Our Plans for the Opening of School

Dear Deerfield Families,

I write to review—and reaffirm—our plans for the opening of school that I shared with you this past spring. To our new families, welcome! I hope these details are reassuring as we move closer to the beginning of the school year.

We concluded the 2020 – 21 school year on high notes: resuming spring interscholastic sports, discontinuing outdoor masking, and celebrating the Class of 2021 in a Commencement ceremony that welcomed to campus over 2000 guests and family members. A few weeks later, the Class of 2020 returned to campus to celebrate their “One-Year Reunion,” a Deerfield first!

Our planning for this school year is predicated upon the fact that vaccination remains the most effective way to stem infection and mitigate illnesses, including those stemming from Covid variants. That is why we are requiring vaccination for employees and students. It remains the most powerful tool we have for living fully as a community.

Ninety-eight percent of our employees, including all members of the faculty, are now fully vaccinated, and all employees are in compliance with our policy on mandatory vaccination. We anticipate similar levels of vaccination among students, as well, with a small number receiving medical or religious exemptions. Importantly, levels of infection in New England, Massachusetts, and Franklin County remain among the lowest in the country. Given the extraordinarily high levels of vaccination in our community and low levels of infection in our area, we have determined that we can confidently and safely open the Academy in a few short weeks—much as we did in the pre-pandemic Fall of 2019. 

Our  plan—briefly outlined below—has been vetted carefully by Dr. Benson and by our long-standing medical advisors and public health consultants; it has been shared with our local public health officials, with whom we continue to work closely. This plan aligns with new recommendations from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and takes into consideration recently released CDC guidance for schools, including their recommendations for fully vaccinated people. As of today, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has no orders in place or school-specific requirements that apply to the Academy (other than masking in our Health Center), so we do have the flexibility to execute a plan that protects the health of our school community and also supports our mission as a residential school committed to a powerful sense of community. These twin goals—good health and a robust community—have served us exceptionally well during the pandemic and remain our priority. In addition, we believe that the insights and experience we gained last school year have positioned us to build upon our success with largely normal operating protocols for this school year.

Highlights of our plan include the following :

  • We will discontinue routine Covid pre-arrival, arrival, and weekly testing for fully vaccinated students, and require testing of only those vaccinated members of the community who present symptoms of Covid during the school year. We will have an ample supply of tests on campus should we need them or should other schools require them for athletics competitions. Depending on circumstances, we may provide optional testing for students and employees who request it.
  • We will not require masking or distancing from fully vaccinated students and employees. Masking may be mandated for some spaces on campus (such as the Chen Health Center).
  • Director of Medical Services Dr. Bryant Benson and Assistant Head of School for Student Life Amie Creagh will work closely and supportively with students who have received medical or religious exemptions; they will be writing directly to those students and their families on Monday, August 9, to outline expectations, including those for masking, testing, and arrival to campus.
  • Some students and employees, we know, may elect to mask regardless of vaccination status; we are fully supportive of that choice. We will continue to have masks available on campus for students who request them or require them for appointments off campus. 
  • In collaboration with our peer schools, we have planned a full schedule of athletic competition. Athletics Director Bob Howe is working closely with each of these schools on mutually agreed upon protocols and expectations.
  • Sit-down meals, School Meeting, arts performances, and all other on-campus events will resume without restriction.
  • We do not, at this time, anticipate restrictions on student travel during weekends.
  • Parents and other guests will be allowed to visit campus. While we will not require proof of vaccination from visitors, we strongly encourage vaccination for those visiting campus. We ask—and trust—that unvaccinated visitors will mask and distance while on campus. 

Details regarding student drop off on August 30 and 31, our Opening Days Schedule, and FAQs related to the school year will be shared in the coming days in the Families FYI e-newsletter. As you prepare for your arrival to campus, please review the CDC’s travel guidelines; we encourage all students to exercise good judgement and appropriate caution in the days before their arrival, especially if they are coming from an area where infection rates remain elevated and vaccination is low.

We know that health indicators remain in flux—hopefully in a positive direction as more and more people elect to become vaccinated. We will continue to consult with our health advisors, study and track the emerging science, and make decisions that comply with any applicable State or local orders or that we determine are necessary to support the safety of our students and employees and protect our mission as a residential school. We also continue to plan actively for contingencies, including exploring a Covid booster shot program for students and employees should that become necessary. We also plan to provide robust support to those students whose return to school may be delayed due to hardship. Please know, however, that the Academy will not offer a fully remote learning option for students this year. If you should have questions or concerns about this, please contact Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs and Strategy Dr. Ivory Hills.

