Orange Mode

Dear Students and Parents,

I am pleased to write that we will move forward with our transition to Orange mode on Tuesday, September 29. 

As a reminder, Orange mode generally will have students in the Blue cohort on campus Mondays and Tuesdays and students in the Gold cohort on campus Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesday will remain as a flex day. Due to the professional day scheduled for Monday, September 28, the first week will have Blue cohort students on campus Tues/Wed and Gold cohort students on campus Thurs/Fri. Separate emails from the divisions went out earlier this week regarding cohort assignments. 

New Virtual Opt-In Form

As mentioned previously, we have reset all previous virtual learning requests, and families wishing to have their student(s) remain virtual on September 29 will need to reconfirm this option by filling out a new Virtual Opt-In form for each child in the Blackbaud portal. 

Starting Sept 29, all virtual students will be expected to study from home and refrain from any in-person, school-related activity. Students selecting virtual mode will be expected to remain virtual through October 30. At that point, we will give students an option to return to on-campus learning and all other in-person school activities. The form is due at 9am on Tuesday, September 22.

Families wishing to have students transition to Orange mode do not need to fill out this form. Families that previously indicated they would like their student(s) to study virtually but have since changed their minds do not need to fill out the form either. All previous virtual requests have been deleted.

For families still on the fence about returning to campus, I will host a Zoom call at 7pm on Monday, September 21, to discuss the school’s COVID preparation and answer questions regarding health and safety. 

Recommitment to Healthy Behaviors

With the transition to on-campus classwork, this is an appropriate time to review school protocols and expectations regarding COVID. You will find them on our CA: United website. There is a lot to digest in these expectations, so I’d also like to summarize a few of the really important points as we prepare to gather together again. 

  1. (Wear) Wear your mask, properly. 
  2. (Wait) Be mindful of your distance to others, and when you are closer keep those instances purposeful and brief.
  3. (Wash) Keep your hands clean, and don’t touch your face. 
  4. Don’t come to school if you are unwell.
  5. Understand and follow self-quarantine protocols – and remember that healthy behaviors need to extend beyond your time at school. 

There is a lot behind these five key recommendations, but if you follow each of them it is most likely that you will stay healthy and you will keep others healthy as well. Let me unpack them a bit further.

1. (Wear) Wear your mask, properly. Mask wearing is the most important mitigation technique for you and us. Your mask needs to fit properly, snug on the sides and over your nose and mouth. If it fits well, you will be less like to do #3, as well.  

2. (Wait) Be mindful of your distance to others, and when you are closer keep those instances purposeful and brief. It is impossible to expect that we will always remain six-feet apart when on campus. Distance will be easiest to maintain when we are sitting in class or during meals, but when we are moving or doing certain activities there will be times when we will be, by necessity, closer together. This is OK, but we should be deliberate during these times and return to distancing when the movement or activity is complete.  

3. (Wash) Keep your hands clean, and don’t touch your face. In addition to spreading germs via spray from our noses or mouths, we can also spread the virus by touching our eyes, nose or mouth. In the same way that masks help keep us safe when we are closer together, not touching our faces is the best way to slow the spread when we interact in an environment (school) where we have to touch common objects. Cleaning protocols can help, but sanitizing/hand washing and not touching your face is the best way to keep us all healthy.

4. Don’t come to school if you are unwell. We recognize that the morning wellness checks are not perfect. There are plenty of asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19. However, people who are unwell not only could be spreading COVID but any number of other common illnesses that could weaken the immune systems of friends and colleagues. This will become even more true during the coming cold and flu season. People need to complete the morning wellness check and remain home when ill. 

5. Understand and follow self-quarantine protocols – and remember that healthy behaviors need to extend beyond time at school. As much as it might feel at times that our lives revolve around school, this pandemic has reminded us how interconnected and big the world truly is. As we’ve seen numerous times this summer, all the good work of healthy behaviors at school could be jeopardized by one unhealthy gathering in the evening or weekend. In the same vein, if you are exposed via a family member or friend, understand and respect the self-quarantine protocols (which you will find on the CA: United site). Our school nurse, Emily Hawhee, is a wonderful resource and is happy to talk through any questions.  

We are excited about this new phase. We will have to be patient as we adjust to some of the trade-offs to hybrid learning, but it will be wonderful to have activity resume in our classrooms once again. 

Please enjoy your weekend, and do join me for next Monday’s Zoom call ( if you have any questions. 


Dr. Ehrhardt

Orange-Mode Delay

Hello Parents and Students, 

I am saddened to write that, after consultation with school and board leadership, we will be delaying our move into Orange mode by three weeks, until Tuesday, September 29. 

