this crisis and all of the uncertainty it brings. I have been moved by the emails and letters you have sent and by the many offers of assistance. Your support of faculty and staff has given us strength and determination, and your good wishes inspire us in our teaching and advising.

With my best regards,