I am looking forward to welcoming you back to campus in just a few short weeks, and I will be in touch again as we move to the opening of school. In the meantime, enjoy these final weeks of summer!

With my best regards,

John Austin
Head of School    

FAQs

Pre-Arrival Protocols

We are requiring all students to be vaccinated before the start of the Fall Term, with appropriate accommodations for those with approved religious or medical exemptions. Students without exemptions who arrive to campus unvaccinated due to a lack of access to a Covid-19 vaccine at home will be vaccinated through the Academy upon arrival. We also ask that all students and families review the CDC’s travel guidelines, and we encourage all students to exercise good judgement and appropriate caution in the days before their arrival—especially if they are coming from an area where infection rates remain elevated and vaccination is low. 

Upon their arrival to campus and as part of our registration process, we will ask each student to take a rapid antigen test. We also encourage (but will not require) families to take a pre-arrival test. In addition to testing students upon their arrival to campus, it is also likely that we will test them again three to five days after their arrival.

Yes. We are requiring all students to be vaccinated before the start of the Fall Term, with appropriate accommodations for those with approved religious or medical exemptions. In the event that the timing of vaccine availability makes this requirement difficult for some students, the Academy will support those students and their families and ensure they have access to the vaccine upon arriving to campus.

Yes. We are requiring all faculty and staff to be vaccinated before the start of the Fall Term, with appropriate accommodations for those with approved religious or medical exemptions.

A very small percentage of employees have approved religious or medical exemptions and will be required to mask when indoors, submit to weekly Covid tests, and follow additional precautions to protect themselves and the community. Due to the fact that the majority of our campus community is vaccinated, we expect to enjoy the benefits of “population immunity.”

Population immunity means that enough people in a community are protected from getting a disease because they’ve already had the disease or they have been vaccinated against it. Population immunity makes it hard for the disease to spread from person to person, and it even protects those who cannot be vaccinated. While experts don’t yet know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve broad population immunity, vaccination is a safer way to build protection than getting sick with Covid-19. While the Deerfield Academy community expects to have well over 90% of our population fully vaccinated, we will continue to include those who cannot be vaccinated in a testing program to help maintain the overall health of our community.

Director of Medical Services Dr. Bryant Benson and Assistant Head of School for Student Life Amie Wilmer Creagh have communicated directly with unvaccinated students and their families to ensure a clear understanding of our protocols, which are available here. The expectations for unvaccinated students are designed to protect their health and also that of the broader community; they will be revisited as necessary and depending on overall community health during the school year.

In line with Massachusetts guidance for schools, as of right now, we will not be requiring masks for vaccinated students and staff on campus. Any unvaccinated member of the Deerfield community will be asked to wear a mask while indoors, except while eating or in their assigned dormitory/home, including the young children of staff members. Students should be prepared to comply with local regulations related to masking off campus should they be put in place, and per state regulations, all students will be asked to wear masks when going to medical appointments in the Chen Center for Health and Wellness. We recognize that some community members may elect to wear masks in some situations, regardless of their vaccination status. We are fully supportive of their choice and understand there are different comfort levels for many as we move back into a more normal on-campus life.

Yes. Disposable masks will be available for students and employees, but we would also encourage all students to bring a few comfortable CDC recommended masks for any off-campus activities where masks may be required. 

Students are expected to continue following health and safety guidelines established by local, state, and federal officials when traveling to and from campus. Throughout the pandemic, our medical and public health advisors have informed us that when individuals follow common-sense precautions like masking and hand hygiene, the risk of air travel is relatively low. There are currently no travel orders in place in Massachusetts, but we are asking all unvaccinated students to quarantine for seven days before their arrival on campus. 

Deerfield will use testing strategically and selectively in support of community health. We will test all students upon their arrival to campus and we will require testing of any member of the community who presents symptoms of Covid during the school year or who may be considered a close contact of someone who tested positive. We will have an ample supply of tests on campus should we need them, should other schools require them for athletics competitions, or should students or employees request them for travel or other purposes. 

Regardless of vaccination status, if a student receives a positive result from their rapid antigen test, they will be asked to please don a mask and go to the Chen Center (the Health Center) for a confirmatory rapid PCR test, which will result within an hour. If the results of that confirmatory test are negative, they will be able to continue with the Fall Term registration process and move-in. If the results of that confirmatory test are positive, the student will be required to isolate for ten days per Massachusetts Department of Public Health regulations. The student will be asked to either return home with their family, have their family take them to their previously submitted off-campus accommodation, or move to supportive isolation in the Chen Center.

Arrival and Opening Days

Fall Term classes are scheduled to begin on campus and in person on Wednesday, September 1.