Since last weekend, I know a number of you have been wrestling with your families about your personal decision to come back to campus for classes. We also know how important it is to return to some semblance of on-campus learning. When I wrote last Friday, we were fully expecting to be able to transition to Orange mode after Labor Day. We spent this week trying to will that to happen, seeking ways to look past or de-emphasize the clusters at NC State and Chapel Hill that have been announced daily. 

Unfortunately, this virus continues to humble us. Despite our best efforts and good wishes, we have to respect it. 

Every one of our local metrics about COVID spread is heading in the wrong direction. Our R0 (naught) rate of community spread in Wake County has spiked to 1.09, from a low of .85 less than two weeks ago. Rates of positive tests and cases per 100,000 residents have also climbed considerably. With so many college students now leaving their campuses and heading back home, we are in a new — but hopefully temporary — phase of uncertainty. It is just too early to be able to assess how widespread the community transmission will become and whether it will move into K-12 schools. As much as we wanted, in the end we could not overlook this new risk. 

Despite this disappointing news, I remain optimistic. We have seen that we can control the spread of the virus. And, while our current Mixed Mode (now labeled Tangerine by many) is not perfect, it is allowing us to connect. For the next month, we will continue with limited face-to-face interactions through flex days, athletics, and activities. Students who had informed us that they would be virtual can continue to participate in all of these activities with their peers. We will ask again for families to let us know if they’d like their students to stay virtual once we confirm we are moving in to Orange at the end of the September. 

I wish this message could have contained better news. It frustrates us as much as you that we will not be phasing into more on-campus learning yet. The school has committed significant resources and energy to making this happen, but we will not be driven by consideration of sunk costs or by the decisions taken by other schools. We know we cannot eliminate risk (ever), but at this moment we do not believe a transition is in the best health-and-safety interest of our employees or students.  

Ultimately, uncertainty and anxiety are not conducive to learning, so I hope that knowing what is in store for the next month brings at least a little relief for our students.


Dr. Ehrhardt

Week 1 Reflections

Dear Parents,

Congratulations on the successful completion of the first academic week of the 2020-2021 school year! Even with all the uncertainty and new routines, there was something very comforting in seeing students and adults back on campus together again. Of course, while we all ache for a return to normal – that remains a ways off. Until then, we will continue to move forward one step at a time. 

To that end, I’d like share a few observations and lessons that we have gleaned over the last couple of weeks (please note that this email isn’t to announce any changes to our current mode).  

Timelines and Intentions (ACTION ITEM)

First, though, a quick update on our timelines for communication the coming weeks: 

Based on feedback after our Parent Town Hall, we have moved some of our communication milestone dates forward to give families more time to plan and arrange schedules. 

On August 28, we will communicate a decision about whether we will be moving forward with Orange mode. At that time we will also share with families which cohort a student is in — Blue (on campus Mon/Tues) or Gold (on campus Thurs/Fri). Should we transition to Orange, this new mode will start on Tuesday, September 8. 

If a student intends to remain virtual, a parent needs to complete the Virtual Learning Opt-In form in the Blackbaud parent portal (the same place you completed your CA:United Compact) by Wednesday, August 26 at 10am.  For this form, we will only need one parent to confirm. Students that opt for virtual-only learning will not be able to come on campus for flex days or other activities or sports. They will be able to participate in virtual flex day opportunities. Students that make this choice will need to remain virtual through Fall Break (October 9), at which point we will provide you an opportunity to reassess your decision.

If a student intends to return to campus in Orange mode, there is no need to complete the form. 

While lunch plans are still firming up, we do anticipate that unless we have inclement weather most eating will take place outdoors. If we do have to go indoors, students will be spread out across multiple spaces in multiple buildings. 

Should we chose to remain in Mixed Mode for a while longer, we will disregard the virtual choice made right now and allow all students to opt-in to on-campus activities as they see fit. 

Our Goal and the Landscape

Looking ahead, our ultimate goal is to bring our community safely back together.  While we have many wonderful tools to keep learning moving forward virtually, physical isolation takes a toll on us individually and on our community. 

Recently, we’ve seen a heartening positive trend in virus numbers in North Carolina, and Wake County specifically. The percent-positive metric in Wake County has moved from 8% on July 22 to 6% on August 20. At the same time, number of daily new cases (per 100,000 residents) has gone from 16 to 10. The R0 (naught), which tracks reproduction rates, has gone from .96 to .89. Because each person is infecting less than 1 person, it means that the rate of infection is shrinking in Wake County. 

