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 http://united.cary.academy/campus-guidelines. 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.
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.