Ninth graders can begin arriving at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, August 30. New 10th, 11th and 12th  graders (PGs) can begin to arrive at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, August 30. Please see the Opening Days Schedule for further details.

Returning students arrive on campus on Tuesday, August 31, beginning at 8:00 am. Please see the Opening Days Schedule for further details.

We strongly encourage all visitors to campus to be vaccinated, in addition to students and staff, who are required to be vaccinated.

We will not ask for proof of vaccination from parents, guardians or other family members. In keeping with our community values, we will trust that unvaccinated family members will follow expectations for masking, especially when indoors. Tents, with refershments, will be set up for new and returning parents to socialize, and while families will be allowed into dormitories to help their students move in, we do ask them to limit their time indooors as much as possible.

Deerfield is planning to return to a three-semester academic year with on-campus, in-person learning. We anticipate returning to our normal, pre-pandemic academic, residential, and athletic experiences. This means standard class sizes, room occupancy numbers, athletic events, campus meetings and sit-down meals in the Dining Hall. We know that health indicators remain in flux, and we will continue to consult with our health advisors, study the emerging science, and make decisions that comply with any state or local orders as well as those that support the safety of our students and our mission as a residential school committed to a powerful sense of community. We also continue to plan actively for contingencies, including exploring a booster shot program for students should that become necessary, as well as supporting those students whose return to school may be delayed due to hardship. 

Deerfield day students will participate in all areas of community life. They are also required to be vaccinated prior to or upon their return to campus.

The health landscape continues to be dynamic in Massachusetts, across the country, and overseas. We will continue to monitor conditions, consult with our medical advisors, and adjust our approach as necessary and in keeping with state and federal guidelines and regulations.

Vaccination

Yes. We are requiring all students to be vaccinated before the start of the Fall Term, with appropriate accommodations for those with approved religious or medical exemption, per our Student Vaccination Policy. Vaccination remains the single most effective way to stem infection and mitigate illness, including those stemming from the variants, and that is why we require vaccination. In the event that the timing of vaccine availability makes this requirement difficult for some students, the Academy will support those students and their families and ensure they have access to the vaccine upon arriving to campus.

Yes. This past Spring it was communicated that all students must be fully vaccinated to attend the Academy this Fall except in situations where there is an approved medical or religious exemption. Please review the Student Covid-19 Vaccination Policy for details.

 

In the interest of community health, the status of students who are not fully vaccinated will be shared on a need-to-know basis with certain Deerfield employees including, but not limited to, teachers, coaches, dorm faculty, and advisors. This is reviewed in the most recent version of the D.S. Chen Health and Wellness Center’s Notice of Privacy Practices.

Yes. A very small percentage of employees have approved religious or medical exemptions and will be required to mask when indoors, submit to weekly Covid tests, and follow additional precautions to protect themselves and the community. Due to the fact that the majority of our campus community is vaccinated, we expect to enjoy the benefits of population immunity.

Deerfield will not check the vaccination status of family members and visitors. We strongly encourage all visitors to campus to be vaccinated, in addition to students and staff, who are required to be. Parents and family members, along with other visitors to campus, who are not vaccinated are strongly encouraged to wear masks for the duration of their time on campus, particularly in indoor settings.

Population immunity means that enough people in a community are protected from getting a disease because they’ve already had the disease or they have been vaccinated against it. Population immunity makes it hard for the disease to spread from person to person, and it even protects those who cannot be vaccinated. While experts don’t yet know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve broad population immunity, vaccination is a safer way to build protection than getting sick with Covid-19. While the Deerfield Academy community expects to have well over 90% of our population fully vaccinated, we will continue to include those who cannot be vaccinated in a testing program to help maintain the overall health of our community.

Masking

In most cases, we will not require masking or distancing for fully vaccinated students and employees. Masking may be required for some spaces on campus (such as the Chen Center). Any unvaccinated member of the Deerfield community over the age of five, including the young children of faculty and staff members, will be asked to wear a mask when they are indoors, except while eating or in their assigned dormitory or home. We recognize that some community members may elect to wear masks in some situations, regardless of their vaccination status. We are fully supportive of their choice and understand there are different comfort levels for many as we move back into a more normal on-campus life. 

Testing and Quarantine

As we did throughout last year, Dr. Benson and his team in the Chen Center will work closely with local public health officials to complete contact tracing following MA guidelines. As of today, students who receive a positive test result will be required to isolate for 10 days regardless of vaccination status. Fully vaccinated close contacts will not be required to quarantine, but, per CDC guidance, they may be asked to mask for a few days and complete additional testing.