Against this backdrop of positive data, however, are concerning reports of outbreaks related to school re-openings. As you are likely aware, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and NC State pulled the plug on their attempts at on-campus learning after only two weeks. While universities present unique challenges, we continue to monitor cases and research involving spread in secondary schools as well. 

What these outbreaks highlight is that metrics are but one piece of the puzzle in safely bringing people together. While we have implemented strategies to mitigate risk and reduce the opportunity for the virus to move from person A to person B on our campus, we cannot altogether eliminate it; the only way to do that would be total isolation. We will be successful if we can avoid an internal community outbreak – or “clusters” in the parlance that has been in the news recently.  

Unfortunately, simple math tells us that, even in the limited time that we’ve been on campus so far this year, the odds are that we have had people with COVID-19 among us. While we want to see community spread at a low enough levels to minimize those probabilities, to open our doors in any way right now is to accept that we could come in contact with a COVID-positive individual at school. 

This is a tremendously disquieting bit of reality — and it rightfully has some faculty, staff, parents, and students very worried. One of the hardest parts of the pandemic has been individually reckoning with our personal comfort with its risks, based on evolving science, incomplete information, the behaviors of others, and our own personal circumstances. To bring any large-scale community together right now requires transparency and trust. These are tough to pull off in the best of times. And, at the end of our second week of the school year, I think we still have work to do. 

So, what have we learned from the first two weeks?

Distancing is difficult

We are still finding our way on navigating the expectations for proper physical distancing. We did a pretty good job with orientation and flex day activities that took place in the classroom. It is much easier to keep distance when you are still and seated. More free-flowing activities were more of a challenge. While it was obvious people were putting in a good-faith effort to follow the rules, too often we found ourselves “drifting” closer together than was advisable or necessary.

It is important to note that we cannot create an environment where everybody will remain six-feet apart at all times. Six feet is not a magic number, and as we move around the campus there will be times we are closer. Some activities will also push those limits. The goal is to keep those moments brief and outside if possible. This is going to take more practice, as we learn to be aware of the space we take up and readjust to maintain distance once we are still again. We will also be continually re-thinking ways of doing things to make it easier to stay distanced.

Face coverings are essential

Those of us that wear glasses are still struggling with them fogging up a bit, but overall mask usage by students was outstanding. Finding a good fitting covering that doesn’t slip down off your nose is important. We need to be thoughtful when we remove masks to eat or drink, taking extra care to respect physical distancing and to put our masks back on as soon as possible. And, just because we are six feet apart, does not mean we should remove our masks in the presence of others. 

Daily wellness checks are not box-checking

We are working to transition away from the paper forms for the daily health checks that most of you used during orientation week. This should make the mornings go more smoothly and more safely. However, it is important that the daily health check isn’t just a proforma activity. It is really important that we all become in touch with our health and stay away from others when we are sick. Yes, many of those with COVID are asymptomatic, but those who do have any symptoms should not be on campus. Please take your temp in the morning!  Also, there are some symptoms that trigger a self-quarantine. This is important. 

That is a lot for a Friday afternoon. Getting used to these new expectations will take time. There has been A LOT to read and digest – and this is new for all of us! Thanks to everyone for working together to keep our community healthy. 

Have a great weekend!

Dr. Ehrhardt

Reopening Plan

Dear Parents,

I am writing to share Cary Academy’s plans for the opening of the 2020-2021 school year.

As you know, we began our planning for this moment last spring – outlining early thoughts on our planning website in May and a Town Hall in June. Needless to say, we have not seen metrics trend the way we had hoped – and this has sparked passionate conversations about the risks and rewards of school reopening across the country.

I want to thank everybody who took the time to respond to our survey last week. We had more than 600 responses from parents and 100 from employees! Parents and employees both reported a high level of general concern about the virus (7.8 and 8.2 on a 10-point scale, respectively). When asked about returning to Cary Academy, the concern dropped slightly, with parents reporting 6.3 and employees 7.6. Importantly, 34% of our families also said they would keep their children home for virtual learning if we begin in-person instruction on August 12. This was not expected. Early requests for an online-only option this summer numbered in the teens rather than the hundreds.

While we do not subject decisions about health and safety to a “vote,” this new information presents some practical challenges as it pertains to balancing cohorts for an on-campus, off-campus hybrid model of instruction (what we call our Orange mode and the public schools call Plan B). This balancing can be done, but not quickly. In addition, the learning environment would be improved if we could place our online learners in dedicated classes – even if those students later chose to resume on-campus learning.

