March 7: American South and Athletics Trips Canceled

Dear Deerfield Families and Employees,

After considerable thought and consultation, I have decided to cancel our spring domestic travel, including our remaining CSGC trip to the American South and our athletics trips to California, Florida, and Nevada.

Over the last week, I have travelled throughout the country—from Pennsylvania to Texas and California—connecting with parents and alumni and learning about the preparations cities, airports, and municipalities are making to meet the challenges COVID-19 poses to our schools and health systems. At the same time, I worked closely with my administrative and medical team, who were on campus, to track the most recent advisories, including those from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization, in order to monitor what is a rapidly-evolving, global health crisis. Throughout, we also frequently communicated with our peer schools.

Much remains uncertain about the future direction of COVID-19, even among medical and health professionals, but a number of things are clear: COVID-19 continues to spread; “community transmission” is on the rise. Many public and private institutions have eliminated non-essential travel, initiated mandatory work-at-home protocols, and suspended scheduled conferences and large public gatherings. There appears to be an increased likelihood of disruption to travel and public transit. We know that some segments of our population, including those with respiratory illnesses, compromised immune systems or other underlying health conditions, are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19 and that it poses particular risk to them.

As with school-sponsored international travel, the decision to suspend these trips was not an easy one, and I recognize that other schools may well take a different approach in the coming days. However, given the danger this virus poses to the most vulnerable and the uncertainty surrounding its spread, I concluded that until the future of COVID-19 is better understood, a more cautious approach is warranted. I cannot say it enough: The health and safety of students and employees are always the Academy’s first priorities, and I am reluctant to allow our students and their chaperones to travel to hubs where people from throughout the US and elsewhere will be gathering in significant numbers; my concern also extends to the potential risk—and challenges—of having to recall those trips if they were to depart. In short, while I am well aware of the intrinsic value of these trips, the overall risk was too great to proceed at this time.

Our focus is now on welcoming our students—your children—back to school after the break and preparing for spring term. As you may have heard, we have also cancelled the Admission Office’s Spring Visit Days (for newly-admitted students and their families), and in the coming weeks we will make decisions about our approach to Spring Family Weekend and our remaining early-summer CSGC trips. We are committed to partnering and communicating well and often with you, and we will provide additional updates soon, including information about our approach to screening students upon their return to campus, which will include a request for additional information from you about your family’s travel over the break.

I am disappointed to cancel these trips, but I hope we can also see this moment as an opportunity: to rest and renew; to practice good and healthy habits of self-care; and to do what we can in our communities to stem the spread of this virus. I also remain tremendously excited about the spring—and the turn in the weather that will soon be upon the Valley—and I look forward to reuniting with students, faculty, and staff after the break. Take good care and please do not hesitate to reach out directly to me should you have questions.

With my best regards,

John Austin, Head of School