At this time fully vaccinated individuals who are exposed to someone with a confirmed case of Covid-19 but who subsequently test negative may be asked to wear a mask and/or submit to additional testing, but they will not be required to quarantine.

Campus Health and Safety

While we look ahead to a more normal Fall Term, we will continue to promote vigilance and sanitation/hygiene aspects of the 2020 – 21 Healthy Deerfield protocols. This includes regular hand hygiene, strong encouragement to self-report any potential Covid symptoms, enhanced ventilation and air circulation throughout campus buildings, and the continued cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch areas. While our specific protocols related to Covid-19 mitigation will be relaxed due to high vaccination rates, we encourage students to continue doing their part to promote health and hygiene to prevent the spread of any viruses that can run through a close community like ours.

While we anticipate returning to Deerfield largely as we knew it before the pandemic in all areas of community life, we have learned from and adapted to the changing social and academic environment over the last year and a half. We will continue to utilize expanded outdoor space, our state-of-the-art ventilation systems, and other Covid-era features that helped ensure student health and wellness.  After a year where we challenged students to limit their close contacts, we will return to Deerfield’s tradition of challenging students to connect with as many members of the community as possible. While Deerfield social life will look much like it did in 2019, we are excited to build on many of the enhancements put in place last year, such as the outdoor hockey rink, beach volleyball courts, food trucks on select weekends, and other inclusive outdoor social spaces.

No. At this time, we anticipate a normal classroom experience without masks or social distancing, except for those students who are unvaccinated.

We anticipate hosting our regular Fall Family Weekend in October and allowing spectators at our Fall athletic events. As in past years, and this fall in particular, we ask families to avoid visiting or taking their student off campus during the first two weeks of the term in order to give them an uninterrupted opportunity to become comfortable with their schedules, co-curriculars, and residential life. Similar to our approach to return to school, families are also strongly encouraged to be vaccinated before coming to visit their students or taking them off campus. Those who are not vaccinated will be asked to wear masks during the duration of their time on campus.

Yes. As usual, students will be required to have the flu vaccine unless they have an approved religious or medical accommodation. The vaccine will be administered on campus in the fall.

We do not, at this time, anticipate restrictions on student travel during weekends.

Academics

Deerfield is planning to return to a three-semester academic year with on-campus, in-person learning. We anticipate returning to our normal, pre-pandemic academic, residential, and athletic experiences. This means standard class sizes, room occupancy numbers, athletic events, art performances, School Meetings, and sit-down meals in the Dining Hall. We know that health indicators remain in flux, and we will continue to consult with our health advisors, study the emerging science, and make decisions that comply with any State or local orders as well as those that support the safety of our students and our mission as a residential school committed to a powerful sense of community.

Yes. The following vacations have been scheduled: October 25, 2021 Fall Term Holiday; November 19, 2021 at Noon through November 29, 2021; December 16, 2021 at Noon through January 3, 2022; February 3, 2022 at Noon through February 7, 2022 (Long Winter Weekend); March 4, 2022 at Noon through March 20, 2022. At the conclusion of vacations and long weekends, students must return to campus by 7:45 pm. Commencement 2022 will take place on May 29, after which members of the Class of 2022 will depart from campus. The Spring Term will conclude for students in grades 9, 10, and 11 at 2:00 pm on May 30, 2022.

We recognize that international travel may still be disrupted during or vacations from school, so we will work with our international students and families to create alternative plans for these breaks should that be necessary.

While the public health landscape around the country and around the world continues to be in flux, we are actively planning for the possibility of off-campus travel opportunities either domestically or abroad during March break and June. We plan to have a more detailed update by Fall Family Weekend.

Residential Life

Yes. Students will be permitted to spend time together from different halls without restrictions.

Yes. The small number of unvaccinated students will be distributed throughout our dorms. They will adhere to a set of protocols designed to protect their health and the health of those around them, including in the dorms.

Athletics and Events

Practices are expected to return to normal. We are also planning a full schedule of athletic competitions. Athletic Director Bob Howe is working closely with our peer schools on mutually agreed upon protocols.

Opening Days Schedule

Vacation Travel Information

Four vacations will take place during the 2021 – 2022 school year:

  • Thanksgiving Vacation—Friday, November 19, 2021 to Monday, November 29, 2021
  • Winter Vacation—Thursday, December 16, 2021 to Monday, January 3, 2022
  • Long Winter Weekend—Thursday, February 3, 2022 to Monday, February 7, 2022
  • Spring Vacation—Friday, March 4, 2022 to Sunday, March 20, 2022

Please consult the bus departures and returns info sheet to plan your transportation. At the conclusion of vacations and long weekends, students must return to campus by 7:45 pm.