While the data on the risks of COVID for young people are reassuring, the health and safety of our employees is also a top priority. While we believe that we can create a safe learning and working environment, the concerns around bringing groups together must be acknowledged, as many of our employees are in high-risk categories or managing challenging situations at home with at-risk relatives or disrupted childcare. In their survey, 35% of employees (and a higher percentage of faculty) said they would prefer to keep the campus closed (Red Mode) and open the school year virtually.

What is the re-opening plan for Cary Academy?

From the beginning of this crisis, we have expected that we would take a measured, step-by-step approach – as the outbreak allowed — moving from Red to Orange to Yellow to Green.

Taking into consideration the variety of factors discussed above, we have decided to add an additional step in our transition, starting with a newly created Mixed Mode before moving to Orange.

We recognize the importance of face-to-face interaction, and our faculty want to return to the classrooms with your children. It must be recognized, though, that this year will look and feel very different than normal – and we should ease into this transition.

This Mixed Mode will allow us to “reopen” our campus and bring students physically together in smaller groups to get used to new protocols AND start all our classes virtually, with the least amount of distraction/disruption. Our faculty have been working hard over the summer to prepare for virtual and hybrid learning, and we are confident that this more cautious approach is not only best for health and safety but also for a strong academic start to the year.

For more details of the first month of school, see the PS at the end of this email.

What would cause the school to “pause” the transition to Orange mode?

Cary Academy will follow orders and specific operating instructions given by the governor or other local authorities with appropriate jurisdiction over the School.

In the absence of a governmental order, we will consider the following:

  • Announcements made by Governor Cooper regarding the state’s general status and progress on reopening plans.
  • Data regarding our ability to provide safe on-campus environment for students and faculty – informed by our own on-campus experiences, those from other area schools that have reopened, or a significant new study about virus transmission, especially among youth or in schools.
  • Wake County COVID-19 metrics, which would include:
    • The percentage of positive test cases,
    • Daily new cases per 100,000 residents,
    • The trendline of infections, as measured by the R0,
    • Access to ICU beds.

How will the school keep students and employees safe and healthy?

Keeping our community healthy will require cooperation from everyone this year. We have outlined these expectations on our website at It is important that parents and students review the information on this page carefully. 

The CA: United Compact needs to be digitally signed by each parent and student before they are allowed to come on to campus at the start of the year. It is now available on Blackbaud.

In addition to personal expectations, the website also contains information about our campus environment and how we will handle suspected and confirmed COVID cases in the community.

What’s Next?

Recognizing that there is a lot to unpack regarding these opening plans and our campus safety protocols, we will hold a virtual Parent Town Hall at 5pm next Wednesday, August 4. More information will come from our Director of Development Ali Page. Parents can expect further details from the divisions about orientation week by Friday, August 7.

In addition to the CA: United Compact, we will also be releasing a number of other important forms in Blackbaud for parents to review and sign in the coming weeks.

Best wishes for the remaining days of summer.


PS: Opening Month Details

We will stay in this Mixed Mode phase for three full weeks. We will reassess on August 27, with a goal of moving to Orange mode on September 8.

  • Week of August 10: First day of school is Wednesday, August 12. This is usually a week with a special schedule. There will be NO regular classes this week. Instead, we will hold limited on-campus, start-of-the-year orientation activities for small cohorts of students and some all-division, all-school virtual assemblies.

    The purpose of our orientation week will be to take measured steps back on campus, conduct small in-person orientation meetings, and begin to build our community. (Thus, families who wish to keep their children home may do so, as there will be no academic impacts.) These on-campus activities will follow strict health and safety guidelines. Specific details will be shared by divisions shortly.

    During this week we will continue on-campus, pre-season training for Upper School sports.
  • Week of August 17: Regular classes will begin virtually. We will follow the same full-day academic schedule that we will run when we are on campus: 8:45am – 3:15pm in the MS, 9:15am – 3:30pm in the US. Virtual classes will involve a mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction during the allotted blocks of time.

    US students will continue with pre-season athletic training options. MS students in grades 7-8 may also begin pre-season workouts/training.

    We will use the “flex day” to hold voluntary, on-campus activities. Those will be determined and communicated directly by division. Outside the above activities, students are allowed on campus by appointment only.
  • Week of August 24: Same as the week prior, with expanded opportunities for on-campus activities. We will confirm intention to move forward with Orange mode on Thursday, August 27.
  • Week of August 31: Same as the week prior, with more expanded on-campus opportunities for students. By 8am Monday, August 31 parents will be asked to confirm requests to continue virtual learning. Final Blue/Gold cohorts will be communicated for on-campus learning on September 3.
  • Week of September 7: We will move into Orange mode on Tuesday, September 8 and begin with blue cohorts on campus Monday-Tuesday and gold cohorts on campus Thursday-Friday. This will also mark the start of our extended day program in the MS.

Mid-July update

Dear CA Parents,

I hope this mid-summer message finds you and your families well. After two weeks of intense planning work after school ended in June, the Cary Academy faculty and most of our administrative team are currently enjoying a small window of screen-free time with family and friends. I hope you and your children are finding equal opportunities to relax. 

Despite the mid-July holiday time, we continue to follow the news and stay in touch with our educational peers. The recent COVID trends are concerning, and we will continue to monitor them as we consider the best and safest path to start the school year. As you know, our planning has been flexible, and we are ready to implement any number of options (all-virtual or hybrid) — depending on state and local guidance and our assessment of the situation come mid-August. 

We understand that Governor Cooper is set to address public school re-opening at a press conference later this afternoon. Our leadership team will take his guidance into consideration as we reconvene early next week. As soon as we are able, we will share an update on our planning. When the summer began, we had anticipated making a final announcement about our start-of-school plans on July 29. If we are able, we will push that timeline forward. 

In the meantime, please do enjoy the rest of the summer.


Summer Update

Dear CA Parents,

I hope this message finds you all well. While summer is just getting started, we are well into our planning for next fall here at Cary Academy. After a week break, our faculty reconvened today to begin refreshing their curriculum and planning for a variety of learning scenarios in August. 

As you may recall, on May 15 we updated our main COVID-19 webpage to preview our planning for the coming school year. We provided more insight on our approach to reopening at a parent Town Hall on June 3, including expected community health protocols and details on how we will “de-densify” campus. Since that time, a number of organizations have released their own preliminary guidelines for reopening, including the North Carolina Public Schools. While there may be a few differentiations (face covering requirements, for example), I have been pleased to see that our health responses generally are aligned.  

Today, I invite you to review a new page on our website that outlines in more detail what we discussed on June 3. 

I would also like to specifically call out three items worthy of note here: 

Returning to On-Campus Learning

As North Carolina and the country reopen economic and social activity this summer, the spread of the virus remains fluid. As we await more guidance from state officials, we continue planning for healthy on-campus learning in the fall. In the end, however, individual families have the final say in whether they feel it safe for their child(ren) to return to campus.

Changes to the academic program for 2020-2021 are being put in place to afford greater flexibility in delivery. These changes will allow students to keep pace with their classes even if they need to learn from home for an extended period of time, due to illness or family circumstance. Families who anticipate a longer-term need to keep their child(ren) at home are asked to contact their division head to make sure we can put in place the best possible schedule for remote learning.

Daily Schedule Adjustments

While the school calendar (vacation schedules) has not been altered, both the Middle School and Upper School are adjusting their daily schedules for the 2020-2021 school year — to allow for less physical contact (protect health) and to reduce overall stress for students (improve wellness). 

Both divisions will run schedules that have students meeting in classes for longer periods of time but less frequently. This “block” scheduling of three or four classes a day will allow for less overall contact with different individuals when on campus (protect health) and also reduce the frequency that students need to shift between classes, thus reducing cognitive stress and nightly homework loads (improving wellness). 

The school also will stagger start times in the morning to provide less crush at the doors all at once (protect health) and allowing for slightly more sleep for students (improving wellness). These changes are in alignment with studies on adolescent sleep and should have no impact on after-school athletics or activities. 

Each division will outline more details about those changes in the coming month.

Dining Fee Billing 

As we work to get ready for next year, we continue to work on redesigning the Dining Program to meet new health and scheduling needs.  Without yet knowing how the Program will need to be structured and knowing that it may need to change more than once over the course of the school year, we have made a decision to not bill the Dining Fee as one annual fee on your upcoming tuition and fees invoice.  

Rather, for the 2020-21 school year, we will be billing the Dining Fee monthly, allowing us to set the fee at the end of each month to an amount that reflects what on campus scheduling and program costs were for that month.  Rest assured that the total monthly fees for the 2020-21 school year will not exceed the current annual fee of $1,050. 

Since the Dining Fee will now be a monthly charge, it will be billed through the FACTS monthly incidental billing stream, not as part of your FACTS tuition payment plan. Please remember that you have the option of setting up automatic payments for your monthly incidental billing stream just as you have for your tuition billing, but this set-up is separate and apart from your tuition billing plan. For assistance in setting up automatic payments, please call FACTS at: 866-441-4637.

Best wishes for an enjoyable and healthy summer,


Useful Resources

CDC Corona Updates

Center for Disease Control & Prevention

Corona Virus Map

Global Cases and Data Map


NC Division of Public Health

US State Department

Travel Advisories


Wake County Public Schools


World Health Organization